The Guatemala highlands is an area of contrasting climate, topography, and agricultural potential. High basins and fertile valleys are situated among a series of mountain ranges from the Pacific Coastal volcanic chains to the massive uplifts to the northeast, offering several advantages that facilitate human settlement. The Central Highlands are home to important natural routes, including the Motagua River, which drains into the Atlantic Ocean and separates a series of these mountain ranges crisscrossing Guatemala from east to west. To the north, tributaries of the Chixoy River irrigate the Central Highlands. This article focuses on the Central Highlands, and in particular on the primary site of Kaminaljuyú, which can be used as a proxy to understand better developments throughout the region.
Larry Gorenflo and Christopher P. Garraty
Focusing primarily on archaeological data from systematic regional surveys, this chapter examines settlement patterns in the Basin of Mexico during the Late Aztec period (A.D. 1350–1520) and occupations immediately preceding it (Late Toltec and Early Aztec, A,D, 950–1350). The chapter also discusses the Aztec ceramic sequence and issues for dating sites. The broad geographic arrangement of settlement and site types placed people throughout much of the region, in proximity to a wide range of resources, in a manner that contrasts with preceding occupations. The Late Aztec settlement system provided the foundation for an integrated regional economy that successfully supported large numbers of nonfood producers, particularly those residing in administrative centers scattered throughout the Basin.
Michael E. Smith
The predominant urban form in Aztec central Mexico was the capital of an altepetl; however, this chapter focuses on these cities and not on Tenochtitlan. Several such cities survive today as archaeological zones open to the public. They have a standard suite of civic architecture: single-temple and double-temple pyramids, circular temples, ballcourts, royal palaces, and small altars. Aztec cities influenced or dominated their hinterlands in the realms of politics, religion, and economics. In the realm of commoner life, however—households and neighborhoods—cities differed little from rural settings. Domestic activities and social conditions were remarkably similar in the two contexts.
Richard E. Blanton
Cities became an important and endurable characteristic of Mesoamerican civilization after 500
Mexico-Tenochtitlan, the Mexica capital, underwent a series of changes during and after the Conquest of 1521. These changes were both demographic and material, and they are the result of the political, social, and economic strategies of different groups, as well as patterns of health, migration, and socialization. The transformation of the city, as much as the factors that caused it, defy any attempt to explain the process as either imposition or domination by the colonizers or simply the result of indigenous resistance or cooperation. Historical sources and archaeological data provide evidence of patterns of destruction, reconstruction, appropriation, and continuity in the use of spaces and changes in daily life in the city. This chapter summarizes current knowledge of these patterns in the center of Mexico City.
Marcello A. Canuto and Jason Yaeger
This article reviews research showing the importance of an archaeology of communities for Mesoamerica. Methodologically, the community is situated between the scales of household and polity, which permits researchers to have new insights into the broader social and political dynamics through which these other social institutions were constituted and changed over time. As a paradigm, this approach treats communities as emergent social institutions in which local identities were constituted as a consequence of shared quotidian and extraordinary practices. Because they often were important nodes within regional political and economic structures, communities also become the key arenas for the negotiation of relationships and affiliations that linked its members with other social groups, institutions, and networks.
Complex Societies in the Southern Maya Lowlands: Their Development and Florescence in the Archaeological Record
Arlen F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase
This article reviews archaeological evidence on the development of Maya civilization in the southern lowlands. The evolution of sociopolitical complexity in the southern Maya lowlands is much discussed but as yet is incompletely resolved. Considerations are hampered by the fact that most early archaeological materials lie deeply buried beneath later human construction activity, making it difficult to locate remains that are directly relevant to questions bearing on the rise of complexity. Even should such remains be located, the overlying constructions usually make a real exposure of the earlier materials difficult. Nevertheless, sufficient evidence exists to posit a trajectory of complexity developing from Preclassic villages to Early Classic states to Late Classic attempts at creating hegemonic empires.
Cultural Evolution in the Southern Highlands of Mexico: From the Emergence of Social Inequality and Urban Society to the Decline of Classic-Period States
Oaxaca formed the core of a distinct zone within Mesoamerica often called the southern highlands. Covering some 2,000 square kilometers, the Oaxaca Valley is the geographic center of and largest open area in the southern highlands. At the valley's center sits Monte Albán, one of Mesoamerica's earliest urban settlements. North and west of the Oaxaca Valley lies the Mixteca Alta, a region dotted with numerous small valleys that measure in the low hundreds of square kilometers. A third region of importance is Lower Río Verde. The Río Verde River valley on the Pacific Coast is created by the confluence of the Verde and Atoyac rivers that drain the Mixteca Alta and Oaxaca Valley. This article summarizes research in these three regions and describes the emergence of ranked societies and the formation of states.
This article discusses the development of complex societies during the Formative period in the Pacific coastal plain, stretching from Chiapas, Mexico, to El Salvador. Data shows that a trend of increasing complexity began soon at the end of the Archaic period and climaxed with the emergence of urbanism and early state societies during the Late Formative period. The long-term trajectory of increasing social complexity was not seamless, however, and there were significant disjunctions that suggest episodes of political cycling at various points within the sequence, manifested in the movement of political centers, economic reorganization, and changes in the ideological justifications of political power.
Christopher A. Pool
The story of the Formative (Preclassic) period in Mesoamerica is fundamentally one of sociopolitical origins. That is, anthropological interest in this time span revolves around the origins and early development of “complex” social institutions and the material conditions and ideological precepts that supported them. This article broadly sketches issues surrounding the formation of complex societies and urban centers in early Mesoamerica, emphasizing regional variation and interregional interaction through the Middle Formative period.
David M. Carballo
Mesoamerican peoples built for themselves a wide array of domestic units, ranging from modest wattle-and-daub structures in the earliest villages to Teotihuacan's highly planned urban apartment compounds, which were among the most populous residences of the ancient world. This article outlines four broad dimensions of Mesoamerican households: their social organization, their variability related to status, their productive activities, and their ritual practices.
The development of early complex societies in the Central Mexican Highlands resulted in particular local traditions. The region twice served as the heartland for densely populated ancient cities—Teotihuacan and Tenochtitlan—the populations of which are estimated to have been between 100,000–150,000 and 150,000–200,000 people, respectively. This article discusses the underlying local circumstances that favored the development of populous complex societies at an unprecedented scale in this region.
Sergio Gómez Chávez and Michael W. Spence
This article reviews archaeological evidence of interactions among the complex societies of Mesoamerica in the Classic period. All of the Classic-period (250–900
Philip J. Arnold III
This article examines two concepts at the core of Gulf Olmec archaeology: where the people of the region lived and how they developed. It begins with a Gulf Olmec précis that covers the space/time essentials. It then considers available data from the Gulf lowlands and argues for a more extensive “heartland” than is currently fashionable. Finally, it suggests that we reconsider the process of politico-economic development that has become the received wisdom of Gulf Olmec studies. Throughout, the article emphasizes the value of allowing the data to take the lead, rather than shaping the information toward some pre-envisioned result.
Travis W. Stanton
This article reviews archaeological evidence on the development of Formative-period communities in the northern Maya lowlands. The earliest data available for a Maya occupation of the northern lowlands indicate a fairly complex society with strong, but distinct, cultural ties to their neighbors to the south. These data have spawned speculations that the northern lowlands were populated by Maya migrating out of the south, but the evidence to date remains ambiguous. It is now known that large sites existed in the Late Formative and that the Maya of the northern lowlands experienced a similar collapse as that documented for the southern lowlands. The pace and pattern of this development, collapse, and transition to the Classic era, however, have yet to be teased out of the archaeological data. Finally, while there is solid evidence that the northern lowland Maya developed the institution of divine kingship in the Early Classic period, there is scant evidence of Teotihuacan “influence” among the northern kingdoms.