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Early Urban Planning, Spatial Strategies, and the Maya Gridded City of Nixtun-Ch’ich’, Petén, Guatemala

Timothy W. Pugh is Professor in the Department of Anthropology of Queens College (65–30 Kissena Boulevard, Flushing, New York 11367, USA [[email protected]]). Prudence M. Rice is Professor Emerita in the Department of Anthropology of Southern Illinois University Carbondale (Mailcode 4502, Carbondale, Illinois 62901, USA [[email protected]]).

Street grids commonly reflect the administration of urban populations and attempts to enhance city life. Planned grids are not typical of ancient Mesoamerican and especially Maya settlements, yet recent research at Nixtun-Ch’ich’, Petén, Guatemala, has revealed a modular grid layout that is also diagrammatic. Excavations determined that the grid was constructed before 500 BC, making it the earliest currently known in Mesoamerica. Its construction accompanied the emergence of complex society in the Maya lowlands, and leaders would have used the grid to organize and control the newly urbanized population—as seen in other parts of the world. The planned city was also likely a form of governmental conceit and a proclamation of social order. At the same time, the grid and the settlement’s dense population enhanced social interaction, promoting communication, exchange, and interconnectivity. Nevertheless, urban grids do not appear to have spread to other parts of the Maya world.