New York: Archaeologists working in Guatemala have unearthed new information about the Maya civilisation's transition from a mobile, hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a sedentary way of life.
Previous research believes that sedentary and mobile groups co-existed in various parts of the world but most people thought the sedentary and mobile communities were separate even though they were in relatively close areas.
"Our study presents the first relatively concrete evidence that mobile and sedentary people came together to build a ceremonial centre," said the University of Arizona archaeologist Takeshi Inomata.
With colleague Daniela Triadan, the team's excavations of the ancient Maya lowlands site of Ceibal suggest that as the society transitioned from a heavy reliance on foraging to farming, mobile communities that came together to collaborate on construction projects and participate in public ceremonies.
The findings, to be published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, challenge two common assumptions that mobile and sedentary groups maintained separate communities and that public buildings were constructed only after a society had fully put down roots.
A public plaza uncovered at Ceibal dates to about 950 B.C. with surrounding ceremonial buildings growing to monumental sizes by about 800 B.C.
The area's few permanent residents could not have built the plaza alone, Inomata said.
"The construction of ceremonial buildings is pretty substantial, so there had to be more people working on that construction," he pointed out.
Inomata and his colleagues theorise that groups with varying degrees of mobility came together to construct the buildings and to participate in public ceremonies over the next several hundred years.
That process likely helped them to bond socially and eventually make the transition to a fully sedentary society.
The transition was gradual, with the Maya making the shift to a fully sedentary agrarian society, reliant on maize, by about 400 or 300 B.C., Inomata said.
Discovering an ancient "melting pot" is definitely the unexpected highlight of this research, the authors concluded.