House or Lineage? How Intracemetery Kinship Analysis Contributes to the Debate in the Maya Area

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Houses and lineages are both named, corporate units of social organization defined in part on the connection between people and place. They are distinguished from one another by the relative emphasis on biological descent in societies organized on the basis of corporate group membership. Over the past 15 years, researchers have debated whether ancient Maya social organization was characterized by house or lineage organization. Drawing on ethnographic, epigraphic, and archaeological data, researchers have concluded that the ancient Maya had some characteristics of house societies, but that biological descent was an important principle. One relevant line of evidence conspicuously absent from this debate is biological distance analysis as a means of identifying patterns of biological relatedness within sites. In this chapter we review intracemetery analyses from Mesoamerica, focusing on the Maya area, and discuss what, if any, insight such analyses of biological spatial organization might bring to bear on the house versus lineage debate. We suggest that the use of biological distance analysis will not resolve debates about the relevant importance of house and biological lineage in ancient Maya society, but increasing incorporation of intracemetery analyses within existing research programs will help identify those the circumstances in which biological kinship was emphasized in Maya society. As such, intracemetery biodistance adds an important and independent line of evidence that is currently underutilized in studies of ancient Maya social organization.