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Volume 61 / Social Sciences

ANTHROPOLOGY: ARCHAEOLOGY


Mesoamerica

JOHN HENDERSON, Professor of Anthropology, State University of New York, Albany
ARTHUR A. JOYCE, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Colorado at Boulder


ARCHEOLOGISTS CONCERNED WITH THE MAYA have become increasingly interested in the last few decades in placing the Maya in comparative perspective with other ancient complex societies and with situating interpretations in the context of social anthropology and social theory. The strength of these trends is becoming more clearly reflected in the published literature. In the broadest terms, this tendency can be characterized as social archeology—an exploration of the social dimensions of ancient Maya societies. Often these studies aim to illuminate the everyday practices of ancient social life as reflected in the material remains recovered by archeologists, in elite and royal contexts, as well as in the investigation of the lives of ordinary farmers and craftsmen (items #bi2005001451#, #bi2005001522#, and #bi2005001528#). The nature of Maya royal courts (items #bi2003005233# and #bi2005001529#) and the ways in which the ancient Maya conceptualized and defined gender categories (items #bi2003003758# and #bi2005001505#) are the most pronounced areas of focus among recent efforts to place Mayan archeology within a social archeological context.

Despite the growing popularity of theorizing social life in the ancient Maya world, a substantial proportion of the literature is heavily descriptive, most often summarizing field investigations—excavation projects (items #bi2002005246# and #bi2005001533#), settlement pattern studies (item #bi2005001525#), analyses of ancient environments (items #bi2005001517#, #bi2005001521#, and #bi2005001853#), and studies of ancient technology and sources of raw material, especially ceramics and obsidian (items #bi2005001514#, #bi2005001538#, and #bi2005001544#). Empirically oriented studies often include attempts to reconstruct the principles and institutions that structure ecology, subsistence, economics (items #bi2005001515#, #bi2005001526#, #bi2005001541#, and #bi2005001860#), reflecting the continuation of a processual thread within Maya archeology. An emphasis on such traditional problems in cultural history as the Maya "collapse" and the relationships between Teotihuacán and the Maya world persists as well (items #bi2005001510# and #bi2005001857#).

Reconstructing the details of the political landscape of the ancient Maya world (item #bi2005001870#); analyzing the symbolism of kingship (item #bi2005001873#); and exploring myth, ritual, and worldview (item #bi2005001506#) continue to be important dimensions of Maya archeology. This tradition often involves a "non-scientific" approach and a less constrained style of interpretation consistent with the art historical and cultural historical approaches that have always been strong in Maya studies; they also have much in common with some varieties of "post-processual" archeology. Studies based on decipherment of Maya hieroglyphic writing and on related insights from analysis of iconography are particularly prominent (item #bi2005001504#).

Empirical emphases are found more often in journals and monographs published in Mexico and Central America (items #bi2001005730#, #bi2001005727#, and #bi2005001507#); they are represented here in a very limited way. North American journals are the most likely outlets for theoretically oriented studies (item #bi2005001549#). A continuing stream of publications based on data generated by large projects at major lowland Maya cities of the classic period, notably Copán and Tikal (items #bi2005001509#, #bi2005001550#, and #bi2005001858#), cuts across all of these categories.

Notable by their absence are studies of looting, collecting, and the antiquities market. These critical issues in Maya archeology are largely unexamined, apart from occasional commentary in publications that feature artifacts from museum and private collections without provenience. [JSH]

NORTHERN MESOAMERICA

A number of themes can be identified in recent publications on the archeology of northern Mesoamerica, most of which reflect ongoing research interests in the field. The most common focus of publications over the past several years has been religion, ideology, and politics in ancient Mesoamerica, often using epigraphy and iconography as well as archeological data. Interregional interaction, household archeology, and artifact-based research, including materials-characterization studies, as well as large-scale, site-based reports and settlement surveys, continue to be common themes present in recent publications.

University presses continue to be the important publication venues for Northern Mesoamerican archeology. Chief among them are the University of Texas Press and the University of Oklahoma Press; more recently, the University Press of Colorado and the University of Utah Press have moved into publishing on Mesoamerican archeology. In the last few years, the Cotsen Institute of Archeology at the University of California, Los Angeles, has emerged as a major publisher of field research-based monographs, joining the outstanding monograph series from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Michigan. In Mexico, the Colección Científica series of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia publishes many useful technical studies and monographs. Important professional journals focusing on Mesoamerican archeology are Latin American Antiquity, Ancient Mesoamerica, Arqueología, and Mexicon.

Studies addressing religion, ideology, and politics examine mortuary practices (items #bi2001002034# and #bi2001007289#), ritual deposits (items #bi2003005783# and #bi2001007299#), iconography (items #bi2003005778#, #bi2003005785#, #bi2003005793#, #bi2003005798#, #bi2003005797#, #bi2004000952#, #bi2001007312#, #bi2004000953#, #bi2005001881#), sacred geography (items #bi2001002037#, #bi2005001535#, #bi2001005262#, #bi2003005791#, #bi2003002452#, #bi2004000951#, and #bi2003002446#), and gender (item #bi2003005786#). In a creative synthesis of West Mexican archeology, Beekman examines the distribution of classic period shaft tombs and public architecture and argues that they reflect distinct local-level elite strategies (see HLAS 59:113). The most important epigraphic study published in the last several years is Javier Urcid's volume on Zapotec hieroglyphic writing from the Valley of Oaxaca (item #bi2004001053#; also see item #bi2003005777#). Several major ethnohistoric studies on ancient religion have appeared (items #bi2003005789#, #bi2003005790#, and #bi2003005799#). Ethnohistory and ethnography are increasingly being used to interpret archeological patterning (items #bi2003005787# and #bi2003005795#). While much of the research on religion and politics reflects traditional theoretical perspectives in archeology and art history, poststructuralist theory is increasingly influential in these studies (items #bi2005001451#, #bi2003005779#, #bi2003005780#, #bi2003005788#, and #bi2003005781#).

Recent publications on northern Mesoamerican archeology that treat interregional interaction are moving away from the explicit focus on world systems theory that dominated this research in the 1990s. The topic of imperialism has received increasing attention from scholars and has triggered important debates. The majority of work on imperial relations focuses on the archeology and ethnohistory of the Aztec Empire and its relations with hinterland regions (items #bi2004000992#, #bi2004000993#, and #bi2004000995#). While the general outline of Aztec imperial strategies is known, there is debate over the existence of earlier empires centered at Tula, Teotihuacán, and Monte Albán. An important comparative article by Smith and Montiel supports arguments for the Aztec and Teotihuacán empires, while rejecting the idea of an empire centered at Tula (item #bi2004000996#). Debate on the extent of Monte Albán imperialism continues (items #bi2004000997# and #bi2004000998#). An important methodological development is the application of isotopic analysis of human bone, leading to the identification of foreigners in sites such as Teotihuacán (items #bi2005001502# and #bi2004000999#).

Household archeology continues to be a focus of research and publication with reports on residential excavations from Teotihuacán (item #bi2001007305#), Mixtequilla on the Gulf Coast (item #bi2003002439#), the Olmec site of Isla Alor (item #bi2004000959#), and El Palmillo in Oaxaca (item #bi2004000956#). Middleton and his colleagues carry out a comparative study of subsistence and craft production from two sites in the central highlands of Oaxaca (item #bi2004000958#). The Otumba project focuses on household-level craft industries (items #bi2003000486# and #bi2003000487#). While most of these studies report on recent excavations of low-status households, Elson and Smith reanalyze Valliant's 1935 excavations of an Aztec palace at Chiconautla in the Basin of Mexico (item #bi2003005783#), showing how old data can be effectively reconsidered given new research problems. An important volume is Plunket's edited book on domestic ritual because it shifts the focus of household archeology away from domestic economy to the ways in which people participated in ritual life within their residences (item #bi2003005776#).

Artifact-based studies continue to focus on the important basic research of constructing ceramic typologies and chronologies (items #bi2005001452#, #bi2003002442#, and #bi2004000963#). The most important studies of ceramic typology address major debates on chronology: the classic-postclassic transition in the Valley of Oaxaca (HLAS 59:214) and the origins of the Mixteca-Puebla polychrome style (item #bi2003002438#). Garraty uses Late Aztec pottery to develop indices to identify elites (item #bi2003000490#). In addition to ceramic studies, research continues on technological (items #bi2004000961#, #bi2003002440#, #bi2001002032#, and #bi2004000962#) and sourcing (items #bi2003000489#, #bi2005001544#, and #bi2004000989#) studies of obsidian. Research also continues on ceramic production (items #bi2001000342# and #bi2005001453#) and the social significance of ceramic designs (item #bi2001002036#). Other important artifact-based studies examine prehispanic musical instruments (item #bi2002006869#), the use of tecali for artifact manufacture (item #bi2001002044#), and Olmec "hollow baby" figurines (item #bi2004000960#).

Regional settlement pattern studies that address issues of demographic change, human ecology, and sociopolitical evolution continue to be a focus of publication. Settlement studies have been reported from the Toluca Valley (item #bi2001007291#), the Valley of Buenavista de Cuéllar of Guerrero (item #bi2001007310#), the Bajío region of Guanajuato (item #bi2003002456#), the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca (item #bi2004000991#), the lower Coatzacoalcos drainage (item #bi2003002451#), and the Hueyapan region of Veracruz (item #bi2005001501#).

While the number of large-scale, site-based studies has decreased over the last several decades, a number of recent publications explore the type of major project that was once the mainstay of Mesoamerican archeology. One of the most important recent publications is Kenneth Hirth's two-volume study of the epiclassic city of Xochicalco based on the results of the Xochicalco Mapping Project (HLAS 59:183). The Tula Region Project involves survey and mapping to trace the formation and development of the early postclassic Toltec city (item #bi2003002447#). In northern Mexico, Whalen and Minnis provide an important new perspective on the site of Casas Grandes (Paquimé) based on the results of settlement research (item #bi2001007300#). Results of the Otumba project are reported in two special sections of the journal Ancient Mesoamerica (see items #bi2003000486# and #bi2003000487# for project overviews).

A number of important edited volumes summarize recent archeological research on the Zapotec city of Monte Albán (item #bi2003005774#) and ancient urbanism in Mesoamerica (item #bi2003005773#). The second edition of the four-volume Historia antigua de Mexico includes both updated articles from the first edition and new chapters (items #bi2005002301#, #bi2005002302#, #bi2005002303#, and #bi2005002304#). Recent reference works that provide numerous entries on archeological sites, ethnic groups, regions, researchers, cultural practices, and artifacts, among many other subjects are the Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia (item #bi2003005765#) and the three-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures (item #bi2003005772#). While research on the Archaic Period and especially on the origins of agriculture has waned over the last decade, two important studies have recently appeared (items #bi2003005766# and #bi2003005771#). [AAJ]


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