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Volume 59 / Social Sciences

ANTHROPOLOGY: ARCHAEOLOGY


Mesoamerica

JOHN HENDERSON, Professor of Anthropology, Cornell University
MICHAEL E. SMITH, Professor of Anthropology, Cornell University


THREE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT RECENT PUBLICATIONS in Mesoamerican archeology exemplify current trends in the scholarship of this area. The translation of the six-volume 1902 German edition of Collected works in Mesoamerican linguistics and archeology by Eduard Seler, among the most productive and influential Mesoamericanists of all time, shows a renewed appreciation for the fundamental contributions and continuing relevance of early Mesoamericanist scholars (item bi2002000931; see also Gallegos et al., item bi2001004581; Matos Moctezuma, item bi 00000496; and Olay Barrientos, item bi 00000497). Joyce's Gender and Power in Prehispanic Mesoamerica charts new territory in the social interpretation of archeological and pictorial data, exemplifying a trend of sophisticated new studies of gender in ancient Mesoamerica (item bi2001003547; see also Hamann, HLAS 58:508; Hendon, item bi2002000463; and Marcus, item bi2002000478). Other important recent publications include Cowgill's review article on Teotihuacan (item bi2001004577); Deal's study of the archeological implications of modern Maya ceramic production and use (item bi2002002678); Pasztory's novel interpretation of Teotihuacan society (item bi 98006440); and Schele and Mathews' synthesis of epigraphy and archeology at selected Maya cities (item bi2002000397).

Mesoamerican archeology has seen a significant increase in the rate of publication in the past few years. In Mexico, the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia has increased the volume of publication with many important new books. Among US publishers, the University of Utah Press and the University Press of Colorado have launched major new series of books on Mesoamerica, joining the University of Texas Press and the University of Oklahoma Press as the foremost publishers of Mesoamerican archeology.

A notable current trend is the proliferation of recent reference works on ancient Mesoamerica. Adams and MacLeod's The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas. Volume II, Mesoamerica, part 1 contains a small number of lengthy entries by specialists on major topics (item bi 00001036), whereas Palka's slim Historical Dictionary of Ancient Mesoamerica takes the opposite approach by providing numerous short entries on individual sites and themes (item bi2002000920). More ambitious are two encyclopedias that will be reviewed in the next volume; these are Archeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia edited by Evans and Webster (Garland, 2001), and The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures edited by Carrasco (three volumes, Oxford University Press, 2001). Also useful are a number of review articles on Mesoamerican topics with large bibliographies; these include Balkansky (item bi2001004564), Cowgill (item bi2001004577), Grove (item bi2001004585), Hodge (item bi2001004691), and Pollard (item bi2002000925). Recent textbooks include a new edition of Henderson's The World of the Ancient Maya (see HLAS 57:80); Smith's The Aztecs (item bi2002000933); Ancient Oaxaca by Blanton et al. (item bi 99006033); and a reader, The Ancient Civilizations of Mesoamerica (item bi2002000934).

The revival of several old theories has sparked wide-ranging debates. John Clark resuscitated Miguel de Covarrubias' argument from the 1940s that the Olmecs were the "mother culture" of Mesoamerica, tracing innovations of the formative period to an Olmec hearth on the Gulf Coast (items bi2001004575 and bi2001004576). This viewpoint has been vigorously challenged by Flannery and Marcus (item bi2001004580), who prefer a model of a network of evolving complex societies that influenced one another through trade and information exchange (see also item bi2001004585 and HLAS 57:100). New glyphic decipherments by Stuart (item bi2002000410) and new archeological findings at Tikal and Copan (items bi2002002637 and bi2002002624) have revived old theories that Teotihuacan conquered, or had a major influence on, Maya polities in the early classic period, a viewpoint criticized by numerous scholars in works not yet published.

Finally, van Sertima reasserted his fringe diffusionist claims that Africans crossed the Atlantic in ancient times to influence early Mesoamerican cultures (item bi2002000939). Several specialists examined van Sertima's arguments and evidence in detail showing them to be confusing and unconvincing (items bi2001004686 and bi2001004687). These scholars suggest that such diffusionist claims rob native Mesoamericans of their heritage by suggesting that foreign influence—rather than indigenous creativity—was responsible for major cultural achievements.


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