Matacanela Archaeological Project

  • Venter, Marcie (PI)

Grants and Contracts Details


Funding is requested to conduct two seasons of archaeological research at Matacanela, located in the Tuxtla Mountains of southern Veracruz. The Matacanela Archaeological Project (MAP) will collect systematic surface and subsurface data to investigate Late Classic collapse and Postclassic reorganization. Archaeological and paleoecological evidence indicate that by AD 800, regional states had fragmented, their centers were abandoned, existing economic networks were decentralized, population was reduced by about 60 percent, climate changed, and subsistence practices were radically altered. Despite these changes, by the time Aztec agents expanded into the region during the 15th century, city-state forms of government had been established. Sculptural evidence suggests that one of those city-states was based at Matacanela (Blom and La Farge 1926), a former Classic center. The Classic-Postclassic transition will be addressed by exploring the following basic questions: 1) What were the causes of collapse, 2) Did Matacanela persist when other Classic centers collapsed, and how; and 3) What was the basis for Postclassic reorganization at Matacanela? These questions acknowledge that regional historical transformations do not uniformly impact communities (Johanson and Bauer 2011; Stein 2005). Instead, particular groups within a given society have the ability to play active roles that differently shape outcomes (Schortman et al. 2001; Skoglund et al. 2006; Urban and Schortman 2004; Venter 2008; Wells 2005). The intellectual merits of this project are two-fold. First, this research provides an evaluation of the role of climate change in the collapse of lowland Mesoamerican society. The Tuxtlas collapse was contemporaneous with the lowland Maya collapse, yet in the Tuxtlas, climate change resulted in wetter conditions, whereas in the Maya region, the collapse has been (in part) associated with drought. Does that mean that any climate change would have had an adverse impact on socio-political systems, or that climate change was less important than political processes in both areas? Second, this research evaluates Gulf lowlands political reorganization after Classic collapse. To date, the most intensively explored region for Postclassic reorganization is the Mixtequilla and adjacent Cotaxtla Basin (e.g., Daneels 1997; Garraty and Stark 2002; Ohnersorgen 2006; Skoglund et al. 2006; Stark 2008). There, immigration from the central Mexican highlands accounts for the reestablishment of centers during the Postclassic (e.g., Stark 2008). Although some immigration has been documented ethnolinguistically for the Tuxtlas (Kaufman 2001), and some Aztec agents resided in the region at the time of Spanish arrival (Berdan and Anawalt 1992; Venter 2008), the foundation of Postclassic Tuxteco society appears to have been based on a reorganized local population (e.g., Arnold and Venter 2004; Venter 2008). Pivot points in this reorganization may have included altered economic and symbolic networks and adaptations to a changed subsistence base. This project at Matacanela will permit recently collected site-based data from Totogal, Agaltepec, as well as sites in the Mixtequilla-Cotaxtla regions to be situated within a broader historical and cultural framework. Broader impacts of this project include collaborative efforts and learning opportunities for US and Mexican researchers and students in the form of field and laboratory experiences, thesis and dissertation data, peer-reviewed journal articles, and a project monograph. Moreover, the Lake Catemaco region has experienced an explosion in development of two kinds lately: tourism and commercial infrastructure that seems to be setting the stage for natural gas extraction off of the Catemaco municipal coast ( 39816.html). This project will provide important site registry data and management recommendations that natural and cultural conservation agencies, local cooperatives (e.g., Cerro Cintepec Coffee), tourism entrepreneurs, and officials can use to co-manage important and increasingly endangered components of cultural patrimony.
Effective start/end date3/1/149/24/15


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