Modeling ancient commensality
Feasts have often been the focus of studies examining the ways in which people ate together in the past. This approach has frequently resulted in a false dichotomy of everyday meals versus feasts. This dissertation approaches feasting and everyday meals as components of the larger spectrum of commensality and seeks a more nuanced method for studying the spectrum of commensality as represented in the archaeological record. This work develops a multidimensional model for the study of commensality in the archaeological record. This multidimensional model presents three axes of examination: Locational, Distinctiveness, and Social. The Locational Axis examines the location of commensality with a focus on the private or public nature of the space. The Distinctiveness axis assesses the degree to which the commensality has mundane or ritual characteristics. The Social axis examines the extent to which social boundaries are reinforced or crossed during the commensality. The multidimensional model is applied to fourteen assemblages excavated from La Corona to better understand the spectrum of commensality at this Classic Period Maya settlement in northwestern Guatemala. Four modes of commensality were identified through the application of this model, reflecting a range of commensal practices which might have otherwise been lumped into either everyday meals or feasts. These modes include Daily Commensality, Large Scale Mixed Commensality, Inclusionary Ritual Commensality, and Exclusionary Ritual Commensality. Examination of the ways in which these modes of commensality vary over time at La Corona suggests nuances of commensal activities reflect the broader trends in the sociopolitical changes of the Classic period Maya. This multidimensional model provides a rigorous and effective method for the examination of commensality in archaeological record and the identification of modes of commensality extending our understanding of meals in the past beyond the dichotomy of daily meal or feast.