Conspicuous Consumption as Wasteful Advertising: a Darwinian Perspective on Spatial Patterns in Classic Maya Terminal Monument Dates



Spatial patterns in Classic Maya terminal monument dates offer clues about the processes behind the Classic “collapse” and the spatial scale of political competition that preceded it. A Darwinian theory of wasteful advertising delivers a simple model of how the collapse and political competition might map onto terminal monument dates. Modern statistical techniques provide the tools required to decompose spatial variation in terminal dates from a sample of 69 sites into the components required by the model. The large-scale trend in the cessation of dated monument construction, estimated using local robust regression (loess), supports recent evidence that the ultimate cause of the end of dated monument construction was an ecological disaster. The variogram characterizes spatial variation in residuals from this trend. The results suggest that as the collapse proceeded, monument-constructing elites, or individuals competing for that status, abandoned their original sites to enter political competition at sites on average 65 km distant, thus increasing competition, and prolonging monument construction at those recipient sites. This implies spheres of political competition in the Late Classic were small, and supports recent evidence from epigraphic sources they averaged about 50 km in diameter.