Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Award: The Relationship Between Mortuary Practice and Social Organization Grant uri icon


  • Under the direction of Dr. Lori Wright, Kristin Hoffmeister will undertake research to investigate the emergence and consolidation of sociopolitical power by examining health, diet, and mobility patterns in groups undergoing significant sociopolitical transformations. The genesis of sociopolitical stratification is a global phenomenon that archaeological inquiry is uniquely positioned to address by examining the development of inequality and the subsequent social and political ramifications over long periods of time. This project will examine the key themes of migration, health, and differential access to resources in order to investigate how rising elites gain and control sociopolitical power. Understanding these complicated processes and how social complexity, identities, and roles are negotiated, legitimized, and maintained over time has broad reaching implications. This research will examine the development of sociopolitical stratification by examining human skeletal remains to assess patterns of mobility, diet, and health during the development of sociopolitical stratification. This project will be conducted on Preclassic period (1000-250 AD) Maya skeletal remains from Cuello and Colha, two sites in northern Belize with large Preclassic skeletal assemblages. The Preclassic period is characterized by broad shifts in mortuary behavior that were concurrent with other significant changes in architecture, site organization, social structure, and material culture throughout the Maya area that relate to the emergence of complex, stratified society. While the development of social hierarchy has been linked to the appearance of the complex mortuary behavior observed at Cuello and Colha, the relationship of these burials to emerging social and political stratification remains unclear. The proposed research will use archaeological data in conjunction with data on diet, geographic origins, and dental health to investigate these broad sociopolitical changes among the Preclassic Maya. Specifically, this study will employ stable carbon (ä13C), oxygen (ä18O), and strontium (87Sr/86Sr) isotopes to assess diet and mobility patterns. By analyzing Preclassic mortuary behavior, this project will examine how social complexity, social inequality, and identity are generated, legitimized, and maintained through the political manipulation of the dead. This project will generate novel archaeological and geochemical data about health, diet, and mobility among the Maya. It will also provide research and mentorship

date/time interval

  • 2016 - 2018