The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Cranial variation among modern Maya: assessing the effects of Spanish colonialism


Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Saturday All day, Plaza Level Add to calendar

This presentation explores cranial variation among five modern highland Guatemalan Maya populations through a lens of colonialism. After the Postclassic period collapse, the next event to have the greatest impact on Mayan biological variation was colonialism. The impact and extent of colonialism varied greatly among highland Maya populations, resulting in an array of regional exposure to its consequences—namely gene flow—with Spanish colonists. In some regions, Mayan subjugation was consistently maintained, while in other regions the Maya populations were resistant and elusive, making it difficult for colonial structure to be enforced.

It is hypothesized that the differential experiences of colonialism by Mayan populations may be exhibited via regional patterns of cranial variation. A Relethford-Blangero (1990) analysis of within-group phenotypic variance was performed to infer whether extra-regional gene flow (likely Spanish colonizers) differentially impacted the five Maya populations. The results demonstrate that only the Kaqchikel exhibit greater than expected intragroup variance (residual variance = 0.335), suggesting extra-regional populations as the source for such variation. The remaining four groups all exhibit less than expected intragroup variation, potentially due to genetic drift. Kaqchikel exposure to colonial rule and contact was greater than other highland Maya populations, likely attributable to the overlapping location of Kaqchikel territories and the concentration of Spanish settlements. Finally, results for all samples are compared to recent research on Maya genetic variation, contributing to a better understanding of the relationship among phenotypic and genotypic interpretations of the living Maya’s biohistory.

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