Shattered: Object fragmentation and social enchainment in the eastern Maya lowlands

Shawn G. Morton, Jaime J. Awe, David M. Pendergast

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Archaeologists are often confronted with broken objects, and the recovery of only part of an object therefore rarely causes us to question why we have not recovered more. But what if this is a mistake? What if, in ignoring this question, we are failing to consider the socio-cultural role that the fragments themselves may have played? In this paper we address these questions, outlining a particular pattern of intentional breakage and the subsequent distribution of the resulting fragments across multiple distinct locales/individuals. We align our discussion with the related concepts of fragmentation and enchainment and apply these to a dataset derived from study of the ancient Maya of Belize. Contexts discussed in this paper are of a decidedly ritual nature, including deep caves, tombs and burials, caches, and other deposits. We suggest that we have been remiss in treating such contexts in isolation, and that the scale of ritual studies within the Maya area needs to be expanded from those focused on individual deposits to broad analyses on the landscape or regional scale. Such studies must explicitly seek out variability within this corpus as it is clear that even small sites may have served as important nodes within larger networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101108
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
StatePublished - Dec 2019


  • Enchainment
  • Fragmentation
  • Maya
  • Mesoamerica
  • Ritual
  • Social network

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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