Publication Date



This dissertation investigates late eighth and early ninth century social interaction at the archaeological site of Copán, Honduras. Two main research questions are addressed: (1) Did people of different social classes experience different degrees of social connectivity? and (2) Did people living in different parts of the city experience different degrees of social connectivity? A Geographic Information System (GIS) was used to quantify social connectivity, that is, degree of social integration or social segregation, using access and visibility as proxy measures for social interaction, and to examine whether Copáns inhabitants influenced social interaction by configuring their city to facilitate or impede communication and movement among people living at different site types and in different parts of the city. In semiotic terms, people configure architecture and space to create 'signs' that send different messages to different groups of people, and the way in which people respond to these 'signs' influences how different groups of people interact in the landscape. The access and visibility of such 'signs' provide information on how and to whom messages were sent; studies of the built environment indicate that people organize their surroundings (e.g., buildings, roads, walls) to restrict access, channel movement, and display visual messages\u2014the how\u2014in order to elicit distinct responses from different social groups\u2014the whom. While the majority of Maya studies on access and visibility focus on the internal spatial organization of a single architectural complex, usually civic, ceremonial, or elite in nature, this research investigated Copán's site configuration as a whole, integrating components of the built environment from all facets of society\u2014civic-ceremonial buildings, royal compounds, elite and commoner residences, roads, and reservoirs\u2014as well as natural features such as rivers, quebradas, hills, and mountains. Moreover, a multi-scalar approach was used to account for different levels of social interaction, ranging from sub-communities to urban and rural areas to the city as a whole. The results indicate that Copán's layout served as a guide to daily interactions, potentially channeling people of particular social classes to specific locations and sending visual messages of wealth, power, and surveillance from and to certain groups of people and particular locations in the city. The research suggests that varying degrees of sociopolitical control existed in the Copán Valley and that there may have been intermediate-level interaction spheres controlled or managed by local leaders who played an integral part in Copán's sociopolitical landscape. The study also indicates that certain types of commoner and elite sites had more similar degrees of social connectivity than expected, suggesting that some sites in the Harvard Site Typology, based on economic status, are misclassified or represent temporal, functional, ethnic, or other differences.'


Ancient Maya, GIS, Access, Visibility


Latin American Iberian Institute (UNM); Office of Graduate Studies (UNM); Graduate and Professional Student Association (UNM); American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS); Rio Grande Chapter of the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing; New Mexico Geographic Information Council (NMGIC); Center for Spatially Integrated Social Science (CSISS); Department of Anthropology (UNM).

Document Type




Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Department of Anthropology

First Advisor

James, Boone

Second Advisor

Jane, Buikstra

First Committee Member (Chair)

Jennifer von Schwerin

Second Committee Member

David Dinwoodie

Third Committee Member

Richard Watson

Included in

Anthropology Commons