Ancient Mesoamerica

Journal Information
ISSN / EISSN : 0956-5361 / 1469-1787
Published by: Cambridge University Press (CUP) (10.1017)
Total articles ≅ 918
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Alexandra Biar
Ancient Mesoamerica pp 1-20;

The island nature of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, is an under-studied aspect in our understanding of this unique urban space, located in the Mexican highlands of Mesoamerica. The island location induces cross-links from aquatic and terrestrial paths to create connectivity and continuity within the lacustrine cultural landscape of the Basin of Mexico during the Postclassic period (a.d. 900–1521). Although Cortés described this city as the “Venice of the New World,” no specific and systematic investigation of facilities related to water transport has been carried out. In this article, I fill this gap through a study of navigation routes which were conceived to facilitate the continuous movement of people and goods through the numerous canals crisscrossing the Aztec capital, and which are identifiable by means of anthropic markers that respond to functional needs. Transition zones (piers, quays, shoreline areas), coordination zones (ports), and activity zones (customs facilities, warehouses, bridges, sacred sites) are all related to the practice of water transport and intimately related to terrestrial roads. I identify and locate these areas using a multidisciplinary methodology based on archaeological data, ethnohistorical testimonies, and pictographic and iconographic documents.
Ancient Mesoamerica pp 1-17;

Archaeoastronomical studies carried out during the last decades in Mesoamerica have demonstrated that civic and ceremonial buildings were largely oriented on astronomical grounds, mostly to sunrises and sunsets on certain dates, allowing the use of observational calendars that facilitated the scheduling of agricultural and related ritual activities. One of the deeply rooted but unfounded ideas is that many alignments recorded the Sun's positions at the equinoxes. By examining such proposals and analyzing their methodological flaws, I argue that they are not based on reliable and objectively selected alignment data, but rather derive from the preconceived significance attributed to the equinoxes. The most likely targets of the near-equinoctial orientations were the so-called quarter days, which occur two days after/before the spring/fall equinox and mark mid-points in time between the solstices. Considering that the astronomical alignments dominate extensive parts of the built environment, they must have played an important role in religion, worldview, and political ideology. Therefore, only a correct identification of their celestial referents, a prerequisite for any convincing interpretation of their meaning, underlying intents, and observational practices employed, can contribute to a proper understanding of some prominent aspects of architectural and urban planning in Mesoamerica.
David Webster, Joseph W. Ball
Ancient Mesoamerica pp 1-25;

Research in 1970 vaulted Becán to prominence on the landscape of great Maya centers. Mapping, excavation, and ceramic stratigraphy revealed that its enigmatic earthwork, first recorded archaeologically in 1934, was a fortification built at the end of the Preclassic period. Large-scale warfare thus unexpectedly turned out to have very deep roots in the Maya lowlands. The site's wider implications remained obscure, however, in the absence of dates and other inscriptions. The ever-increasing dependence on historical and iconographic information in our narratives, along with the invisibility of its Preclassic buildings and plazas, unfortunately marginalized Becán. Some colleagues even claimed that we have misinterpreted both the nature of the earthworks (not fortifications) and their dating (not Preclassic). We rehabilitate Becán by dispelling these claims and by showing that standard archaeological evidence, contextualized in what we know today, has much to say about Becán's role in lowland culture history. We identify intervals of crisis when the earthwork remained useful long after it was originally built, especially during the great hegemonic struggles of the Snake and Tikal dynasties, and introduce new ceramic and lithic data about Becán's settlement history and political entanglements. Our most important message is that inscriptions and iconography, for all their dramatic chronological detail and historical agency, must always be complemented by standard fieldwork.
, E. Cory Sills
Ancient Mesoamerica pp 1-23;

Systematic flotation survey and spatial analysis of artifacts at the submerged salt work of Ek Way Nal reveal evidence of a residence, salt kitchens, and additional activities. Ek Way Nal is one of 110 salt works associated with a Late to Terminal Classic (A.D. 600–900) salt industry known as the Paynes Creek Salt Works. Wooden posts that form the walls of 10 buildings are remarkably preserved in a peat bog below the sea floor providing an opportunity to examine surface artifacts in relation to buildings. Numerous salt kitchens have been located at the Paynes Creek Salt Works by evidence of abundant briquetage—pottery associated with boiling brine over fires to make salt. As one of the largest salt works with 10 buildings, there is an opportunity to examine variability in building use. Systematic flotation survey over the site and flagging and mapping individual artifacts and posts provide evidence that the Ek Way Nal salt makers had a residence near the salt kitchens, along with evidence of salting fish for subsistence or surplus household production. The results are compared with ethnographic evidence from Sacapulas and other salt works.
Ancient Mesoamerica pp 1-24;

In this article we analyze the content and form of 58 stone monuments at the archaeological site of Lacanjá Tzeltal, Chiapas, Mexico, which recent research confirms was a capital of the Classic Maya polity Sak Tz'i' (“White Dog”). Sak Tz'i' kings carried the title ajaw (“lord”) rather than the epithet k'uhul ajaw (“holy lord”) claimed by regional powers, implying that Sak Tz'i' was a lesser kingdom in terms of political authority. Lacanjá Tzeltal's corpus of sculptured stone, however, is explicitly divergent and indicates the community's marked cultural autonomy from other western Maya kingdoms. The sculptures demonstrate similarities with their neighbors in terms of form and iconographic and hieroglyphic content, underscoring Lacanjá Tzeltal artisans’ participation in the region's broader culture of monumental production. Nevertheless, sculptural experimentations demonstrate not only that lesser courts like Lacanjá Tzeltal were centers of innovation, but that the lords of Sak Tz'i' may have fostered such cultural distinction to underscore their independent political character. This study has broader implications for understanding interactions between major and secondary polities, artistic innovation, and the development of community identity in the Classic Maya world.
Ancient Mesoamerica pp 1-20;

In seeking continuities and disjuncture from the precedents of past authorities, the Mesoamerican emergent ruling class during the Formative period were active agents in directing changes to monumental space, suggesting that memory played a vital role in developing an early shared character of Maya lifeways (1000 b.c. to a.d. 250). The trend is most visible in the civic ceremonial complexes known as E Groups, which tend to show significant patterns of continuity (remembering) and disjuncture (forgetting). This article uses the northern lowland site of Yaxuná in Yucatan, Mexico, to demonstrate the use of early selective strategies to direct collective memory. While there are E Groups in the northern Maya lowlands, few Formative period examples are known, making Yaxuná a critical case study for comparative assessment with the southern lowlands. One implication of the Yaxuná data is that the broader pattern of Middle Formative E Groups resulted from sustained social, religious, political, and economic interaction between diverse peer groups across eastern Mesoamerica. With the emergence of institutionalized rulership in the Maya lowlands during the Late Formative, local authorities played a significant role in directing transformations of E Groups, selectively influencing their meanings and increasingly independent trajectories through continuity and disjuncture.
Jorge Gómez Tejada
Ancient Mesoamerica pp 1-15;

This essay considers the possibility that the Matrícula de Tributos was made from a collection of folios that incorporates material from several related documents, some from as early as the eve of the Spanish invasion in 1521, and others from as late as the 1560s. The diverse styles identifiable throughout the manuscript, as well as the many interventions of different kinds in its pages, support this claim. This article further asks whether the Matrícula de Tributos might be the last extant exemplar of a larger group of taxation-related documents that circulated through Mexico on the eve of the Spanish invasion and well into the second half of the sixteenth century. Finally, the essay considers the possibility of placing the Matrícula de Tributos within the context of documents that kept or presented a record of pre-Conquest tributary practices for purposes that may have been as diverse as presenting evidence of past tributary obligations or as a means to assert authority and other political claims among the surviving native elite.
Ancient Mesoamerica pp 1-19;

The system of communication in use in central Mexico at the time of the Spanish Conquest was made up of signs composed largely of pictorial elements, including glyphs (signs in a script) and graphic representations of the ornaments of the deities. It had a generative character that was expressed mainly in the fact that it combined basic signs to create new meanings. This article deals with the combinations between the following signs: the smoking mirror, the flint, the down ball and the skull, all belonging to the field of sacrifice and dismemberment of the human body. They were associated with each other and created the following codified and conventional combinations: mirror-flint, mirror-down, flint-skull, flint-obsidian, skull-down, and a composite pectoral called anahuatl. This article proposes a typology of these combinations, and sheds light on their meanings and the processes of their construction.
Ancient Mesoamerica pp 1-27;

In this article I argue that the graphic images of the gods in the divinatory codices are composed of signs of different semantic values which encode particular properties. All of them contribute to creating the identity of the god. However, these graphic elements are not only shared by different deities, but even differ between representations of the same god. Analyzing the graphic images of Xipe Totec, one of the best-studied deities and one of the oldest in Mesoamerica, I elaborate a hypothesis that the images of the gods in the divinatory codices were perceived by their authors as a mosaic of different properties, which at the same time were dynamic. Consequently, there was not even one “prototypical” representation of a single god, since possibly the identity of a god was defined precisely when composing his/her image with particular graphic signs, thus crystallizing some of his/her multiple properties, important at this precise moment.
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