Coastal Oaxaca and formative developments in Mesoamerica

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Over the past two decades, archaeologists have focused increasingly on how individuals and groups use material, social, and ideological resources to acquire and maintain power (e.g., Baines and Yoffee 1998; Blanton et al. 1996; Clark and Blake 1994; Demarest and Conrad 1992; Demarrais et al. 1996; Earle 1997). Arthur Joyce has been a particularly thoughtful proponent of archaeological approaches that, drawing on Giddens (e.g., 1984), view "people as dynamic actors in a social process" and "population-level phenomena . . . as the outcome of behavioral strategies which are both enabled and constrained by the biophysical and social environment" (Joyce and Winter 1996, 35). In this volume Joyce and his collaborators demonstrate the value of an actor-based framework for multidisciplinary research that combines environmental, sociopolitical, and ideological investigation. The Formative period focus of their research in the lower Río Verde Valley of coastal Oaxaca offers rich opportunities for comparison with the development of sociopolitical complexity in other regions of Mesoamerica. While Mesoamerica in general exhibits a shared pattern of increasing population and complexity through the Formative period, social change was not uniform through time or across space. Instead, the timing of critical events and the implementation of particular political strategies varied between and within regions as environmental change, distant wars, shifting alliances, internal social processes, and the competing interests of local actors conspired to promote the growth and dissolution of communities and polities across Mesoamerica. The multidisciplinary research conducted in the lower Río Verde Valley illuminates the interplay of these processes. In the pages that follow I will situate the lower Río Verde Valley within the broader context of Formative period developments elsewhere in Mesoamerica. After a general overview of developments in the Archaic and Early to Middle Formative periods, I will focus on a comparison of the lower Río Verde Valley with trajectories of sociopolitical organization and practice at Monte Albán in the Valley of Oaxaca (Figure 1.1) and Tres Zapotes in the Papaloapan basin of southern Veracruz (Figure 1.3). Both of these sites were the capitals of powerful polities in the Late and Terminal Formative periods, contemporaneous with the florescence of Charco Redondo, San Francisco de Arriba, and Río Viejo in the lower Río Verde Valley. In the course of their history they faced similar challenges to those of the Río Verde, importing materials necessary to meet daily needs and reinforce differential status, contending with powerful neighbors, striving to resolve tensions between emerging hierarchies and communal interests, and staving off collapse. Representing both highland and lowland environments as well as three different ethnolinguistic groups (Chatino, Zapotec, and Zoquean) with very different regional political histories, the commonalities and contrasts in their solutions to social challenges underscore the complex interplay of behavioral strategies that have been broadly categorized as corporate and exclusionary or network (Blanton 1998; Blanton et al. 1996; Feinman 2001).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPolity and Ecology in Formative Period Coastal Oaxaca
Number of pages39
ISBN (Electronic)9781607322122
StatePublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2013 by University Press of Colorado.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (all)
  • Social Sciences (all)


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