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Chemical Signatures of Middens at a Late Classic Maya Residential Complex, Guatemala


  • Scientific editing by Nicholas Dunning

Corresponding author;E-mail:


Phosphorus (P) and other chemical elements have been used to identify residential middens at archaeological sites. This study discusses the relationship of soil chemical elements and middens at Group Chispa, a Late Classic residential complex at a commoner village in the Maya lowlands. The complex was extensively excavated and soil sampled. Ceramic sherd densities, which serve as a proxy for artifact densities, correlate only partially with phosphorus and other chemical elements. One of the three middens in Group Chispa coincides with the highest concentration of P while the two others—including the most extensive one—have medium to low P levels. A spectrum of human activities that include the preparation of pigments explains the nontraditional distribution of chemical elements. High P levels remain useful to detect middens but they provide an incomplete picture and need to be contextualized by comprehensive archaeological data.