Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Timothy W. Pugh

Committee Members

Cameron L. McNeil

Alexander A. Bauer

Michael Wolfe

Christina T. Halperin

Subject Categories

Archaeological Anthropology | Geographic Information Sciences | Human Geography | Latin American History | Spatial Science


Maya, Preclassic, Warfare, Fortification, Peten Lakes, Affordances of Movement


Analysis of settlement patterning in relation to natural and constructed defensive elements expands understanding of the impact of warfare well beyond the relatively brief period of active battle. Advance preparation in advance of conflict, including reshaping the landscape for defensibility and conscription of labor toward that end, alters patterns of movement, social interaction, and physical settlement, effects that can extend for generations beyond the cessation of hostilities. This project investigates the role played by warfare in shaping the physical and social landscape of the Maya of the central Petén during the Late Preclassic period (400 B.C. – A.D. 150), as sociopolitical complexity spread across the region beyond major centers. The focus of the research is Muralla de León, a small, fortified site on the shores of Lake Macanché in the Petén Lakes Region, and settlement in its immediate surroundings.

The accumulated evidence from ethnographic accounts, glyphic inscriptions, mural depictions, fortifications, weapons, and skeletal trauma from the Early Classic (A.D. 250–600) through the Contact period (A.D. 1525–1697) shows warfare playing a significant role in the broader patterns of Maya cultural development, though less is known of warfare in the Preclassic. Otherwise, though, recent investigation has demonstrated widespread sociopolitical complexity and the construction of monumental features across the lowlands in the Late Preclassic. The nature of these early developments places them closer in scale to those of the Late Classic period (A.D. 600–800), commonly regarded as the apogee of sociopolitical complexity, population, monumental construction, and political authority in the Maya world.

Project investigations assessed the construction chronology of the monumental defensive features at Muralla de León: an encircling stone wall, or enceinte, surrounding the site, and a ditch-and-bank fortification bisecting the broadest approach by land. These data were compared against local settlement patterns to understand the nature of Late Preclassic warfare, through its influence upon the design of these monumental features and upon associated settlement patterns. Four elements of intent and functionality of the Muralla de León site constructions were assessed spatially: (1) omnidirectional affordances of movement, as well as their correlation to the variable height of the enceinte; (2) viewsheds outward from the site interior and of the site from exterior vantage points, including a fuzzy viewshed analysis; (3) the hydrology of the site interior and the potential for hydraulic constructions within; and (4) volumetric and energetics analysis of the constructed portion of the stone enceinte. Together, these investigations provided insight into the goals of the planners and designers of these monumental Late Preclassic features.

This research offers new insight into Late Preclassic Maya warfare. The threat of attack was sufficient to compel large-scale investment in fortification at Muralla de León, a small site that bore strong connections to the Central Petén interaction sphere. Late Preclassic reshaping of the local landscape toward defensibility impacted settlement in and around the site for the ensuing centuries of occupation, up to 1900 years after the site was initially laid out. Subsequent occupants maintained and augmented that defensive functionality in response to new threats they encountered. In addition, this research provides new approaches to spatial analysis within GIS that address questions of intent and functionality of monumental constructions and site layouts.