Missionization and Shifting Mobility on the Southeastern Maya-Spanish Frontier: Identifying Immigration to the Maya Site of Tipu, Belize Through the Use of Strontium and Oxygen Isotopes
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The early Colonial Period visita mission cemetery Tipu represents an important opportunity to understand the role mobility played in indigenous Maya resistance on the southeastern Maya-Spanish frontier. This dissertation seeks to identify the geographical origin of a subset (N=195) of the over 600 Postclassic and early Colonial period Maya buried at Tipu. As geographic and cultural frontier, Tipu experienced a dynamic history of fluctuating political alliances and was a pivotal player in frontier politics. Ethnohistorical records indicate that the remote frontier community of Tipu functioned as a place of refuge for a large southern exodus of indigenous Maya from the northern Yucatan escaping the hardships encountered in more populated regions under Spanish colonial control; to date little concrete evidence for this migration has been identified. To test whether the frontier community of Tipu functioned as a haven for refugee Yucatec Maya, strontium (^87Sr/^86Sr) and oxygen (δ^18O) isotopes are used as geologic and climatic tracers to estimate potential childhood homelands for individuals buried at Tipu. Individuals comprising the Postclassic sample are used as a proxy to help establish the “local” range and to aid in the identification of shifts in mobility from the Postclassic to the Colonial period. A comparison of ^87Sr^/86Sr and δ^18O data from the Postclassic and Colonial period samples shows an increase in the quantity of Colonial period individuals falling within the “local” range, as well as a dramatic increase in the total variability and range of observed isotope values in the Colonial period. Nearly two-thirds of the Colonial Tipu population were classified as non-local, suggesting that Tipu was primarily composed of recent, first-generation migrants; a highly mobile population is consistent with ethnohistoric records for Tipu. These results indicate Spanish colonialism resulted in a significant and swift shift in mobility of the indigenous Maya, even in more peripheral frontier regions like Tipu, and underscores Tipu’s importance as a refugee for fleeing Maya. The presence of migrants from both Spanish and Maya held territories provides evidence for the fluidity of the Maya-Spanish frontier and Tipu’s importance as a gateway for trade between the two territories. Sex-based differences between migrants and locals are observed, and possible spatial patterns in the distribution of isotope values are explored. This research provides an increased realization of indigenous reactions to early European colonialism in frontier areas.
Trask, Willa Rachel (2018). Missionization and Shifting Mobility on the Southeastern Maya-Spanish Frontier: Identifying Immigration to the Maya Site of Tipu, Belize Through the Use of Strontium and Oxygen Isotopes. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from