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Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:University of Texas at San Antonio
  • Jason Yaeger
  • (210) 458-7966
  • Sebastian Salgado-Flores
Award Date:10/18/2019
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 25,191
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 25,191
  • FY 2020=$25,191
Start Date:11/01/2019
End Date:10/31/2020
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.075
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Award: Social Input to Scarce Resource Distribution
Federal Award ID Number:1938142
DUNS ID:800189185
Parent DUNS ID:042000273
Program:Archaeology DDRI
Program Officer:
  • John Yellen
  • (703) 292-8759

Awardee Location

Street:One UTSA Circle
City:San Antonio
County:San Antonio
Awardee Cong. District:20

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:University of Texas at San Antonio
County:San Antonio
Cong. District:20

Abstract at Time of Award

Dr. Jason Yaeger and Mr. Sebastian Salgado-Flores, of The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), will examine the impact of social practices and ritual behavior on Postclassic Maya harvesting and management of firewood. Because wood was the primary fuel for cooking food in pre-historic Mesoamerican societies, firewood harvesting put significant strain on the forests around ancient settlements. The absence of beasts of burden limited harvesting to relatively short distances, and the preferred fuelwood trees grow slowly and were likely unable to meet the needs of a growing population. Thus, this research studies the wood charcoal from Postclassic Maya sites to determine whether their access to higher quality firewood declined over time, or whether the sites' inhabitants were able to overcome the challenges mentioned above and sustainably harvest preferred woods. The research will compare the taxa of firewood used in high-status residences, low-status residences, and public feasting events, in order to understand whether the strategies employed by elites to improve or maintain their social position included greater consumption of higher-quality wood fuels. This project will involve collaboration with archaeologists at several universities in the United States and Mexico, the Comision Nacional de areas Naturales Protegidas in Mexico, and the Kleberg Advanced Microscopy Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio. This research will also refine archaeometric methods for estimating the diameter of a tree or branch from a charcoal fragment and will contribute to the training of a minority doctoral student in archaeobotanical methods and the use of a scanning election microscope. Over the last several decades, research in anthracology (the study of charcoal recovered from archaeological sites) has become increasingly relevant to understanding of human-environment dynamics and how societies succeed or fail to achieve long-term resource security. The field's understanding of human fuelwood collection is currently based on a model guided by the "Principle of Least Effort," which expects wood gatherers to optimize the amount of energy gained in each harvest. Since the difference in heat release between higher and lower quality fuelwoods is marginal compared to the heavy labor cost of harvesting and transporting wood, this model assumes that ancient harvesters prioritized convenience and were relatively indiscriminating about which species they harvested. While this model appears to adequately explain species distribution of charcoal assemblages in some archaeological cases, it does not fully explain assemblages that are dominated by a few types of wood or differences in the species composition of assemblages deposited contemporaneously at the same archaeological site. It also assumes that politics and social organization played little role in the way that cultures manage and consume fuelwood. Thus, this research will test the Principle of Least Effort model alongside an alternative model of firewood procurement grounded in Political Ecology and the social dynamics in Postclassic Maya communities. This latter model hypothesizes that social elites in those communities found ways to preserve their access to preferred wood types. This model predicts that the charcoal assemblages produced by elite activity (particularly those produced by public events like feasting) will be more likely to contain preferred species than assemblages produced by non-elite households. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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