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Theses and Dissertations

Name:Jose Enrique Moreno-Cortes
Degree:Ph.D.
Professor:Christian Wells
Year:2015
Title:Living among the Ruins of an Unknown Past: Economic Realities, Sociocultural Perceptions, and Archaeological Practice in the Naco Valley, Honduras
  
Abstract:

This study addresses the relationship between perceptions of cultural patrimony, socioeconomic realities, and interactions with archaeological sites in two rural communities in the Naco Valley, Honduras. Palmarejo and Palos Blancos are communities situated around the Naco Valley, that share their space with two major archaeological sites.The residents of these communities interact with the archaeological sites by using their area for farming, cattle grazing, and social/recreational activities. On several occasions, the mounds in the archaeological sites have been used as a source of raw materials for construction. Thus far, the damage to the ruins by these activities has been minimal. However, the discovery of an UlĂșa marble vase in one of the sites has the potential to attract looting activities to the area. Marble vases have been a coveted item in the antiquities market due to their rarity and craftsmanship. Although the sites are protected under Honduran law, the government agency that enforces the law is sometimes unable to prevent the destruction of archaeological sites due several constraints, such as the lack of resourses and national discourses that support the preservation of Maya sites over others. Other sites in nearby areas have been destroyed by looters looking for marble vases.
The communities were excavated by an archaeological project during the last decade and the creation of a community archaeological project has been considered to educate the community about the conservation and importance of the archaeological sites. However it has been argued that for the successful development of such a program, knowledge of the socioeconomic and cultural impacts of archaeological sites on the local population is needed. Thus expanding on the goals of a community-oriented archaeology, this study addresses the living context of two archaeological sites as an academic problem by applying ethnographic methods to the practice of archaeology. This approach called archaeological ethnography seeks to understand the socioeconomic context of communities that are impacted by the archaeological practice. Following this direction, this research responds the following question: In what ways and to what extent do social/cultural perceptions, socioeconomic realities, and archaeological practices influence the conservation of archaeological resources in the Palmarejo Valley, Honduras? In answering this question, the study found that although the damages to the site are minimal and the communities have their own rules of interaction with their respective archaeological sites, the practice of using the mounds as a source of raw materials for construction and the potential of subsistence looting are problems to consider in the area. In addition, the study obtained information about the meaning of the sites for the communities and the hopes of the residents that the sites may become tourist attractions, improving their livelihood and quality of life.
The information obtained in this study may provide a baseline of information on how people perceive and interact with these sites, which may be used to consider an archaeological conservation community project in the future. In addition, the data obtained help us understand the reasons for the destruction of archaeological sites or the lack of interest by the communities in their archaeological sites, especially in a setting in which economic development often supersedes considerations of heritage and cultural patrimony. Finally, the data can be compared with other rural communities in Honduras that are adjacent to archaeological sites to evaluate the extent to which these issues are encountered elsewhere in the country.