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Review Anales de Literatura Hispanoamericana

Ancient Mesoamerica

Review Anuario Brasileño de Estudios Hispánicos

Year: 2014 vol. 25 n. 1

Mollenhauer, Jillian. Sculpting the Past in Preclassic Mesoamerica: Olmec Stone Monuments and the Production of Social Memory.  / Esculpiendo el pasado en el Preclásico de Mesoamérica: monumentos olmecas de piedra y producción de nenoria social p. 11-27 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

Scholars encountering the monolithic sculptures of the Gulf lowland Olmec since the early twentieth century have frequently employed the term “monument” to describe these works. Often the word has been applied in reference to the formal qualities of the sculptures as well as to their antiquity. The function of monuments as sites of public remembering, however, has never been fully explored in relation to these works. This article discusses the evidence for, and implications of, viewing certain Olmec sculptures as public monuments intended to generate, transform, and erase the social memory of Olmec populations. Case studies of sculptural contexts suggest that such monuments were subject to diachronic transpositions and transformations in order to affect shifts in the collective memory over time. They remain as physical testaments to the maneuverings of Olmec elites within complex and ever-changing power relations that relied on the process of memory-making as part of the political stratagem.

Paulinyi, Zoltán. The Butterfly Bird God and his Myth at Teotihuacan.  / El dios pájaro mariposa y su mito en Teotihuacan p. 29-48 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

We know little about the gods of the Teotihuacan pantheon and practically nothing of their mythology. Starting from the analysis of a group of murals in Atetelco (Teotihuacan), a partial reconstruction is proposed for a Teotihuacan myth, the principal figure of which has the character of a sun god linked to vegetation. In this proposal, this god descends to the Underworld and is reborn, thus rising out of the depths of the earth. The myth appears to include, moreover, a ballgame in the Underworld and probably a supernatural macaw, linked in some way to the god in question. In my opinion, this is probably a creation myth, with a basic structure bearing a resemblance to that of the Popol Vuh.

Williams, Eduardo. Reconstructing an Ancient Aquatic Lifeway in the Lake Cuitzeo Basin, Michoacan, México.  / Reconstrucción de un modo de vida acuático antiguo en la cuenca del Lago Cuitzeo, Michoacán, México p. 49-67 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

This study of subsistence activities (fishing, hunting, gathering, and manufacture) in the Lake Cuitzeo Basin underscores the value of ethnoarchaeology as a tool for reconstructing the ancient aquatic lifeway in the territory of the ancient Tarascan state, which flourished in an environment dominated by lakes, rivers, marshes, and other wetlands. Mesoamerica was the only civilization in the ancient world that lacked major domesticated sources of animal protein, such as cattle, pigs, and sheep. Therefore, the abundant wild aquatic species (fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and plants, among others) played a strategic role in the diet and economy of most Mesoamerican cultures, including the Tarascans. Most of the activities, artifacts, and features linked with aquatic lifeways throughout Mesoamerica are difficult to detect in the archaeological record. As a result, we must rely on ethnographic and ethnohistorical perspectives like the ones discussed here to formulate analogies, in order to understand this important aspect of the ancient past.

Speal, C. Scott. The Evolution of Ancient Maya Exchange Systems: An Etymological Study of Economic Vocabulary in the Mayan Language Family.  / La evolución de los sistemas de intercambio de los antiguos mayas: un estudio etimológico de vocabulario económico de la familia lingüística maya p. 69-113 Centroamérica
México
Época prehispánica

Summary

This article presents a cultural reconstruction of ancient Maya economic development derived through etymological study of exchange-related terms in Mayan languages. It applies the results of historical linguistic analysis to archaeological and epigraphic data in order to gain insight into Maya economic prehistory. Cognitive spheres examined include generalized exchange, reciprocation, appropriation and vertical transfers of goods and labor, open commerce, and material valuables. Among the most poignant implications of the results are the antiquity of commerce and its rather extended evolutionary trajectory. Indicators of intense commercialization, however, are few and rather late. Widespread recognition of several elements of the diverse complex of Contact period Mesoamerican valuables can be traced only to the latter part of the Late Formative period or afterward. Evidence of formalized market systems—specifically linking commerce to towns and architectural plazas—appears only late in the Classic period. Terms associated with the hierarchical appropriation of goods and labor appear earlier and are more persistent and stable over time. In particular, there is a single widespread root for tribute obligation apparently subsuming tax, plunder, and work debt all under a single term, as well as evidence for the great antiquity of formalized servitude. Finally, various forms of general reciprocity and gifting are, as might be expected, shown to be of great diversity, complexity, and antiquity. In the course of analysis, several recent models of Mayan language interaction and diversification are examined and evaluated, and a slightly revised linguistic chronology is suggested that better reconciles linguistic data with archaeological facts as they are currently known. The results also have interesting implications for proto-Mayan geographical origins.

Sagebiel, Kerry Lynn. The Late and Terminal Classic Ceramic Sequence at La Milpa, Belize: Implications for its Occupation History.  / La secuencia cerámica del clásico tardío y terminal en La Milpa, Belice: Implicaciones para la historia de su ocupación p. 115-137 Centroamérica
Belice
Época prehispánica

Summary

Previous interpretations of the occupation history of La Milpa, Belize, which were based on preliminary ceramic data, suggested that occupation of the site fluctuated dramatically from the Late Preclassic to the Terminal Classic (400 b.c.–a.d. 850). It was determined that the modest Late Preclassic village became a large Early Classic city with regal-ritual architecture and carved monuments. In Late Classic I, it appeared the site was nearly abandoned. Its reoccupation and exponential growth in Late Classic II was followed by rapid abandonment before the end of the Late Classic III/Terminal Classic. New ceramic analyses utilizing attribute analysis with an emphasis on formal modes has clarified the sequence and, in turn, softened the occupation curves. This article provides descriptions of the Late Classic I, II, and III ceramics, along with revised percentage frequency graphs of La Milpa's occupation history based primarily on the work of the La Milpa Archaeological Project (1992–2002).

Andrieu, Chloé; Rodas, Edna; Luin, Luis. The Values of Classic Maya Jade: A Reanalysis of Cancuen's Jade WorkshopIn  Special Section: New Perspectives on Ancient Mesoamerican Economies  p. 141-164 Guatemala
Época prehispánica

Summary

Most ancient Maya jade workshops have been discovered in the Motagua Valley, the region where the majority of known Mesoamerican jade sources are located; whereas in the Maya lowlands, evidence of jade production has primarily been in the form of finished objects or, in a few cases, of jade debitage in construction fill and cache contexts. At Cancuen, however, a large jade preform production area was discovered in the heart of a major lowland Maya site. In this paper we present the technological reanalysis of this material and show that the quality and color of the raw material corresponds to very different production processes, values, and distribution within the site. We suggest that most of Cancuen's jade production was exported to recipient sites as preforms and discuss the importance of this organization for understanding the nature of wealth goods production and exchange in the ancient Maya world.

Rochette, Erick T. Out of Control? Rethinking Assumptions about Wealth Goods Production and the Classic MayaIn  Special Section: New Perspectives on Ancient Mesoamerican Economies  p. 165-185 Guatemala
Época prehispánica

Summary

Objects crafted from jade played a prominent role in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica from at least the Middle Formative period (ca. 1000–400 b.c.). Based primarily on the consumption of jade artifacts by Classic Maya elites, scholars have argued that their production was under the direct control of elite members of society. Recent research in the middle Motagua Valley and elsewhere in Mesoamerica suggests that that the production of wealth goods varied much more widely than previously assumed. These data and subsequent technological analyses indicate that jade artifact production took place in a variety of domestic and nondomestic, as well as elite and nonelite, contexts. In particular, the current evidence from the middle Motagua Valley suggests that households at all levels of the local social hierarchy were engaged in the production of jade beads and preformed blanks intended for final-stage production elsewhere. This evidence runs counter to many previous models of wealth goods production, which have viewed such production as an elite-dominated activity. This article brings together recent evidence from the middle Motagua Valley, Guatemala, to propose new ways of conceptualizing the place of elites in Classic period Maya wealth goods production and the extent of their role in controlling ancient economies. The current evidence suggests that we need to evaluate models of wealth goods production in regard to specific temporal and spatial circumstances.

Demarest, Arthur A.; Andrieu, Chloé; Torres, Paola; Forné, Mélanie; Barrientos, Tomás; Wolf, Marc. Economy, Exchange, and Power: New Evidence from the Late Classic Maya Port City of CancuenIn  Special Section: New Perspectives on Ancient Mesoamerican Economies  p. 187-219 Guatemala

Summary

The site of Cancuen held a strategic position as “head of navigation” of the Pasión River and the physical nexus of land and river routes between the southern highlands, the Maya lowlands, and the transversal route to Tabasco and Veracruz. For that reason, the well-defined ports of Cancuen were critical to both Classic Maya highland/lowland commerce and interactions with the far west. All aspects of Cancuen were related to its role as a port city. By the late eighth century, evidence suggests that in the site epicenter peninsula ports and other aspects of the economy were elite controlled and supervised, based on associated architectural complexes, artifacts, imports, and placement. Recent evidence indicates that, in addition to previously discussed long-distance exchange in exotics such as jade and pyrite, Cancuen also was involved in very large-scale obsidian transport and production, as well as probable exchange of other piedmont commodities such as cacao, cotton, salt, achiote (Bixa orellana), and vanilla. Distribution of architectural, epigraphic, and iconographic evidence and an administrative/ritual palace all indicate growing roles for nobles in these economic activities, particularly the ports. It would appear that, as elsewhere, nobles were taking a more direct mercantile role and that many aspects of the multepal system of power, characteristic of Postclassic period societies, were already in place at Cancuen by the late eighth century. The failure of Cancuen's early transition to a Terminal Classic political economy may be related to its dependence on highland resources and overextended trade networks.

Sierra Sosa, Thelma; Cucina, Andrea; Price, T. Douglas; Burton, James H.; Tiesler, Vera. Maya Coastal Production, Exchange, Life Style, and Population Mobility: A View from the Port of Xcambo, Yucatan, MexicoIn  Special Section: New Perspectives on Ancient Mesoamerican Economies  p. 221-238 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

Anchored in archaeological, bioarchaeological, and chemical research conducted at the coastal enclave of Xcambo, this paper examines Classic period Maya coastal saline economic production and exchange, along with the lifestyle, ethnicity, and mobility of the traders. Nestled in the coastal marshlands of the northern Yucatan, Mexico, Xcambo functioned as a salt production center and port during its occupation, maintaining long-reaching ties with other parts of the Maya world and Veracruz. Considered together, the different data sets document a reorientation in Xcambo's exchange routes and connections, which are echoed by increasingly diverse cultural affiliations and an increasing geographic mobility of Xcambo's merchants. This new information confirms the known pattern of gradually intensifying, though still relatively independent, trade dynamics along the Maya coast in the centuries leading up to the so-called “Maya collapse” and the rise of a new merchant league under the control of Chichen Itza. It was this new order that probably led to the swift end of Xcambo soon after a.d. 700.

Chase, Diane Z.; Chase, Arlen F. Ancient Maya Markets and the Economic Integration of Caracol, BelizeIn  Special Section: New Perspectives on Ancient Mesoamerican Economies  p. 239-250 Belice
Época prehispánica

Summary

Modeling Classic period social and economic systems of the ancient Maya has proven difficult for a number of reasons, including sampling, preservation, and interpretational biases. As more archaeological research has been undertaken, views about the Classic period Maya (a.d. 250–900) have become progressively more complex. Because neither Maya art nor hieroglyphic texts contain substantial information on ancient economic systems, some archaeologists have tended to deemphasize the impact of ancient economies in reconstructions of the Classic period Maya civilization. Archaeological research at Caracol, Belize, however, has recovered evidence of the road systems, marketplaces, and production areas that served as the backbone of the site's economic infrastructure. When combined with artifact distributions, these data demonstrate the existence of an economy based on surplus household production with distribution in elite-administered markets. The archaeological data from Caracol not only elucidate how marketplaces were embedded in the Maya landscape, but also how they were used to integrate the site.

Bishop, Ronald L. Instrumental Approaches to Understanding Mesoamerican Economy: Elusive PromisesIn  Special Section: New Perspectives on Ancient Mesoamerican Economies  p. 251-269 Centroamérica
México
Época prehispánica

Summary

More than four decades ago, instrumental developments, such as those involving neutron activation and X-ray florescence, began to generate relatively large quantities of data from the analysis of archaeological materials. These data served as the basis for many models of long-distance exchange as a means of explaining the development of cultural complexity. I review aspects of this early history and the how use of compositional data is now more directed toward localized investigations of economic activity. Even with this refocus of research interest, studies involving material characterization appear to be declining. Using traditional citation, personal experience, and highly selective examples, I discuss the use of analytical techniques for studies of long-distance trade, as it developed and now confronts interpretive difficulties that are inherent in the data and rendered more so by use of abstract constructs and resource limitations.

Pool, Christopher A.; Knight, Charles L. F.; Glascock, Michael D. Formative Obsidian Procurement at Tres Zapotes, Veracruz, Mexico: Implications for Olmec and Epi-olmec Political EconomyIn  Special Section: New Perspectives on Ancient Mesoamerican Economies  p. 271-293 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

We report the results of chemical sourcing of obsidian artifacts from Tres Zapotes using X-ray fluorescence analysis. This is the first obsidian sourcing study for this major Olmec and Epi-Olmec center in which samples are drawn from secure archaeological proveniences specifically assigned to Early, Middle, Late Formative, and Protoclassic periods. We employed a stratified random sampling strategy to select 180 obsidian artifacts from excavated assemblages, supplementing the random sample with another 24 specimens drawn from rare visual categories. Consequently, we are able to characterize changes in the relative importance of different obsidian sources in the political economy of Tres Zapotes across the critical transition from Olmec to Epi-Olmec society with greater confidence than has been possible for the Gulf lowlands while extending our observations to the full sample of 5,713 visually characterized obsidian artifacts—2,695 of which come from the well-dated Formative contexts examined in this article. Our study confirms the absence of obsidian from Otumba and from Guatemalan sources in the excavated Olmec assemblage in favor of sources from eastern Puebla and Veracruz, supporting a model of overlapping autonomous networks for obsidian procurement at Gulf Olmec sites. Presence of the Guatemalan San Martín Jilotepeque source in Epi-Olmec contexts may relate to the reestablishment of trans-Isthmian contacts, while increasing prevalence of Zaragoza-Oyameles obsidian from eastern Puebla marks the beginning of a long-term trend. Although more even representation of obsidian sources in Epi-Olmec contexts is consistent with the hypothesized transition from an exclusionary Olmec political economy toward a more “corporate” system associated with power sharing among factional leaders at Tres Zapotes, neither Olmec nor Epi-Olmec elites monopolized a particular obsidian source or technology.

Velázquez Castro, Adrián; Melgar Tísoc, Emiliano Ricardo. Producciones palaciegas tenochcas en objetos de concha y lapidariaIn  Special Section: New Perspectives on Ancient Mesoamerican Economies  p. 295-308 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

Investigaciones recientes han mostrado que un buen número de objetos procedentes de las ofrendas del recinto sagrado de Tenochtitlan son producciones locales y no piezas foráneas, obtenidas por tributo, intercambio o saqueo. En el caso de los objetos de concha y lapidaria, sus características formales permiten identificar a un importante grupo no solamente como propio del centro de México, sino como exclusivo de Tenochtitlan e incluso de su templo principal, ya que elementos idénticos no han sido recuperados en otros emplazamientos o en las edificaciones aledañas al Huey Teocalli tenochca. El estudio de las técnicas de manufactura de estas piezas ha permitido confirmar esta suposición e incluso proponer la existencia de un estilo tecnológico tenochca. La gran estandarización morfológica y tecnológica de los objetos y su restringida distribución, permiten proponer que su producción se llevaba a cabo en un contexto dependiente, probablemente en el palacio mismo del gobernante mexica.

Ancient Mesoamerica
Paper | Numerical version with subscription | Semestral | United Kingdom Print ISSN: 0956-5361
Online ISSN: 1469-1787
Year of creation: 1990

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Address: The Edinburgh Building; Shaftesbury Road
Cambridge CB2 8RU United Kingdom

Foro Internacional sobre metodología, teoría, análisis e interpretación de la arqueología, historia del arte y etnohistoria de Mesoamérica. La revista publica artículos principalmente interesados en la arqueología precolombina de la región mesoamericana, pero también incluye artículos de otras disciplinas incluyendo Etnohistoria, arqueología histórica y Etnoarqueología. Los temas incluyen los orígenes de la agricultura, la base económica de las ciudades-Estado e imperios, organización política a través de los períodos desde el formativo hasta el colonial temprano, el desarrollo y función de la escritura y el uso de la iconografía para reconstruir las prácticas y creencias religiosas antiguas.
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