Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

E. Christian Wells, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Karla L. Davis-Salazar, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Erin H. Kimmerle, Ph.D.


Mesoamerica, archaeology, soil chemistry, plazas, ICP-MS


Plazas and patios were important spaces for expressing power and social identity in prehispanic Mesoamerica. However, plazas can be analytically problematic, because they were often kept clean of material debris. Previous geoarchaeological studies of anthropogenic soils and sediments have shown that specific activities leave characteristic chemical signatures on prepared earthen surfaces. The research presented here uses soil chemical residue analysis and excavation data to examine use patterns in the North Plaza of Palmarejo, Honduras during the Late Classic period. The goal is to determine whether the plaza was used for residential or ceremonial purposes. The chemical results indicate that activities in the northern half of the plaza were distinct from those that occurred in the southern half. These results, along with the artifact assemblage recovered from excavations, suggest ceremonial use. Additionally, this research compares various soil properties, including pH and organic matter, from the North Plaza to broaden our reach in prospecting for activity loci using soil chemistry. Recent studies tend to rely on spatial differences in elemental concentrations for identifying activity patterns in the archaeological record. However, other related soil properties sometimes correlate with chemical residues, especially phosphates. The research presented explores these

interconnections with the greater goal of identifying the ways and extent to which various soil properties are linked in the formation and preservation of ancient activity loci. Results suggest that the deposition and adsorption of chemical residues in anthropogenic soils at Palmarejo are generally too variable to be accurately characterized by either pH or organic matter. Chemical elements may best reveal the use of the North Plaza in antiquity.