Modeling variability in Classic Maya intermediate elite political strategies through multivariate analysis of settlement patterns

John P. Walden, Claire E. Ebert, Julie A. Hoggarth, Shane M. Montgomery, Jaime J. Awe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Intermediate elites played pivotal roles in the political dynamics of ancient complex societies across the world. In the Classic period (CE 250–900/1000) Maya lowlands, intermediate elites acted as mediators between apical rulers and lower status commoners. These individuals and the political strategies they employed, however, have rarely taken center stage in reconstructions of Classic Maya politics. In this paper, we evaluate the role of intermediate elites who occupied the middle level of the settlement hierarchy of the Belize River Valley of west-central Belize. Multivariate statistical analyses of architectural variables (n = 24) across 35 sites identified five hierarchically arranged groups of settlement types. Groups 2 and 3 are associated with intermediate elites, with Group 2 being large specialized centers with ballcourts, causeways, terminus groups and multiple plazas. In contrast, Group 3 were smaller residential and ceremonial centers focused around a single plaza. Investigation of patterned variability in the middle tier of the settlement hierarchy provides evidence for five political strategies which intermediate elites used to gain and maintain power and authority: (1) ancestor veneration, (2) ceremonial integration of commoners, (3) acting as neighborhood heads, (4) apical elite emulation, and (5) pursuing a ‘frontier’ role. Elucidating the variability in intermediate elite decision-making provides a new avenue for understanding the dynamics of integration and autonomy across the Classic Maya political landscape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101074
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
StatePublished - Sep 2019


  • Classic Period Maya
  • Hierarchical cluster analysis
  • Intermediate elites
  • Multidimensional scaling
  • Political strategies
  • Settlement hierarchies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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