Douglas J. Kennett
This article reviews archaeological evidence of the Archaic period (~7000–2000
Guillermo Acosta Ochoa
This article reviews archaeological evidence of Ice Age hunter-gatherers and the colonization of Mesoamerica. Data currently available indicate that the land bridge known as Beringia linked Asia with the Americas when the sea level dropped during the Pleistocene. To date, this appears to have been the most viable route for the first inhabitants of the New World, who may have followed game that migrated to the new continent. However, there is an ongoing debate regarding whether this migration occurred over land or along the coast and how early the process began. One theory suggests that initial colonization occurred through coastal routes from the Pacific Northwest. This model allows for the possibility that the first Americans gradually colonized coastal ice-free areas along the coast of Beringia and the Pacific Northwest via boats. The model is supported by studies that indicate that the coast of Beringia could have included ecosystems richer in resources than inland areas, suggesting a habitable migratory corridor along the continental landmass. This model also appears to be the most parsimonious theory for explaining the technological diversity observed toward the end of the Pleistocene era, in both Middle America and the rest of the New World.
Aztec ceramic figurines are ubiquitous small finds in central Mexican domestic contexts. As expressive miniature representations of humans, animals, and temples that were distributed through an extensive market system, they provide a window into Aztec worldviews, regional economies, and the household realm. Yet they have received relatively scant archaeological attention, likely because of disciplinary bias toward the monumental and imperial. This chapter reviews this small but compelling corpus of research, identifying a series of six approaches that are loosely chronologically arranged: (1) defining Aztec figurines, (2) figurines as types and as representations of deities, (3) figurines in household ritual, (4) figurine production and exchange, (5) figurines and social identity, and (6) figurine materialities. This analysis also identifies challenges that remain, including a lack of published catalogues of figurine collections, and insufficient detailed contextual excavations of houses where figurines were produced and consumed.
Jeffrey P. Blomster
Figurines are ubiquitous during the Early to Middle Formative (1400–500 bc) throughout the Mesoamerican highlands. As materializations of embodiment, figurines represent productions and performances of cultural practices. Two theses are pursued in this chapter: synchronic juxtapositions in figurine style evince strategies and negotiations of social actors, referencing identity, gender, social norms, affiliation, status and rank, and/or ethnicity, while diachronic changes in figurine frequency and style may reflect larger societal processes. Through comparisons of excavated Early and Middle Formative figurine assemblages from two major highland regions, the southern highlands (the Valleys of Oaxaca and Nochixtlán) and the central highlands (the Basin of Mexico, Puebla, and Morelos), as well as brief comparative detours to Olmec-style figurines from the Gulf Coast and Mokaya figurines from Soconusco, the chapter explores entanglements between synchronic aesthetic negotiations and diachronic changes in figurines and socio-political transformations.
Erin L. Sears
This chapter reviews attempts to derive meaning from Late Classic Maya ceramic figurines. Early concerns with classificatory procedures have evolved beyond an often site-specific viewpoint to include more regional perspectives that incorporate technological characteristics and an awareness of manufacturing practices. Recent studies have gained inspiration from the content analysis of figural painted polychrome vessels or other relief renderings to permit interpretative forays into the meaning of the represented figurine imagery. Rather than discussing figurines as an isolated body of material culture, variation in theme, image and technology are being explored relative to depositional patterning, and relation to different social levels of ancient communities, especially the residue of ritual devotions. While these portable, miniaturized musical sculptures are still occasionally presented as singular objects that symbolize ancient lifeways, there is increasing recognition that when they are evaluated within the context of special deposits, deeper understandings may be inferred.
Christopher A. Pool
The study of Olmec figurines has proven contentious with respect to defining Olmec style, the relation of Olmec style to the Olmec archaeological culture of Mexico’s southern Gulf lowlands, and the representation of social categories, particularly gender categories. Focusing on the Early and Middle Formative ceramic figurine traditions of Olman, the ‘Olmec heartland’ of the southern Gulf lowlands, this chapter reviews previous classifications, examines variation and change in technical and aesthetic styles from a community-of-practice perspective, and discusses the figural representation of gender, age, and other social categories. Variation in the contexts and social uses of Olmec-style figurines outside of the southern Gulf lowlands underscores their reinterpretation within different webs of social identities. Viewing variation in figurine assemblages as the consequence of differential participation of makers and users in overlapping communities of practice offers advantages for conceptualizing the formal variation within Formative figurine styles.
Dolores R. Piperno and Bruce D. Smith
Mexico, along with the remainder of Mesoamerica in smaller part, formed one of the world's great centers for the independent development of agriculture. Dozens of crop plants were brought under cultivation and domesticated there in the prehistoric era. They include the most famous crop of the Americas, maize ( Zea mays ); two species of squash ( Cucurbita pepo and C. argyrosperma ); the common bean and small-seeded (sieva) lima bean ( Phaseolus vulgaris and P. lunatus [sieva type]); the pseudocereals Amaranthus and Chenopodium ; avocados ( Persea Americana ); at least one species of chile pepper ( Capsicum annuum ); and a number of important tree crops, including Leucaena spp. (the guajes ) and Spondias purpurea (the hog plum). Plant cultivation and domestication in both the highlands and tropical lowlands emerged during the early Holocene period. This article discusses the available information in more detail.