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Introduction ONE In 1943anthropologist Paul Kirchhoff employed the term "Mesoamerica ," defining it as a "superarea" of high Pre-Columbian development which now covers the lower two-thirds of the Republic of Mexico, all of Guatemala, Belize, and El Salvador as well as the western portions of Honduras and Nicaragua and the northwest corner of Costa Rica. Kirchhoff s study was based upon the presence or absence of particular cultural traits (cultivation, ceramics, corn, beans, squash, human sacrifice, etc.) as recognized in ethnohistoric contexts at the time of the Spanish Entradas: "At the time of the Conquest, the last tribes of Mesoamerican culture on the southern border (which runs, more or less, from the mouth of the Motagua River to the Gulf of Nicoya, passing through Lake Nicaragua) were the Chol-Chorti, the Lenca, the Subtiaba, the Nicarao and the Chorotega-Mangue" (Kirchhoff 1943:7). Archaeological research has been actively conducted for many years in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize—the "core area" of Mesoamerican civilization. It is in these states that the great art and architectural styles flourished, where the advanced cultures of the Olmec, Maya, Toltecs, and Aztecs rose and fell, and where the vastmajority of scientific interest has been concentrated. Further south, however, in what is usually referred to as Lower Central America, archaeological interest has been sporadic at best, and frequently nonexistent. The reasons for this neglect are multiple and varied. As Haberland (1963a:29) has noted, the archaeological remains tend to be less spectacular in Lower Central America, and the harsh tropical environment frequently tends to destroy what humble cultural remains did exist: Another reason for the reluctance of archaeologists to take an interest in Central America may perhapsbe seen in the difficulty of the field, which often requires much effort to produce fairly meagre results. If Central American archaeology seems unrewarding to some scholars, this can be attributed to three factors—the almost complete absence of building in stone, the scattered settlement pattern and the disappearance of perish3 Archaeology of the Rivas Region, Nicaragua able structures and materials in consequence of the general humidity of the climate. (Baudez 1970:28-29) Additionally, most Central American countries, for economic and political reasons, have tended to direct their attention to more pressing affairs of state than archaeology; however, the rise in tourism and its concomitant beneficial economic effects have somewhat altered this attitude in recent years. One of the earliest archaeologists of a professional calibre to take an interest in Central America was Herbert J. Spinden. As far back as 1917 he theorized that Central America played a significantand early role in inter-cultural communication and stimulation between the more highly developed areas of Peru and Mesoamerica. Spinden went so far as to suggest that on the Formative, or Archaic level (as he termed it), there existed a relatively uniform and common base of cultural development from which later and more elaborate cultural achievements and embellishments evolved. The theory visualized Central America as an important diffusionary funnel; more recently others have expanded upon the idea (Ford 1969; Porter 1953). In 1948 Julian Steward grouped the majority of the aboriginal cultures of Central America under the heading of "CircumCaribbean Tribes" (1948:1). The culture area extended approximately from the Maya frontier in western Honduras to Colombia. Since Steward's rough demarcation, there has been a growing tendency to subdivide the isthmusinto two cultural spheres: the western or "Mesoamericanized" sector (as far south and west as Guanacaste, Costa Rica), and the eastern or "Chibchanized" portion (as far north and east as Colon, Honduras). In the same publication, the Handbook of South American Indians, Johnson (1948:43) noted this dichotomy: "This basic culture [of Central America]has a distinctly South American cast, and the region marks the northern limit of culture complexes which were probably derived from South America. The region has, however, been exposed to influences from the northern, that is, Meso-American cultures." The term "Intermediate Area" wasapplied by Haberland (1957) and Willey (1959:184) to describe ". . . the lands between western Honduras and northern Peru, in effect lower Central America and the north Andes." In a more recent work,Lange (197la) has explored the term's usefulness as a cultural concept. Arguing that the earlier definitions viewedthe Intermediate Area "... asa funnel,bridge, and backwater receptacle between the two [high cultures of Mexico and Peru] . . . ," Lange suggests, quite rightly we feel, that the area has many important internal developments deserving of more attention by archaeologists. In this same regard, work...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780889207844
Related ISBN
9781554584840
MARC Record
OCLC
243569752
Pages
412
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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