Midwest Mesoamericanist Meeting

March 20, 2010


Midwest Mesoamericanist Meeting
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Saturday, March 20, 2010

Presentation Abstracts

Dean E. Arnold (Wheaton College), Bruce F. Bohor (United States Geological Survey, Emeritus), Hector Neff (California State University Long Beach), Gary Feinman (Field Museum), Patrick Ryan Williams (Field Museum), and Laure Dussubieux (Field Museum)

Maya Blue: Where did its palygorskite constituent originate?

Maya blue is a turquoise-colored paint used by the ancient Maya for pottery, murals, sculpture and for covering human victims before they were sacrificed. In the 1960s, its composition was identified as indigo and the clay mineral palygorskite. The resistance of Maya Blue to acids, solvents and other reagents, and its persistent color over centuries in one of the world’s harshest climates have captured the attention of many scholars. Since the 1960s, however, the cultural context of the constituents of the paint, the cultural significance of the pigment, and the discovery of how the Maya made the pigment have been possible because of the collaboration of anthropologists with those who have expertise in the physical sciences. This collaboration was also responsible for the discovery of palygorskite in Yucatan in 1965, its cultural significance among the contemporary Maya, and for identifying the way in which the ancient Maya made the Maya Blue. This paper presents the preliminary results of the analyses of palygorskite samples recently obtained in Yucatan and underscores the importance of collaborative research between anthropologists and physical scientists for find a source for the ancient palygorskite that was used in the production of Maya Blue.


Walter Clifford IV (Northeastern Illinois University)

The Distribution of Paleoethnobotanical Remains from a Late Classic Maya Site in Northwestern Belize

Prevailing thought within Mesoamerican archaeology is that the neotropical lowlands are an inhospitable environment for the preservation of ancient botanical remains. Accordingly, most studies of ancient Maya subsistence are based on ethnographic and historical accounts that model a reliance on maize (Zea mays), beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), and squash (Cuburbita sp.). Our investigations of botanical remains recovered from an array of shovel tests at Guijarral, a Late Classic (AD 600-900) Maya farmstead, have shown a greatly expanded botanical repertoire beyond the maize, bean, and squash trinity. Some plant genera distributions suggest the importance of wild plants and their uses, as well as allow us to construct hypotheses regarding the locations of activities within the site.


Carolyn Freiwald (University of Wisconsin – Madison)

Identity, isotopes, and population movement in the Belize River Valley: migration and its meaning among the Late Classic Maya

Recent studies show substantial population movement in the Maya Lowlands during the Classic era that can be measured directly using stable isotopes in human bones and teeth. This paper presents strontium, oxygen, and carbon isotope values from 181 individuals in the Belize River Valley and neighboring regions to discuss patterns in population movement at a regional - and local - level. The demographic profile of the non-local population is complex: men, women and children all are included and are interred in a variety of burial contexts, including households and ancestor shrines. The meaning of migration in an individual’s identity is less clear. No clear distinctions were present in burial context, health, or body modification to show that an individual’s identity stemmed mainly from his or her place of origin.


Frederic Hicks (University of Louisville)

Labor Squads, Noble Houses, and Other Things Called “Barrios” in Aztec Mexico

The noble house, headed usually by a teuctli or other noble of similar rank, and internally differentiated, with its dependencies, was a basic unit of social organization below the city-state level in most of early 16th-century Mexico. Also basic were the work squads, each composed of about 20 to 100 men, which were regularly mobilized by the ruler for public works. Then there are miscellaneous social or political segments such as ethnic groups, occupational groups, or small villages. It is often hard to recognize these in the documentary sources, or to distinguish them from each other, partly because they are all so often all simply called “barrios,” a very imprecise word, or in Nahuatl, “calpullis,” an equally imprecise word. This paper will look at the documentary source material from central Mexico and pick out the important social segments they discuss, especially the labor squads, distinguishing them from others.


Scott Hutson, Kyle Mullen, and Joseph Stair (University of Kentucky)

From Ucí to Kancab: Archaeological Survey of an Intersite Causeway in Yucatan, Mexico

The Northern Maya Lowlands contains four intersite causeway systems. The smallest of these consists of an 18km long causeway that connects the sites of Ucí and Cansahcab. The Ucí-Cansahcab Regional Integration Project (UCRIP) has mapped Ucí as well as settlement along the 8km segment of this causeway that connects Ucí to the site of Kancab, the first of the causeway’s two stopping points. The UCRIP aims to determine the purpose of the causeway, the impact of the causeway on people linked to it, and how these people may have influenced the terms of their integration into the micro-regional system centered at Ucí. This paper presents the results of the first two field seasons of research at Ucí and in the vicinity of the causeway.


Alice B. Kehoe (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)

Cholula, Cahokia, and Osage

The Osage Nation believes it (i.e., Dhegihan Siouans) ruled the Cahokian state. Interesting parallels with Mixtec codices support the belief. The most likely connection is with Early Postclassic Cholula.


Matthew Krystal (North Central College)

Developing Film: A Documentary Video in Process

This presentation concerns a new, interdisciplinary documentary film project. The first video of the project considers Highland Maya household production of ceramics, textiles, and carpentry in global context. K'iche' and Kaqchikel Maya artisans are featured as they work to make a living through production for local and international markets. The presentation will include short clips from the film as a well as discussion of the filmmaking process. Video production has provided unexpected learning opportunities for both faculty and students. Audience suggestions toward making the film useful to a variety of anthropological courses will be welcome.


Laura Matthew (Marquette University) and Jeb Card (Independent Scholar)

A Tale of Two Ciudad Viejas: History and Archaeology in Conquest-Era Central America

In 1527-28, Spanish, Nahua, Zapotec, and Mixtec conquistadors established two colonies on the heels of their successful invasion of Central America: Santiago in the central Valley of Guatemala, and San Salvador in southwestern El Salvador. Both colonies had a mix of European, foreign Mesoamerican, and local native inhabitants. Both were abandoned by the Spanish at mid-century, and were retrospectively renamed "Ciudad Vieja." In Guatemala, however, the indigenous allies of the Spanish remained to form an independent Indian town with continuous settlement to the present day. In El Salvador, indigenous inhabitants lingered but by the 1570s had left the site completely. These two Ciudad Viejas thus offer very different kinds of records for studying the earliest years of their foundations and the relationships amongst their heterogeneous inhabitants. This paper compares the two sites based on information gleaned primarily by archaeology for El Salvador and by history for Guatemala.


James Meierhoff (University of Illinois at Chicago), Mark Golitko (University of Illinois at Chicago), and Jim Morris (Northwestern University)

Sourcing Obsidian from the Ancient Maya Farming Village of Chan, Belize, Using Portable-XRF

This study focused on determining the elemental composition of the obsidian artifact assemblage from the ancient Maya village of Chan. The extreme longevity of settlement at Chan (roughly 800 B.C.-1200 A.D.) in contrast to the rapid florescence and decline of other larger sites in the Belize River Valley allows us to examine the impact these major socio-political changes had on the maintenance of exchange networks that supplied smaller settlements with obsidian. Also, this project assessed the efficacy of portable XRF instrumentation for identifying Mesoamerican obsidian sources, demonstrating the promise of p-XRF as a rapid, low-cost, portable method of characterizing obsidian.


Matt O’Mansky (Youngstown State University)

Highland-Lowland Interaction in the Maya World: Preliminary Results from the Sebol Archaeological Project, Guatemala

Archaeologists have long speculated about the nature of interaction between highland Maya centers and the great cities of the Petén to the north. Yet little research has been conducted in the immediate contact zone where the southern mountains descend to the jungle. The site of Sebol, located in the Alta Verapaz region of Guatemala, is one of the largest known ancient sites along the highland–lowland frontier. Preliminary results of recent fieldwork indicate that the site combines features from both regions in architecture and artifacts and also may have served as a key node along trade routes. Results from initial survey, surface collections, and excavations at Sebol will be presented.


Christopher Stawski and Helen Perlstein Pollard (Michigan State University)

Flu, Drug Wars, and the Real Surprise: Site survey of the eastern Pátzcuaro Basin

During the summer of 2009 the first season of full coverage site survey was undertaken in the southeast portion of the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin, Michoacán. The survey is designed to test models of Tarascan social evolution and landscape that were developed from previous research in the Basin. This first season used new technology to permit fast, accurate recording of sites which was of particular use in areas with abundant vegetation and evidence of large numbers of plazas, pyramids, rooms, and walls. We will discuss (1) the goals and rationale for the survey, (2) the method of field data recording, and (3) the preliminary results, some of which were expected and those which were very unexpected.


Barbara J. Williams (University of Wisconsin-Rock County)

Recent Findings from the Codex Vergara on Acolhua Arithmetic and Social Organization

In the Codex Vergara, drawings of agricultural fields depict perimeter measurements and field areas in Tepetlaoztoc (ca. 1540). Analysis of recorded areas shows that lengths shorter than the standard tlalcuahuitl functioned as fractions in Acolhua arithmetic, providing an empirical basis for assigning metric equivalents to Acolhua land measures. The accuracy of Acolhua area calculations is currently being tested, and preliminary findings show that nearly 80% of the recorded areas are feasible by falling within 5% of the maximum possible area.

New details about social organization have emerged from an analysis of the scribe's household enumeration sequence and use of red ink. These glyphic conventions reveal "land poor" households dependent upon "land rich" ones, suggesting that the prevailing model of barrio organization bears revisiting. Also, these same conventions combine to identify households and lands of three resident noble families. Lordly houses such as these are not found in the Asuncion codex.


Christina Zweig (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)

Preclassic Anthropomorphic Ceramic Figurines from Cahal Pech, Cayo, Belize

The ancient Maya figurine tradition has a long history and the hand-modeled figurines are the most common ritual artifacts in Formative villages. The assemblage of figurines from the site of Cahal Pech is significant because there is no comparable collection from the Belize Valley. This analysis provides general descriptive information and characteristics of the collection, as well as a basis for comparison with figurines from other regions in Mesoamerica. There is a focus on attributes that may indicate representations of gender and an examination of the figurines’ relation to the ceremonial and social changes that occurred during the Formative period at Cahal Pech.