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Early Mesoamerican Social Transformations

Archaic and Formative Lifeways in the Soconusco Region

Richard G. Lesure

Publication Year: 2011

Between 3500 and 500 bc, the social landscape of ancient Mesoamerica was completely transformed. At the beginning of this period, the mobile lifeways of a sparse population were oriented toward hunting and gathering. Three millennia later, protourban communities teemed with people. These essays by leading Mesoamerican archaeologists examine developments of the era as they unfolded in the Soconusco region along the Pacific coast of Mexico and Guatemala, a region that has emerged as crucial for understanding the rise of ancient civilizations in Mesoamerica. The contributors explore topics including the gendered division of labor, changes in subsistence, the character of ceremonialism, the emergence of social inequality, and large-scale patterns of population distribution and social change. Together, they demonstrate the contribution of Soconusco to cultural evolution in Mesoamerica and challenge what we thought we knew about the path toward social complexity.

Published by: University of California Press


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-ii


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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. viii-ix

...Most of the chapters in this book were originally presented as papers at the conference “Sociopoliti cal Transformation in Early Mesoamerica: Archaic to Formative in the Soconusco Region,” held at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, February 28– March 1, 2008. The introduction and conclusion...

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1. Early Social Transformations in the Soconusco

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pp. 1-24

...The period 3500 b.c. to 500 b.c. was one of momentous change in Mesoamerica. At the beginning of that span, the region was sparsely occupied by low- level food producers whose rhythms of existence were dominated by the concerns of hunting and gathering. By 500 b.c., it was populated with settled agriculturalists in...

Part I: Archaic to Formative

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2. A Gender- Based Model for Changes in Subsistence and Mobility During the Terminal Late Archaic Period on the Coast of Chiapas, Mexico

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pp. 27-46

...Our purpose in this chapter is to investigate in detail the changes in subsistence and settlement mobility manifested over four millennia by the prehistoric Chantuto people. These ancient people occupied what is now the south Pacifi c coast of Mexico from approximately 7,500 to 4,000...

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3. Evidence for the Diversity of Late Archaic and Early Formative Plant Use in the Soconusco Region of Mexico and Guatemala

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pp. 47-66

...All of us who have worked and lived in the Soconusco region would agree that it is a land of plenty. As in many tropical regions in the Americas, it is a land where fence posts take root and sprout branches and leaves (Budowski 1987). The daily and weekly markets display a bewildering array of locally produced plants and animals. Baskets of fi sh from the oceans...

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4. Archaic to Formative in Soconusco

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pp. 67-94

...Recent work in the early archaeology of the Soconusco leaves unresolved the nature of local adaptive transformations between the Archaic and Early Formative periods and the distinctiveness of those transformations within the larger picture of Mesoamerica. Three important elements of the local Early Formative adaptive reorientation...

Part II: Emergent Complexity

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pp. 94-96

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5. Building History in Domestic and Public Space at Paso de la Amada

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pp. 97-118

By about 1900 cal b.c., the people living along the coast of Chiapas, Mexico were beginning to settle in permanent communities. Their settlements, with substantial dwellings, some public structures, and numerous smaller features, were occupied year- round and were not simply temporary seasonal stops on

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6. Paso de la Amada as a Ceremonial Center

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pp. 119-145

Paso de la Amada, with its dozens of low mounds and an occupation from the Barra through Cherla phases, has been known for some time as a signifi cant Early Formative site of the Soconusco region (Blake et al. 1995; Ceja Tenorio 1985; Lowe 1977). Though discoveries of the sequence of high- status residences in Mound 6 and the ballcourt

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7. A History of Disaster and Cultural Change inthe Coatán River Drainage of the Soconusco, Chiapas, Mexico

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pp. 146-169

...In 1794 the capital of the Soconusco province was moved from Escuintla to Tapachula. The reason for this change was a storm with strong winds that caused severe damage to Escuintla’s commerce and harm to its population (Pineda 1999:72 [1845]). These “strong winds” likely referenced a powerful hurricane that hit the area. Two hundred...

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8. La Blanca and the Soconusco Middle Formative

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pp. 170-188

...Change during that time undoubtedly was constant, but it was not necessarily seamless. While manifestly the long- term trend was toward increasing complexity, there may have been episodes of turmoil leading to cycles in which po liti cal integration alternated with times in which centralized po liti cal power was weak (Love 2002a). The clearest evidence that we have...

Part III: Beyond the Individual Study Area

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9. Early Formative Transitions in Settlement and Subsistence at Chiquiuitan, Guatemala

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pp. 191-216

...Understanding early sedentary society and the concomitant cultural transitions that occurred in the Formative period have been some of the most diffi cult problems of Mesoamerican archaeology. Along the Pacifi c coastal region of Mexico and Guatemala, increasing evidence demonstrates...

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10. Jocotal Settlement Patterns, Salt Production, and Pacific Coast Interactions

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pp. 217-241

...The jocotal phase was originally conceived as, and long held to be, a fi fty- year blip in Early Formative chronology— a brief moment before the arrival of the Middle Formative Conchas phase (1000– 850 b.c.) (Blake et al. 1995; Coe and Flannery 1967:23). Now, instead, Jocotal is understood to extend...

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11. An Early Mesoamerican Archipelago of Complexity

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pp. 242-271

...spottiness of innovation in Medieval Eu rope against a “sea of backwardness.” The analogy is to a network of cultural islands, forming an archipelago of interaction across the continent. These centers were dazzling because in nearby areas people lived a traditional existence without the material trappings of urban life (Braudel 1992:30). On the eve of the Industrial Revolution, in extensive...

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12. Concluding Thoughts

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pp. 272-280

...The deep antagonisms that characterized theoretical debate in archaeology twenty- fi ve years ago have mostly ebbed away. These days, when we set about to narrate the origins of Mesoamerican civilization, it does not seem necessary to select a single theoretical framework— practice theory, evolutionary ecol ogy, or what have you— as the unique scaffolding for interpretation...


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pp. 281-290

Production Notes

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pp. 291-294

E-ISBN-13: 9780520950566
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520268999

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2011