Graduation Year

2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Anthropology

Major Professor

Karla L. Davis-Salazar

Keywords

Affiliation, Archaeology, Central America, Heritage Tourism, Mesoamerica

Abstract

Project Roatán was initiated in 2008 as a collaboration between the University of South Florida (USF) and the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History (IHAH) to investigate the prehistory of the island of Roatán, Bay Islands, Honduras. Based on data from the 2009 field season of Project Roatán, this study examines the ways in which native islanders of the Postclassic period (A.D. 900-1500) expressed their social identity and cultural affiliations with contemporaneous groups on northeastern mainland Honduras through their ceramic traditions. These initial investigations serve to evaluate the relationship between islanders and mainland groups and any major differences in terms of their status or occupation, islanders' ties into regional trading systems, and the primary function of sites on the island. Although the materials presented demonstrate a strong tie to the indigenous groups of the mainland, which were most likely ancestors of present-day Pech populations, a significant difference is apparent in the types and quantities of exotic materials present on the island, as compared to those found on the mainland. Published accounts and reports from previous expeditions to the island are examined to support this trend. It is argued that models of political economy are best suited to address the heightened importance of social relationships within economic interactions of the indigenous Bay Islanders. The practice of creating an inclusive group identity, deemed the corporate strategy of power, was employed by elites in the region with the aim of maintaining the status-quo. Extreme exploitation and the accumulation of resources were not necessarily central goals in an environmentally self-sustaining region, and the practice appears to have contributed ultimately to long-term cultural stability in the region. Drawing from external connections, indigenous populations of this region appropriated symbols and designs in an emblemic manner to express a common identity and reinforce a cultural practice of inclusiveness. Within this setting, the data indicate that the island of Roatán likely either represented a special physical location for the northeastern region - in terms of access to outside trade networks and resources, or perhaps in terms of spiritual or ideological significance -or was inhabited by group of individuals that enjoyed privileges not shared by those on the mainland. A combination of emblemic style and corporate strategy is presented as a possible explanation for standardization within the ceramic assemblage of the island in the absence of mass production. Lastly, the results of the study are used to critique the ways in which archaeological data have been exploited within the heritage tourism industry to represent past inhabitants of the island and commoditize identity. The future of tourism and issues of representation on the island are also considered in light of recent political disruption.

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