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Gardens of Prehistory

The Archaeology of Settlement Agriculture in Greater Mesoamerica

Written by Thomas W. Killion

Publication Year: 1992

The prehistoric agricultural systems of the New World provided the foundations for a diverse set of complex social developments ranging from the puebloan societies of the American Southwest to the archaic state polities of Mesoamerica and the Andean region. From the tropical forests of Central America to the arid environments or northern New Mexico, Native American farmers made use of a distinctive set of cultigens and cropping systems that supported—with varying degrees of success—growing populations and expanding economies. Lacking most domesticated animals, so important to the mixed agricultural systems of the Old World, Precolumbian farmers developed intensive and resilient systems of agricultural production. These systems supported large societies of people who altered the landscapes they inhabited and generated a unique archaeological record of the evolution of farming in the New World.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. v-vii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xvii

Gardens of Prehistory: The Archaeology of Settlement Agriculture in Greater Mesoamerica consists of a group of studies directed at under- standing the organization and structure of prehistoric agriculture in archaeological perspective. Areally, the volume covers recent research in northern New Mexico, the United States; ...

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1. The Archaeology of Settlement Agriculture

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pp. 1-13

THE CULTIVATION OF CROPS within and surrounding settlements was a fundamental feature of everyday life among many of the prehistoric farming populations of the New World. Alone or in conjunction with outfield production on fields at greater distances from the residence, infield and house-lot crops provided staple caloric support and important nutritional supplements and served a host of other household economic needs. ...

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2. Factors Affecting Settlement Agriculture in the Ethnographic and Historic Record of Mesoamerica

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pp. 14-32

A MAJOR FOCUS of this book is the house-lot or kitchen garden, a small plot of land located near the residence that has played a significant role in the agricultural systems and economies of a great variety of cultures in time and space. Gardens such as these, generally devoted to household production, are characterized by considerable variety with...

PART I: Settlement and Agriculture in the Arid Lands of Greater Mesoamerica

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3. The Southwestern Ethnographic Record and Prehistoric Agricultural Diversity

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pp. 35-68

INVESTIGATING PREHISTORIC AGRICULTURAL SYSTEMS has been traditionally a focal point of archaeological research in the northern Southwest. Over the past one hundred years, these efforts have succeeded in making two significant contributions. The first is the identification of a variety of agricultural features, including rock-bordered grid complexes, terraces, checkdams, floodplain field locations, reservoirs, and irrigation canals (Woosley 1980). ...

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4. House-Lot Gardens in the Gran Chichimeca: Ethnographic: Cause for Archaeological Concern

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pp. 69-91

A RATHER SMALL but distinctive group of botanists (e.g., Anderson 1954) and geographers (e.g., Kimber 1966) has long been interested in house-lot gardens. For the most part, their studies have been limited to tropical areas characterized by a high diversity of plants and to modern times (e.g., Covich and Nickerson 1966). ...

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5. The Productivity of Maguey Terrace Agriculture in Central Mexico During the Aztec Period

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pp. 92-116

CARL O. SAUER once wrote that maguey permitted settled life in the arid central highlands of Mexico. Where no other water or food is available, maguey (agave, century plant; Agave atrovirens and others) thrives and sustains human life, and beyond this subsistence role the plant provides medicine, fiber, building material, fuel, and even fertilizer from its ashes. ...

PART II: Artifact Distributions and the Organization of Prehistoric Agriculture: Evidence from Lowland Mesoamerica

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6. Residential Ethnoarchaeology and Ancient Site Structure: Contemporary Farming and Prehistoric Settlement Agriculture at Matacapan, Veracruz, Mexico

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pp. 119-149

SETTLEMENT AND AGRICULTURAL SPACE coalesce in the humid tropics. Buildings, open areas, gardens, and fields merge, obscuring boundaries and the managed character of a densely populated landscape. The spatial integration of cultivated and residential areas within settlements contrasts sharply with the segregation of settlement and agriculture on landscapes outside the humid tropics. ...

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7. A Consideration of the Olmec Phenomenon in the Tuxtlas: Early Formative Settlement Pattern, Land Use, and Refuse Disposal at Matacapan, Veracruz, Mexico

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pp. 150-183

MANY SCHOLARS consider the southern Gulf Coast of Mexico as the heartland of one of the earliest "complex societies" in the New World. This complex society, often called the Olmecs in the literature, refers to a people who shortly after 1350 B.C. "built massive pyramids and other nonresidential structures, aggregated in relatively large settlements, engaged in a variety of specialized ...

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8. Agricultural Tasks and Tools: Patterns of Stone Tool Discard Near Prehistoric Maya Residences Bordering Pulltrouser Swamp, Belize

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pp. 184-214

THE PAST TWO DECADES have brought about a revolution in our ideas regarding the agricultural support base of ancient Maya society. It is an overstatement, however, to say that we have arrived at an understanding of the myriad techniques employed by the Maya to fine-tune and enhance regional agricultural production. ...

PART III: Prehistoric Cultivation, Landscape Modification, and Chemical Characterization

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9. Intensive Raised-Field Agriculture in a Posteruption Environment, El Salvador

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pp. 217-233

THE GOALS of this chapter are twofold. It is intended primarily as a description of uniquely well-preserved agricultural features in a volcanic environment. Secondarily, the chapter attempts to draw inferences about primitive agricultural practices in El Salvador in the context of a population recovering demographically from a major volcanic disaster. ...

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10. Prehistoric Intrasettlement Land Use and Residual Soil Phosphate Levels in the Upper Belize Valley, Central America

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pp. 234-262

IN HIS CLOSING REMARKS on the 1987 Society for American Archaeology Gardens of Prehistory symposium, William T. Sanders argued that the subsistence-related land-use patterns anciently characterizing any given prehistoric lowland Maya settlement can be inferred in most instances from simple inspectional examination...

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PART IV: Summary and Critique

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pp. 263-284

(Editor's note: The following comments by Turner and Sanders are revised versions of the commentaries made by the discussants at the original "Gardens of Prehistory" symposium in Toronto. Symposium participants have had the opportunity to revise their own papers as they have seen fit in light of these comments; however, differences of...


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pp. 285-323


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pp. 325-329


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pp. 330-334

E-ISBN-13: 9780817383763
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817305659

Page Count: 362
Publication Year: 1992

OCLC Number: 44956428
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Gardens of Prehistory

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Subject Headings

  • America -- Antiquities -- Congresses.
  • Land settlement patterns, Prehistoric -- America -- Congresses.
  • Agriculture, Prehistoric -- America -- Congresses.
  • Indians -- Antiquities -- Congresses.
  • Indians -- Agriculture -- Congresses.
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