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Olmec, Chavin, and Things in Between: A Comparative Approach to Emergent Complex Societies

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 81st Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL (2016)

The goal of this session is to revisit the Formative Americas as an integrated field of study, and consider its role in nomothetic interpretations of emergent social complexity. Over the last two decades, our refined understanding of early Pre-Columbian cultures has given us new tools to enable these cross-cultural analyses. Integrating this growing dataset with new approaches such as hybridity, neo-diffusionism, and cognitive anthropology, facilitates the exploration of the independent, yet related, social organizations of North and South America. As a first step toward exploring these opportunities, this session asks a diverse set of participants to interpret their scholarship on emergent complexity through an explicitly comparative lens. These objectives extend beyond particularist approaches to cultural horizons like Olmec and Chavin, and enable a meaningful consideration of heterogeneity in emergent Pre-Columbian social structures. By comparing Mesoamerica and the Andes as test beds of emergent social complexity, this session aims to interrogate universalist explanations, and guide continuing research on these phenomena worldwide.

Other Keywords
FormativeMesoamericaandesCeramicsMayaAgricultureArchitectureRitualExchangeMaize Agriculture

Geographic Keywords
South AmericaMesoamericaCentral America


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  • Documents (14)

Documents

  • Absolute Chronology of the Early Formative Revisited: Bayesian Analysis, Radiocarbon Chronology, and the Emergence of Pottery in the Americas (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT John Hoopes.

    In 1987, the author’s doctoral dissertation featured a comprehensive analysis of calibrated radiocarbon dates associated with the earliest ceramic complexes in the Americas towards a model for the emergence of sedentary lifeways. This resulted in a critical evaluation of James Ford’s posthumously published model for the Early Formative diffusion of pottery as well as other cultural features in a region extending from the Southeastern U.S. through Mesoamerica and the Isthmo-Colombian Area to the...

  • Are Two Heads Still Better than One? Considering a Unified Origin for American Social Complexity (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Jeffrey Dobereiner.

    For half a century, scholars have listed Mesoamerica and South America alongside the Near East, Egypt, China, and India as independent loci of emergent social complexity. Yet, recent scholarship has placed an increasing emphasis on the role of multi-regionalism and mobility in the emergence of world civilizations. These theoretical shifts, alongside suggestive findings of agricultural, material, and ideological unity in the Formative Americas, require us to ask: were pathways to complexity in...

  • Before Teotihuacan: The Origins of Complex Society in the Northeast Basin of Mexico (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Deborah Nichols. Wesley Stoner.

    Teotihuacan grew explosively ca. 100 BC to become the most influential city in Mesoamerica. For several decades little research has been directed toward understanding the origins of complex society in the Teotihuacan Valley. Recent archaeological investigations at the Early-Middle Formative site of Altica provide a fresh perspective on dating the initial establishment of agricultural villages, early social and economic differentiation, and the development of intra-and inter-regional exchange...

  • Brothers of Invention: Comparing Trends in Innovation in the New World Formative (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT John Rick.

    Competition between Andean Formative centers seems to have stimulated rapid rates of innovation in technology, architecture, art, and behaviors such as ritual. This in turn seems to reflect a significant change of the role and nature of religion as a force promoting or resisting change, introducing a motivation for radical transformation within a background of conservative, heavily tradition-based practices. These processes are particularly evident in recent investigations in Chavin de Huantar,...

  • Configuring Space in a Valdivia Town: Social Precepts, Cosmological Mandates, and Emergent Hierarchy in Early Formative Ecuador (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT James Zeidler.

    This paper revisits interpretations of the built environment at the Early Formative Valdivia town site of Real Alto in coastal Guayas province, Ecuador, from the broader comparative perspective of contemporary Formative Period sites throughout the Americas. Special emphasis is placed on the Middle Valdivia town configuration encompassing individual households, residential neighborhoods, open plazas, and central ceremonial space, but consideration is also given to Late Valdivia transformations...

  • The Development of Sedentary Communities in the Maya Lowlands in a Comparative Perspective (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Takeshi Inomata.

    It has long been known in the Andean region that the communal projects of temple constructions and public rituals played an important role in social formation during the pre-ceramic period. Recent archaeological investigations in Mesoamerica are revealing comparable processes. Various ceremonial centers in Mesoamerica appear to have developed before the establishment of maize agriculture and fully sedentary communities. At the lowland Maya center of Ceibal, Guatemala, a formal ceremonial complex...

  • Early Ceramics, Human Mobility, And Interaction: Original Developments Of The Pacific Coast In Connection With South America (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Barbara Arroyo.

    Various cultural parallels have been mentioned in the past about the connections between two important regions in the Americas: South America and Mesoamerica. The nature of how this contact took place was a research question that has interested many but is still unanswered. This paper will address the question using information from archaeological fieldwork carried out at sites on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala. Additional information will come from the “invisible” records including...

  • Early Complexity in the Upper Amazon: The Mayo Chinchipe-Marañón. (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Francisco Valdez.

    Hypotheses that held Amazonia untenable for the development of complex societies have now been discarded. The presumed incapacity of the soil to ensure permanent agricultural production (sustain large populations) has been proved false, not because of the limitations of the soil, but rather because Amazonians found ways to overcome the flaws and develop adequate strategies for sustainable food production. Recent studies show that early complexity was present in the tropics with forms of typical...

  • Early expressions of persistent leadership and inequality in the Andean Preceramic (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Mark Aldenderfer.

    Research over the past few decades in the Andean world has identified a number of preludes to sociopolitical complexity, persistent leadership, and emergent inequality that involve a diversity of social and cultural forms, including the control and manipulation of ritual or religious power, the mobilization of labor to construct a variety of forms of public architecture, the display of status or prestige items, and control over access to socially valued goods. In many archaeological contexts...

  • Eating and drinking maize: diverging roles for a staple crop in the Formative Americas (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Michael Blake.

    Increasing reliance on staple crop agriculture has long been a cornerstone of most archaeological theorizing about emerging complex society—and especially early state formation. Comparisons of Formative Mesoamerica and Andean South America reveal the very different roles that the New World’s most important grain crop—maize—played in Formative period and subsequent economies. In Mesoamerica, where maize was first domesticated, it became an increasingly important, and symbolically laden, source of...

  • Formative Urbanism in the Andean Lake Titicaca Basin (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT John Janusek.

    Archaeologists tend to apply the term ‘formative’ to phases of emergent complexity in a given world region. I critically engage the concept by honing in on what I term incipient urbanism as a core dimension of formative complexity. I draw on comparative data from across the Americas to situate formative complexity and incipient urbanism in the Andean Lake Titicaca basin. Archaeologists working in the region have known for years that by at least 800 BC, the region was home to multiple...

  • On the Question of Olmec Architecture and Sculpture Beyond the Gulf Coast (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Rebecca Gonzalez Lauck.

    For over half a century, the ancient city located in La Venta, Tabasco has served as a standard in defining what is commonly referred to as Olmec in the time period between ca. 1000-400 BC. This paper will examine the architectural and sculptural vestiges in sites that have been defined as Olmec outside the Gulf Coast heartland, in order to define the component(s) that define it as “Olmec”, as well as to explain the differences observed.

  • Power in Middle Range Societies: A Cross-Cultural Perspective (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Lane Fargher.

    For most of the second half of the twentieth century Neoevolutionary theory dominated explanations for the rise of social complexity and inequality. However, beginning about two decades ago, scholars began to problematize this framework. The resulting body of theory, referred to as “alternative pathways to complexity”, introduced concepts of structure and agency and moved away from functionalism and systems theory. Despite these improvements in our theoretical toolkit, much scholarship continues...

  • The Scale of Formative Transitions in the Americas: Inferences Based on the Texture and Timing of Demographic Changes (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Richard Lesure. Greg Schachner. Kate Bishop. Brittany Jackson. Reuven Sinensky.

    This paper examines the large-scale texture and timing of demographic transitions associated with the development of settled agricultural life in the Americas. Based on previous work concerning the Neolithic Demographic Transition (NDT) worldwide, we draw on two sources of published data (skeletal remains and surface survey) to trace Formative-era population growth rates across a huge region, including the US Southwest, Mesoamerica, Central America, and the Andes. The goal is to assess the...

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America