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Volume 63 / Social Sciences

ANTHROPOLOGY: ARCHAEOLOGY: Mesoamerica


JOHN HENDERSON, Professor of Anthropology, Cornell University
ARTHUR A. JOYCE, Associate Professor Anthropology, University of Colorado at Boulder

AN INCLINATION TO EXAMINE the current state of the field and its continuities with and departures from dominant themes and approaches of the recent past has become apparent in Maya archeology. Some assessments are historical stocktakings (item #bi2007004803#); while others are programmatic, intended to set the stage for future thematic, methodological, and theoretical trajectories (item #bi2007004570#). A related trend is the continuing interest in situating the enterprise of reconstructing the Maya past within the broader context of theoretical trends and innovations elsewhere in archeology as well as in anthropology and social theory (items #bi2005002401#, #bi2007004772#, #bi2007004785#, #bi2007004788#, #bi2007004836#, and #bi2007004841#).

Social archeology—an exploration of the social dimensions of ancient Maya societies using contemporary anthropological theory—continues to increase in popularity among Maya archeologists. Research is often phrased in terms of the everyday practices of social life, especially those of ordinary, nonaristocratic Maya, and the ways that these practices create cultural patterns and institutions. Explorations of gender (items #bi2007004793# and #bi2007004647#) and spatial organization (item #bi2007004829#) are the most common manifestations of this theoretical perspective, but it is increasingly reflected in investigations of the social relations in which craft production and other economic processes are embedded (item #bi2007004611#). Deployment of social practice approaches in understanding the development of social hierarchy and political centralization (items #bi2007004787# and #bi2007004593#) is particularly interesting.

Despite the prominence of social archeology in Maya studies, much of the literature continues to be descriptive, especially in Mexico and Central America (items #bi2007004814#, #bi2006001245#, #bi2007004795#, and #bi2006001606#). Detailed reports on field investigations, including excavation projects (items #bi2007004806# and #bi2004002185#), settlement pattern studies (items #bi2007004780#, #bi2007004569#, #bi2007004572#, #bi2007004792#, #bi2006000028#, and #bi2007004823#), analyses of ancient environments, agriculture, and ecology (items #bi2007004775#, #bi2007004776#, #bi2004003414#, #bi2007004816#, #bi2007004821#, #bi2007004826#, and #bi2007004827#), and studies of ancient technology and sources of raw material (items #bi2007004583#, #bi2007004588#, #bi2007004591#, #bi2007004771#, #bi2007004571#, #bi2007004810#, and #bi2007004815#) are well represented. Traditional problems in cultural history—notably the Maya "collapse" (items #bi2007004587#, #bi2006002257#, and #bi2007004802#) and interactions with Teotihuacán (items #bi2007004828# and #bi2007004831#)—are still important themes, though approaches to them increasingly move beyond vague abstractions like "influence" to attempts to frame the issues in terms of likely social relationships.

Ancient Maya political geography (items #bi2007004782# and #bi2005002832#), the institutions surrounding kingship in Maya states (items #bi2007004773#, #bi2007004778#, #bi2007004779#, #bi2007004799#, #bi2007004809#, #bi2006000568#, and #bi2007004822#), and ritual and belief (items #bi2006001611#, #bi2007004813#, #bi2007004805#, and #bi2007004833#) are enduring concerns in Maya studies. Epigraphic analyses of ancient Maya texts (items #bi2007004567#, #bi2007004774#, #bi2007004812#, #bi2007004839#, and #bi2007000939#), producing increasingly sophisticated readings and reconstructions of language history, and studies of ancient imagery and its symbolic meanings (items #bi2007004568#, #bi2007004798#, #bi2007004825#, and #bi2007004835#), which tend to reflect more traditional interpretive strategies, are prominent in these domains. Approaches to these topics grounded in social practice perspectives are becoming more common (item #bi2007004790#).

Mayanists are becoming increasingly interested in and sensitive to the ties between descendant communities and archeological remains, and the impact of archeological research on living peoples. Some Mayanists are collaborating with descendant communities in creating museums and seeking other strategies that will allow them to benefit from the growth of archeological tourism (items #bi2007004589#, #bi2007004570#, and #bi2006001706#). Issues related to looting, collecting, and the antiquities market continue to be largely unexamined. [JSH]

Northern Mesoamerica

Major themes in recent publications on the archeology of northern Mesoamerica include research on religion, ideology, and politics; landscape, space, and settlement; interregional interaction; and artifact-based studies, as well as more general regional and site-based syntheses. There has also been an upsurge in works on economy and subsistence.

University presses continue to be important publication venues for northern Mesoamerican archeology. The major presses are the University of Texas Press, the University Press of Colorado, and the University of Utah Press. The University of Oklahoma Press, once a leading publisher, is no longer as active in publishing on Mesoamerica. Important monograph series are published by the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Michigan. In Mexico, the Colección Científica series of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) continues to publish many important field reports and monographs. Important professional journals focusing on Mesoamerican archeology continue to be Latin American Antiquity, Ancient Mesoamerica, Arqueología, and Mexicon.

Recent general works on northern Mesoamerican archeology include regional summaries of the archeology of the states of Guerrero (items #bi2007004609# and #bi2005001020#), Guanajuato (item #bi2005001027#), and Baja California (item #bi2006001734#) as well as the Gulf Coast (item #bi2007004626#), Apaxco de Ocampo, Mexico (item #bi2005001033#), the lower Río Verde Valley, Oaxaca (item #bi2007004679#), and the Postclassic Soconusco Coast, Chiapas (item #bi2005005407#). Several works explore the organization of Mesoamerican states (items #bi2007004644#, #bi2007004645#, #bi2007004656#, and #bi2007004635#). Brown and Stanton (item #bi2007004041#) edit a volume dealing with the history of warfare across Mesoamerica. A volume in honor of John Paddock includes chapters on the Mixteca Baja and the Valley of Oaxaca (item #bi2007004612#). Ardren and Hutson (item #bi2007004632#) edit the first book to focus on childhood in ancient Mesoamerica. Reports on site-based excavation projects were published for Etlatongo (item #bi2007004636#), Yucundaa (item #bi2007004689#), Paquimé (item #bi2005001022#), and Huapalcalco (item #bi2005001035#). Important textbooks examine the Aztec (item #bi2005001029 #), Olmec (item #bi2005001030#), and Mesoamerica as a whole (items #bi2007004603# and #bi2007004618#). Taube (item #bi2005005408#) published an essay on the history of Olmec archeology to introduce his catalog of Olmec art at Dumbarton Oaks.

The majority of publications addressing religion, ideology, and politics examine the late prehispanic and early colonial periods using archeological, epigraphic, and ethnohistorical data (items #bi2007004697#, #bi2007004046#, #bi2007004699#, #bi2007004698#, #bi2007004556#, #bi2007004555#, #bi2007004678#, #bi2007004557#, #bi2007004558#, #bi2007000948#, #bi2005001036#, #bi2007004642#, #bi2006000402#, #bi2003002112#, #bi2007004692#, and #bi2005005406#). Other prominent themes are mortuary practices (items #bi2007004602#, #bi2005001032#, #bi2005001025#, #bi2007004680#, and #bi2007004646#), iconography (items #bi2005001026#, #bi2007004676#, #bi2007004616#, #bi2007004619#, #bi2007004559#, #bi2007004560#, #bi2007004562#, #bi2007004561#, and #bi2007004563#), architecture (item #bi2007004045#), epigraphy (item #bi2007004291#), sacred caves (item #bi2003002061#), gender (items #bi2007004611# and #bi2007004647#), and political boundary dynamics (item #bi2007004610#). Important trends include an increase in research on the Mixtec codices (items #bi2007004555#, #bi2007004556#, #bi2007004557#, and #bi2007000948#) and studies that focus on the definition, identification, and political significance of palaces (items #bi2006002167#, #bi2007004624#, and #bi2007004687#). An important collection of articles on political organization in Oaxaca resulted from the Third Mesa Redonda de Monte Albán (item #bi2005001024#). Mortuary studies include research on human sacrifice (items #bi2007004698#, #bi2005001032#, and #bi2007004646#). Research in northern Mexico and Baja California focuses on rock art (items #bi2005001031# and #bi2005001028#). Houston (item #bi2007004641#) discusses the origins of Mesoamerican writing as part of a volume on early writing systems worldwide. Zeitlin (item #bi2005005406#) presents a major study of changing social and political conditions of the early colonial period in Tehuantepec, including considerations of indigenous resistance. Beekman (item #bi2007004045#) explores the political significance of pole rituals in late formative Jalisco. Joyce and his colleagues (item #bi2007004557#) use archeological, codical, and early colonial archival sources to examine the history of the late postclassic imperial center of Tututepec. Cyphers, Zúñiga, and di Castro (item #bi2007004600#) question previous arguments about the use of Bufo marinus toads in Olmec ritual. Lucero and Fash (item #bi2007002652#) edit an important volume on the political, religious, and economic significance of prehispanic water control systems. Sugiyama (item #bi2007004634#) presents a major synthesis of his excavations at the Feathered Serpent Pyramid that reaches important conclusions concerning politics and ritual at Teotihuacán. Garraty (item #bi2007004607#) uses settlement and ceramic data to examine the Aztec city-state of Teotihuacán.

The topic of landscapes, space, and settlement continues as a major research focus. Regional settlement pattern studies were published for several regions of Veracruz (items #bi2007004048#, #bi2005001017#, and #bi2005001018#) and for Monte Negro, Oaxaca (item #bi2007004044#). Blanton's (item #bi2005001021#) classic settlement study of Monte Albán was republished. Inomata and Webb (item #bi2007004042#) edit an important volume on settlement abandonment in Mesoamerica. Robertson and her colleagues (item #bi2007004633#) edit a wide-ranging volume on spatial archeology that includes several chapters on northern Mesoamerica. Balkansky (item #bi2007004043#) reviews the last 20 years of settlement pattern studies in Mesoamerica. Settlement data are used to evaluate models for the effects of warfare and environmental change in the Malpaso Valley, Zacatecas (item #bi2007004601#). Demographic studies were produced for the Valley of Oaxaca (item #bi2007004615#) and the Malpaso Valley (item #bi2007004690#). Webmoor (item #bi2007004652#) examines the conceptual frameworks used by archeologists to examine space with an example from Teotihuacán. Several studies use geoarcheology and paleoecology to explore prehispanic landscape change (items #bi2007004608# and #bi2007004677#).

Interregional interaction has been the source of major debates in recent years. An important debate involves the use of Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (INAA) for the study of ceramic exchange, especially related to studies of early formative interaction (items #bi2007004047#, #bi2007004606#, #bi2007004621#, #bi2007004620#, #bi2007004622#, #bi2007004630#, and #bi2007004648#; also see items #bi2007004682# and #bi2007004685#). Wilk (item #bi2007004655#) offers an alternative explanation for the "Olmec Horizon" in the Valley of Oaxaca. Studies of Aztec imperialism (item #bi2007004623#) and the long-distance exchange of obsidian (items #bi2007004681# and #bi2007004629#) continue as major themes. World systems perspectives are represented by Filini's (item #bi2005001016#) study of interaction between Teotihuacán and the Cuitzeo basin of Michoacán. Smith and Lind (item #bi2007004686#) use imported ceramics to explore the presence of Zapotec merchants in classic period Central Mexico. White and her colleagues (items #bi2007004653# and #bi2007004654#) continue their important studies of immigration to Teotihuacán using stable isotope analyses of human bone.

Publications on economics and subsistence have increased over the last several years. Research includes studies of archeofauna (item #bi2005001034#), early agriculture (items #bi2007004617#, #bi2007004628#, #bi2007004631#, #bi2005005405#, and #bi2004003571#), domestic organization and economy (items #bi2007004672#, #bi2007004604#, #bi2007004674#, #bi2007004650#, #bi2007004694#, and #bi2007004693#), craft production (items #bi2007004673#, #bi2007004637#, #bi2007004614#, and #bi2007004688#), and salt production (item #bi2007004683#). Major studies of subsistence include Voorhies' volume on the Archaic Period Chantuto people of coastal Chiapas (item #bi2004003571#) and VanDerwarker's work on the Olmec (items #bi2006000502# and #bi2007004651#). Fisher (item #bi2007004605#) challenges models of anthropogenic landscape change through a long-term study of the Lake Pátzcuaro basin. Pérez Rodríguez (item #bi2007004627#) explores household management of agricultural terrace systems in the postclassic Mixteca Alta, Oaxaca, while Trumbold and Israde-Alcantara (item #bi2007004649#) examine terrace agriculture at La Quemada. Hirth (item #bi2007004637#) presents a study of obsidian production, consumption, and exchange at Xochicalco. Carballa Staedtler and Flores Hernández (item #bi2007004049#) investigate Aztec hydraulic systems in the basin of Mexico (also see items #bi2007004675# and #bi2007004625#).

Artifact-based studies continue to focus on the important basic research of constructing ceramic typologies and chronologies and examining the function and significance of diverse artifact types. Functional studies include examinations of musical instruments in Oaxaca (item #bi2007004638#), formative figurines in Oaxaca (item #bi2007004696#), and sandals from Coahuila (item #bi2007004639#). Arnold (item #bi2007004564#) analyzes early formative pottery from the Tuxtla mountains to consider the origins of Olmec civilization. Sellen (item #bi2007004684#) considers the late-19th-century and early-20th-century artifact collection of Dr. Fernando Sologuren. Geochemical sourcing and use of bitumen is explored by Wendt and Lu (item #bi2007004695#).

I would like to thank Jessica Hedgepeth for assistance with the annotated bibliography. [AAJ]


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