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Volume 51 / Social Sciences

ANTHROPOLOGY: ARCHEOLOGY


Mesoamerica

BARBARA L. STARK, Professor of Anthropology, Arizona State University
JOHN S. HENDERSON, Professor of Anthropology, Cornell University

MESOAMERICAN PUBLISHING is entering a new era in regard to journals devoted wholly or in part to the region. This year relatively new journals (items bi 90005620, bi 90007798, and bi 90005530) are joined by another journal called Mesoamerica (item bi 90005494) and by Arqueología (item bi 90005607). Two new journals to be published via North American institutions have been announced but have not yet begun. Antropología e Historia is now called Antropología and will be published trimestrally (item bi 90005982). The Boletín del Consejo de Arqueología (see HLAS 47:360) appears to have ceased.

Coverage of Mesoamerican publications has become increasingly difficult here paradoxically because of continued growth in the volume of research and publication in Latin America. Unreliable international distribution creates difficulties. Over 50 percent of the non-Maya annotated entries are published in Latin America this time, which still underrepresents their volume. For Mexico alone, there are diverse state, federal, and university publications, plus those of voluntary associations. Materials are often difficult to locate.

Organizational proliferation of INAH some years ago and an ensuing explosion of research are increasingly evident as a cornucopia of new information, leading to a need for new syntheses (items bi 89000585 and bi 90005745) as well as scholarly tools, such as histories of research (items bi 90005601 and bi 90005853), indices (item bi 90005634), catalogs (items bi 90005862 and bi 90005946), biographies (items bi 90005636, bi 90005987, and bi 90005952), and bibliographies (item bi 90005600). The work of newer generations of archaeologists added during institutional growth increasingly shapes our perception of Mesoamerican prehistory as publications disseminate their investigations. Additionally, reflective essays on how archaeological interpretation interplays with modern culture and politics provide healthy insights into the struggle to understand the past (items bi 90005629, and bi 90007798).

Publications based on the Templo Mayor investigations continue (items bi 90005986, bi 90005604, bi 89000584, and bi 90005845) and increasingly reflect efforts to understand Aztec cosmology and ideology. Aztec period political economy and effects of imperial expansion are examined in other publications (items bi 90005869, bi 90005610, bi 90005612, bi 90005680, and bi 90005859), as are settlement patterns (item bi 90005599) and the essentials of town and village life (items bi 90005595, and bi 90005974).

The early postclassic and Tula are not abundantly represented in recent publications (items bi 90005399, bi 90005946, and bi 90005617), but one essay provides a quite valuable synthesis about the history of Tula (see Cobean's and Mastache's contribution in item bi 90005844).

Teotihuacan perennially is an important subject (items bi 90005745 and bi 90005746); particularly valuable are the results of a 1981 symposium, in which researchers drew primarily on data garnered from the mapping project and its offshoots (item bi 90005979). Some of these and other papers delve into household and residential activities and prestige differences (items bi 90005625 and bi 90005870). The wider nature of Teotihuacan contacts is addressed by a discussion of its fall (item bi 90005841) and by research at distant sites (items bi 90005835, bi 90005848, and bi 90005867). A major study of Teotihuacan iconography and symbols is the most comprehensive to date (item bi 90005934).

Several major advances in preclassic research appeared, prime among them the final report on Chalcatzingo (item bi 90005656; see also items bi 90005607, and bi 90005620) and a major synthesis for the Basin of Mexico (item bi 89000578). A new project at La Venta has produced valuable settlement pattern information (items bi 90005637, bi 90005608, and bi 90005863). Limited data on a smaller center to the east are available (item bi 90005655), as well as historically focused contributions about Olmec studies (items bi 90005601 and bi 90005853). To the northwest, a long sequence in the Huastec area includes preclassic occupation (item bi 90005630). Publication of data on early occupations in Oaxaca continues (items bi 90005855 and bi 89000580). Maya preclassic research reflects three main themes: basic descriptive analysis (items bi 90005404, bi 90005524, bi 90005415, bi 90006024, and bi 90005408); reconstruction of exchange networks (items bi 90005587 and bi 90005413); and the emergence of elites, the State, and their religious underpinnings (item bi 90005474 and bi 90005501).

Preceramic occupations are treated: 1) in the final report on an early occupation at Tlapacoya (item bi 90005836); 2) synthetically for the Basin of Mexico (item bi 89000578) and pan-Mesoamerica (item bi 90005838); 3) in brief, covering projectile point finds (items bi 90005663); and 4) in a study of a Chiapan rockshelter (item bi 90005748).

Settlement patterns predominate in two thematic volumes (items bi 90005839 and bi 90005870); such patterns are a continuing focus of research in the Maya area (items bi 90005398, bi 90005522, bi 90005573, and bi 90005585). The Mesoamerican ballgame is the subject of another study (item bi 90005749), as well as of a paper that attempts to solve the riddle of the heavy stone yokes (item bi 90005931) and one that emphasizes its connections with warfare and sacrifice (item bi 90005572). Several recent studies in the Maya highlands reflect a resurgence of interest in ethnoarchaeology (items bi 90005411, bi 90005584, bi 90005405, bi 90005497, bi 90005525, and bi 90005748).

An important trend is the widening distance between epigraphers and iconographers on the one hand, and "dirt" archaeologists on the other. One aspect of this is sharp disagreement over the appropriate attitude toward objects without provenience. Many Mesoamericanists who focus on iconography and/or epigraphy argue that any significant object should be recorded and published, even when the circumstances surrounding its acquisition are mysterious. An increasing proportion of field archaeologists feel that it is unethical to have anything to do with objects without pedigrees since analyzing and (especially) publishing them legitimizes not only collecting, but also commercial dealing, looting, and the destruction of sites that provide the raw material for the antiquities market in the first place (item bi 90005402) . Another important consideration is that the growing skill and sophistication of forgers makes it difficult, perhaps impossible, to consistently recognize fakes (items bi 90007798 and bi 90005980).

This conflict is most sharply felt in Maya iconography and epigraphy, a rich and rapidly evolving field. Advances in the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphic writing continue to accelerate (item bi 90009746), with readings for more individual signs and an increasing appreciation for variability and multiple functions. Much of this work has included analysis of objects without provenience (items bi 90005997, bi 88002644, bi 90006057, and bi 90006028).

From the perspective of many Maya field archaeologists, this intensifying focus on art and writing, quite apart from ethical issues, represents a renewal of the traditional elite emphasis of Maya studies. To some degree this trend runs counter to the recent shift in interest from the traditional preoccupation with the affairs and monuments of Maya aristocrats to a more general approach to the organization of Maya societies. The latter strategy requires much closer attention to non-elite remains, especially domestic architecture and associated artifacts, and has been accompanied by an increasing focus on regional variability and recognition of the importance of detailed empirical documentation. From these perspectives, one of the most interesting developments in Maya studies is the emerging importance of the recent investigations at Copán sponsored by the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia (items bi 90005520, bi 90005410, bi 90005472, and bi 90005523). Replication studies of architectural and sculptural activity are providing new and surprisingly modest estimates of the labor implications of Maya elite activity. The holistic study of Copán and its surrounding region from an ecological and demographic perspective, with intensive investigation of rural domestic remains, is producing a unique data set that will be of exceptional importance in reassessing our views of classic period Maya societies. The settlement studies are already providing a clear indication that the collapse at Copán was very much an elite phenomenon with little obvious rural effect.

Field survey and excavation continue to be particularly active in eastern Mesoamerica, especially in Yucatan and along the southeastern fringe of the Maya world. Several volumes summarize and synthesize this new information on the southeastern Mesoamerican frontier and adjacent parts of upper Central America to the east and south (items bi 90005527, bi 90005395, bi 90005396, and bi 90005397).

Research in progress is briefly noted (items bi 90005742 and bi 90005743). We thank colleagues and publishers who helped us obtain copies of recent publications. Space limitations unfortunately require us to annotate thematic volumes as units, even when a variety of papers are included. Some annotations are by Hasso von Winning, a former contributing editor.


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