SCRAP Reading Group, Week 36: Houselots

This week’s reading focused on the issue of ancient houselot size in major cities and rural areas of the northern Maya lowlands. Thank you to all who took part. Summary and discussion questions are below.

Map of the ancient Maya site of Chunchucmil. This particular map covers only the central 1 km2 of the pre-Hispanic city. The orange-brown colour indicates ancient stone walls. Light green indicates depressions (such as quarries or sascaberas). Black lines indicate ancient architecture. []

Hutson, Scott R., Timothy S. Hare, Travis W. Stanton, Marilyn A. Masson, Nicolas C. Barth, Traci Ardren, and Aline Magnoni (2021). A space of One’s own: Houselot size among the ancient Maya. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 64: 101362.


Hutson and colleagues use various qualitative and quantitative variables to explore houselot size at the major urban centers of Chunchucmil, Coba, and Maya in the northern Maya lowlands and a rural area in southwestern Quintana Roo in the southern Maya lowlands. They use new lidar imagery to track more variables and more easily quantify variation than previous research. 

Houselot size (the dependent variable) is analyzed with reference to multiple independent variables:

  • Wealth
  • The number of people living within houselots
  • Distance from the site core
  • Farming strategies

Other independent variables discussed, but cannot be tested using lidar imagery, include craft specialization, local norms, environmental variability, and social identity. Houselot space correlates most strongly (but not unequivocally) with proxies for wealth. Craft activities have little bearing on houselot size. Agricultural strategies likely factor into houselot size at Chunchucmil and in southwestern Quintana Roo but only in the latter case do houselots play a role in smallholding. Much of the variability remains unexplained. 

Potential Discussion Questions

  • The case studies from Yucatan cannot be directly applied to the southern Maya lowlands because of the lack of clearly defined, walled boundaries. Other ways to identify houselots? Should we use a different word or definition?
  • The authors state, “Indicators of wealth such as house size or elaboration and artifact assemblages suggest that settlement clusters beyond the single houselot may better represent the relationship of bounded spaces to wealth and related roles in society.” Is this true for the southern Maya lowlands? Akin to a neighbourhood or some other cluster? How would settlement clusters affect our understanding of the relationship between wealth/farming strategies/farming strategies and houselot size?
  • There are still many lidar datasets and questions to explore using spatial analysis. What are the next steps for integrating lidar/spatial analysis with other data types? Different types of comparative spatial questions?