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  • Prehispanic Settlement Patterns in the Northwestern Valley of Mexico: The Zumpango Region
  • William E. Doolittle
Prehispanic Settlement Patterns in the Northwestern Valley of Mexico: The Zumpango Region. Jeffrey R. Parsons with contributions by Larry J. Gorenfo, Mary H. Parsons, David J. Wilson. Ann Arbor: Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Memoir No. 45, 2008. xviii and 438 pp., maps, diagrs., photos, bibliog., appendices, plates. $44.00 paperback (ISBN: 978-0-915703-70-8).

In 1960, William T. Sanders began to revolutionize archaeological fieldwork through his endeavors in the Basin of Mexico. An anthropologist by training, Bill was a pioneer in incorporating cultural ecology into archaeology and by developing what would become known as "full-coverage survey." Rather than excavating monumental features such as pyramids, he focused on the seemingly more mundane aspects of ancient cultures, focusing on smaller sites surrounding the major ruins and relict agricultural features, all with the intent of gaining better insight into how people other than rulers and priests lived. His research dealt with landscapes and involved mapping. He never considered himself a geographer, and few geographers actually knew of him. Those of us [End Page 186] who did know Bill admired him greatly and mourned his death last year. It is only fitting therefore that this penultimate report of the numerous survey volumes published by he and his former students during the past five decades is dedicated to him.

This tome is similar in format to previous survey reports from other parts of the Basin. It is more descriptive and factual than theoretical and analytic. The first chapter is an introduction that discusses the history of work in the area, methods, and outlines the organization of the monograph. The most interesting part of this chapter is a reflection on what researchers in the Basin would have done differently beginning in 1960 had they known what they know now. This section alone is worth the attention of every fledgling scholar who thinks they might spend much of their career working in one area. Chapter 2 is a straightforward description of the natural environment.

The third chapter discusses in much detail human occupation from the sixteenth through the twentieth century. The premise of this chapter is that in 1973 when archaeological surveys began in Zumpango, urban sprawl (Mexico City) had not yet reached this area. The chapter is a nice discussion of historic landscape transformations. Many geographers such as Sarah O'Hara, Charles Frederick, Carlos Cordova, William Denevan, Sarah Metcalf, and Barbara Williams are cited. Curiously absent though is Thomas M. Whitmore's work on post-contact decline of the native population. Another flaw is the acceptance of Elinore Melville's inflated assessment of the environmental impact of sheep. Chapter 4 outlines field and laboratory methodologies, some of which were novel and innovative in the 1970s but are all standard today. Chapter 5, titled "The Patterning of Settlement," is the heart of the volume. It includes many tables and charts, but the really important items are the numerous maps with scores of black dots of differing sizes illustrating settlement patterns at various time periods. The choropleth maps showing changes in population density over time are most insightful. Patterns evident at the 1 x 1 km scale are in some cases quite different than those at the 4 x 4 km scale.

Chapters six and seven are both brief, but of great importance. The former discusses future research needs, one of which is geoarchaeological investigations. The latter is titled a Resumen en Español de los Principales Conclusiones. Everything discussed so far plus the bibliography consists of a mere 118 pages or about one-quarter of the total volume's page count. The rest of the monograph is comprised of two appendices. Appendix B is the ceramic assessment and involves numerous drawings of pottery sherds, particularly rim types. It also includes 56 plates or color photographs. As a geographer, I find ceramics to be the second-most boring topic of study on the planet, exceeded only by that of lithics. Colleagues such as Tom Hester do, of course, disagree passionately. Appendix A, in contrast, I found particularly interesting, although it is totally descriptive and reads like...


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