Date of Award

Spring 4-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Payson Sheets

Second Advisor

Arthur Joyce

Third Advisor

Catherine Cameron

Fourth Advisor

Gerardo Gutierrez

Fifth Advisor

Darna Dufour


Despite the centrality of agriculture to the functioning of Classic Period (c. A.D. 250-850) Maya society, little is known of how farming decisions were made, the extent of political oversight of agricultural production, and the level of individual autonomy for farmers within their communities. This dissertation focuses on the intersection of farming and power to assess the organization of manioc and maize cultivation at Cerén, El Salvador. The burial of the site beneath multiple meters of Loma Caldera tephra (c. A.D. 630) resulted in the extraordinary preservation of Cerén’s structures, features, artifacts, and agricultural fields, which affords a unique opportunity to document ancient cultivation techniques and their implications for sociocultural complexity.

Within the theoretical framework of practice theory, the daily practices of maize and manioc farming inscribed the Cerén landscape with evidence of farmers’ choices, community integration, and organization of agricultural production. These choices and sociopolitical forces can be interpreted from a farm-up perspective, whereby the Cerén agricultural fields form the evidentiary foundation from which to assess the social, political, economic, and ideological forces involved in manioc and maize cultivation.

The preservation of manioc and maize fields south of the Cerén site center allows us to see the variation in crop selection, cultivation methods, growth patterns, and field divisions. These data indicate that farmers had significant power in cultivation choices and practices at the site. The Cerén archaeological record also shows non-royal community organization was responsible for managing agricultural production, based on the evidence for a simultaneous manioc and maize harvest, an inferred community harvest feast, the remains of a public civic structure where political decisions were likely centered, and an earthen sacbe (road) that both symbolically and physically linked the agricultural fields with the site center.

Agricultural production at Cerén was an individual, household, and community affair and this dissertation has implications for understanding ancient Maya agriculture (including the role of root crops in the Maya area), for connecting practice theory, political economy, and farming, and for reconstructing the complex social, political, and economic context in which people of the past once lived.