Greg Borgstede and Eugenia Robinson
This article reviews archaeological evidence of the Late Postclassic period in the Maya highlands. The Maya highlands contain a diverse and complex geography, a diversity that is represented in the material record. While archaeological and ethnohistoric evidence from the central Guatemalan highlands has long dominated discussion of the Late Postclassic period, research has shown that developments outside of this subregion were extremely variable and localized. A focus on the Quiché and Kaqchikel states has resulted in an important and rich body of evidence that has undeniable importance to Maya and Mesoamerica studies, as well as modern Maya peoples.
Michael A. Ohnersorgen and Marcie L. Venter
Interactions at the Aztec imperial edges varied considerably, with some marked by a general congruence of political, economic, and symbolic domains, suggesting that border-like conditions shaped interactions, while other boundary areas were more permeable frontiers where cultural domains overlapped and were interconnected, but differently bounded. Most previous characterizations of Aztec boundary interactions come from documents of the sixteenth-century Basin of Mexico or late sixteenth-century Relaciones Geográficas . Data from recent archaeological projects complement the rich ethnohistorical record, and several of these studies explicitly frame Aztec provincial relationships as a dynamic process of negotiation. This article presents summaries of this information for the western, southern, and eastern margins of the Aztec Empire.
Michael E. Smith and Maëlle Sergheraert
The Aztec Empire was created within a setting of competing city-states ( altepetl ) that covered the landscape of central Mexico starting around 1100
This article discusses the collapse of the Classic Mayan civilization of southern and eastern Mesoamerica. Archaeologists now commonly recognize that there are several dimensions to this general collapse: the disappearance of royal dynasties and their ideological underpinnings; the dissolution of larger sociopolitical patterns, most importantly the disappearance of nonroyal elites; and a demographic collapse that greatly reduced populations or eliminated them altogether. All these things were once commonly assumed to be closely linked, but it is increasingly evident that each one must be treated independently.
George L. Cowgill
This article focuses on the concepts of collapse and regeneration employed by Mesoamericanists. Much mischief is caused by ambiguities about what it is that is supposed to be collapsing or regenerating. Most often, what is at issue is either the fragmentation of a large polity or the termination of a major cultural tradition. Mesoamericanists have not always clearly distinguished the fragmentation of polities from the termination of major cultural traditions. In discussing collapses and regenerations in Mesoamerica, it seems best to focus on political alternations, although migrations, demographic changes, and alterations of ethnic identities must be also considered. Scholars can, and will discuss the fates of cultural traditions, but they should make themselves clear on the distinction between that and the histories of polities.
Michel R. Oudijk
This article focuses on the sources describing the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Historians all have continuously asked the same question: How was it possible for five hundred Spaniards to conquer a Mexican empire? In trying to resolve the question, historians have applied all kinds of methodological instruments but particularly they have critically analyzed the sources. All have recognized the obvious subjectivity of the main sources of Hernán Cortés, López de Gómara, and Díaz del Castillo. The response has been either to verify the information given by these authors with that of archival documents and other accounts by Spanish conquerors, or to confront the Spanish sources with indigenous ones. These have been very useful methods that have clarified many of the doubts and mistakes represented in the main sources, but they have always confirmed the main story line of the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
Christopher S. Beekman
Far western Mexico has occupied an ambiguous position within Mesoamerican research, as the region both displays continuity with Mesoamerican culture and provides informative differences. This article demonstrates that the area has been an integral part of the societal networks that criss-cross Mesoamerica through four major transitions over the Pre-Columbian period. It discusses the origins of agricultural and maritime adaptations (7000–2000
This article reviews the archaeological evidence of Classic and Postclassic Gulf Coast cultures, focusing on developments during the first and early second millennium
William M. Ringle and George J. Bey III
This article reviews archaeological evidence of the Late Classic and Postclassic Mayan cultures in northern Yucatán. It suggests that one way of understanding the connections between Chichén Itzá, Mayapán, and Uxmal, as well as the exaggerated territories claimed for each, is to see them as regional Tollans, active in legitimizing the rulers and high elites of a wide network of client communities. As with Tula, the Feathered Serpent served as the paramount political symbol, but active political control may have been exerted over a fairly limited area, with only indirect influence beyond that. Later mention of these three as constituting the “League of Mayapán” may have resulted from the historical conflation of three sites similar in kind, though of different periods. If true, this may explain the presence of foreign influence (mostly imitated) as the local emulation and expression of a political ideology based in western Mesoamerica.
Randall H. McGuire
This article explores the parallels between the southwest of the United States and the northwest of Mexico (the Southwest/Northwest) and Mesoamerica. Parallels occur in cosmology, iconography, metaphor, and ritual. While a profound degree of shared cosmology, iconography, metaphor, and ritual between the two regions has been identified, the societies of the two regions remain qualitatively different. Resolving this paradox begins by realizing that the parallels between the two areas have different histories and origins. Some of them transcend both regions.
Gary M. Feinman
This article discusses the rise and historical dynamics of Mesoamerican states, the economic underpinnings of Mesoamerican states, and Mesoamerican statecraft and its diversity. Prehispanic Mesoamerican states were far from uniform over time and space, varying in both size and degree of political centralization. Whether (and how) the corpus of ancient Mesoamerican polities stands out from the preindustrial states in other global regions remains to be determined. Yet the macroregion's somewhat limited technological toolkit may have underpinned Mesoamerica's generally and comparatively small polity sizes as well as the development of sophisticated socioeconomic and ideological mechanisms that fostered interpersonal integration and collective action as opposed to strictly autocratic means of wielding power.
Edward Schortman and Patricia Urban
The terms “core,” “periphery,” and “frontier” conjure up spatial distinctions correlated with divisions among societies based on size, economic organization, and power. Leaders of core states are generally presumed to dominate developments within the smaller, poorer, less powerful societies arrayed around them. Territorial distinctions thus have important behavioral consequences. How those outcomes are understood depends heavily on the theoretical framework in which cores, frontiers, and peripheries are modeled. This article reviews the most prominent of these conceptual structures and the mechanisms of intersocietal interaction that they highlight (diffusion, trade, exploitation, and hybridity). It calls for a new approach to the study of cores, peripheries, and frontiers that does not presuppose the existence of these entities and the nature of interregional interactions generally.
Jeffrey P. Blomster
The Late Classic period ended in 800
John S. Henderson and Kathryn M. Hudson
This article reviews archaeological evidence from the southeastern fringe of Mesoamerica. Communities in all regions of the southeast fringe interacted—in different ways and with different degrees of intensity through time—with contemporaries to the west in Mesoamerica. The classificatory status of southeast fringe societies as part of the Maya world and Mesoamerica is much less the issue than the fact that they form an essential part of the context for understanding those areas. What is of greatest interest is the story that material remains have to tell about the societies of their makers and their relationships with communities to the north and west in Mesoamerica and with Central American societies to the south and east.
The Southern Pacific Coastal Region of Mesoamerica: A Corridor of Interaction from Olmec to Aztec Times
Robert M. Rosenswig
This article reviews archaeological evidence of the Olmec, Teotihuacan, and Aztec horizons in the Southern Pacific Coastal Region (SPCR). It also presents what is known of a system of emergent urban centers and “Izapan-style” iconography that unite the SPCR as a discrete region in its own right during the Late Formative period. It adopts macro-temporal and macro-spatial frameworks consistent with a world-systems perspective, which allows for synthetic treatment of geographically dispersed peoples sharing elements of symbolic culture and exchanging goods.
Helen Pearlstein Pollard
In the vast region of western Mexico, social complexity first emerged during the Late Preclassic and Classic periods in the Teuchitlán cultural tradition of Jalisco. But it was during the Postclassic period that unequivocal states and a powerful empire appeared; this was the Tarascan Empire, the most complex polity known to us from western Mexico and a significant enemy of the contemporaneous Aztec Empire. During the Late Postclassic period the Tarascan Empire was the second largest in Mesoamerica (more than 75,000 square kilometers) and was ethnically dominated by a population the Spaniards called Tarascos, who spoke a language known as Tarasco, or Purépecha. This article discusses Tarascan archaeology and ethnohistory, cultural roots of the Tarascan Empire, and the Tarascan state and empire.
Jeffrey R. Parsons and Yoko Sugiura Y.
The collapse of Teotihuacan as a major center in the seventh century
Dan M. Healan and Robert H. Cobean
Tula, Hidalgo, was one of several sites that rose to prominence during the Epiclassic period after the demise of Teotihuacan, and during the Early Postclassic period it was probably the largest and most influential center in central Mexico. For over a century various scholars have argued that Tula was the legendary Tollan (“place of reeds”), which, according to Aztec and other indigenous sources, was the capital of the Toltec civilization that dominated central Mexico prior to the arrival of the Aztecs. For this reason the site, its inhabitants, and its material culture are often referred to as Toltec, although there is evidence that “Tollan” and “Toltec” are pan-Mesoamerican concepts whose origins may go back at least as far as Teotihuacan, if not earlier. This article discusses the early history of Tula, Tula Grande and the Tollan Phase City, and Tula during the Aztec Period.