The Lowland Maya “Protoclassic”: A reconsideration of its nature and significance


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Ancient Mesoamerica

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The term “Protoclassic,” employed regularly but inexplicitly in the literature of lowland Maya archaeology, has become increasingly nebulous and ambiguous in both meaning and usage. This paper reviews the history and use of the term and presents a formal redefinition of the Protoclassic as a ceramic stage based explicitly and exclusively on ceramic criteria. Some suggestions regarding future use of the term also are offered. The paper further addresses and resolves a number of persisting questions regarding Protoclassic orange wares, including problems concerning the actual existence of the “Aguacate ceramic group.” and the relationships of Aguacate-group pottery to other emergent orange wares of the terminal Late Preclassic and initial Early Classic periods. The nature and significance of the “Holmul I Style,” the “Floral Park Ceramic Sphere.” and the relationships of the two to each other and the larger, redefined “protoclassic” ceramic stage also are examined. A spatial distribution for protoclassic ceramics considerably expanded over what has ever been reported previously is described, and Chronometric data are presented to support a revised chronology for the protoclassic ceramic stage. Finally, ceramic data are offered that suggest a real subdivision of the protoclassic ceramic stage into an early, emergent facet originating entirely within Late Preclassic lowland traditions, and a later, fully “Classic” facet corresponding to the early Tzakol (Tzakol 1) ceramic horizon.

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