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Christopher Watts

ANT200 November 21, 2011 Lecture 9: Complex Society in Mesoamerica • Mesoamerica- central America. Talking about countries like Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and parts of Honduras • Associated with Maya and Aztec • Maya associated with Lowlands • Aztec- group limited to highlands particularly in Valley of Mexico • Highland vs. Lowland Mesoamerica o Sierra Madre Mountains- range of mountains. Highland region. Foundation for the Valley of Mexico o Valley of Mexico is where see many of the major sites associated with the Aztecs o Maya were found in Mesoamerican Lowlands (Yucatán peninsula and adjacent regions to south) • Aztec and Maya- really talking about the end products of a lengthy cultural development continuum • Number of developments in the Mexican highlands including valley of mexico that give rise to Aztec • In the highlands those characteristics give rise to the Maya • Major Cultural Traditions and Sites in Mesoamerica o Multiple developmental centers • Olmec are thought to be a mother culture by some for many of the traditions see in Mesoamerica. One of the earliest evidences of complexity that see in the region General Environmental Context • Highalnds: mountains, lakes and deep river valleys o Backdrop for inter-regional exchange o Origins of food production  Corn, bean, squash  See earliest evidence for their domestication in this region  Maize and bean and squash went on to become major staples in the diets of Mesoamericans o A lot of the agriculture see in the region associated with alluvial terraces next to the rivers • Lowlands: tropical forests (south) and scrublands (north) o Virtual absence of large rivers and alluvial plains  Groups not tethered to any one large river system  Very few large rivers anywhere in Mayan lowlands  Broad, deep, limestone plain. Very porous so any water that does fall tends to seep into the group and disappear. Doesn’t stay on surface, doesn’t form large river systems that go into gulf.  Need water for horticulture and agriculture o Use of cenotes and, occasionally, canals for potable water  Cenotes- depressions in the limestone plain- sinkholes where groundwater/freshwater tends to well up can be a few meters under land level  The Yucatan is dotted with these  Cenotes also ceremonial sites during certain time periods so sometimes find burials near them  Canals- irrigation for feeding crops • Both areas display marked differences in flora, fauna and climate o Lowlands tropical forest- species of plants and animals not the same as those available to highland groups o Climate radically different. More humid in lowland o Some highland enviro quite rugged. Not a lot of forest growth and stuff o Distinct topography depending where you are Economy • No domesticated animals o So don’t have patterns of transhumance like in Indus valley o Unlike other societies we’ve been talking about o No milk, transport or draft animals  Wouldn’t expect draft animals to pull carts from one community to another even though there were roads • “slash and burn” horticulture o Particularly in the lowlands o Forests cleared through burning; crop rotations (fallow) o Maya had this technique down pat. Would do this, stay for a couple years, then move and let that part of the jungle regenerate over the next 15ish years o Left stuff fallow for lengthy periods of time o If farmed continuously for a while, the productivity would have decreased drastically o This slash and burn only good for short periods of time, then need to move on and repeat • Maize, bean and squash and ramón nut (breadnut) naturally occurring nut, particularly in the lowlands. Debate about how important it actually was. • Rabbit, deer, fish, shellfish (particularly along the Gulf coast. Like mussels, clams, etc. would have been crucial to the Olmec along the Gulf Coast) The Olmec (1500-500 BC) • Earliest evidence for political complexity. Complexity beyond the chiefdom level we’ve been talking about • Sophisticated artistic tradition. Many of the artistic stuff in the Maya and Aztec had its origins in the Olmec • Two major ceremonial sites: San Lorenzo and La Venta • Southern Gulf Coast • Lowland, heavily forested environment La Venta (ca. 900-400 BC) • Complex of mounds, platforms, pyramids, plazas ca. 5km^2 o 34m high “fluted cone” earthen mound (Tuxtla volcano?) • After about 1200 BC at san Lorenzo see developments • After 900 BC at La Venta see interesting things take shape o Appearance of interesting site that needed coordination for its structure. 34m high fluted cone made entirely of clay • Series of low mounds around it and these Olmec heads adjacent to the site • Northern part of site (ceremonial) o Areas in yellow are “Massive Offerings” of serpentine blocks (local stone that is brightly colored). Quarrying these blocks. Excavating into the ground like 6-10 feet deep o They were constructing elaborate mosaics that looked like jaguar heads • Mosaics of serpentine blocks were buried shortly after they were constructed • Why? Olmec Colossal Head La Venta • 4 at La Venta • Carved from basalt (does not occur locally. Occurs about 80km from La Venta. Volcanic rock) • enormous • Ritually buried • Portrait of ruler/priest? • They’re all wearing this weird headdress. Thinking that it is part of the paraphenelia associated with the ballcourt game that see with Maya • Would have taken enormous amount of labor and coordination to move this head from far away to there • Organization and sophistication over that of tribes needed to carry this thing out The Olmec (1500-500 BC) • Cultura Madre (mother culture)? o Origins of many Highland deities and motifs (eg. Human-jaguar hybrid) o Earliest writing in the Americas- Epi-Olmec script, eg. Tres Zapotes Stela “C” • Traders. Made contact with highland and lowland groups. Complex patterns of trade and exchange. Have these ideas that suffuse out and fill lots of Mesoamerica if the ideas originated here • Tres Zapotes Stela “C” o Epi-Olmec script and early long count date of or Sept 3, 32 BCE o One of the earliest long count that have anywhere in the Americas o Maya renowned for having complex calendrial system and one of most accurate. One of the ways they recorded time was through the long count. Had a date that extended way back into the past that used as zero and recording the passing of time according to their system. We know that the origins are from the Olmec. Glyphs that display part of the long count • Monument 19 La Venta o Origins of Quetza
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