From the Bottom Up: Hilltop Use and Significance in Antiquity

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

Archaeologists have interpreted hilltop sites as spaces serving heterogeneous purposes, ranging from functional explanations as defensive outposts to symbolic interpretations as ceremonial places. In this session, we seek to move beyond such a dichotomy to understand how hilltop settlements, fortifications, shrines, or pilgrimage areas, were integrated into the larger political system, recognizing that the exercising of political authority often relies more on ideology than force to establish security. The prominence of these high points in the landscape, along with the resulting viewsheds they offered, shaped people's understanding of the landscape. Hilltops, therefore, can be interpreted as a crucial locale to a central authority with the intent to control the landscape, as well as a source of power to people attempting to flee a state’s influence. If such environments can be at different times peripheral or central to the political and religious agenda of a state authority, archaeologists can track changes in socio-political processes by examining settlement histories at these elevated spaces. Do hilltops indeed represent a refuge from state authority, and if so what cultural processes drive people to seek out such areas? Alternatively, are hilltops crucial to state control of the landscape and integrated into surrounding settlement structure?

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  • Documents (5)

Documents
  • Chacoan Heights at Aztec Ruins (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Michelle Turner.

    At the Chacoan outlier of Aztec Ruins in northern New Mexico, the unexcavated Aztec North great house is located on top of a river terrace overlooking the broad Animas River valley. Down below, but out of sight from Aztec North, are two other great houses. The builders of these three great houses enmeshed them in a planned cultural landscape that reflects their cosmology and that intentionally reproduces a portion of the landscape at Chaco Canyon. Aztec North differs from its fellow great houses...

  • Hilltop Visibility Networks and Empire in the Moche Valley (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Patrick Mullins.

    Prehistorically used in contexts ranging from mountain deity veneration to imperial conquest and warfare, hilltops serve as excellent platforms for staying connected to and informed of the surrounding social, political, and ritual landscape. This being said, how can the characteristics of visibility networks between hilltop sites help inform archaeologists of the ancient socio-political and ritual settings on which they were situated? Featuring dozens of hilltop sites that temporally correlate...

  • Hilltops and States in the Usumacinta River Basin (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Whittaker Schroder.

    The ordering of space has been a focus of state-building initiatives since the formation of the earliest centralized polities. Landscape archaeologists are especially well situated to contribute to discussions regarding how states succeed and fail to control diverse populations in topographically complex areas. During the Late Classic period, the Middle Usumacinta Basin supported numerous regional polities, including Piedras Negras and Yaxchilan, that vied for supremacy over terrain broken by...

  • The Political Economy of Qalas and Canals in Greater Khorasan (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kyle Olson.

    Neo-evolutionary models for the emergence of early complex polities propose a causal relationship between political centralization and the development of large-scale irrigation networks. Decades of field research and historical analysis have made available a large dataset of settlement patterns and irrigation networks in lowland Central Asia, but information regarding settlement and agriculture in the highlands of Central Asia during this time is less well understood. The relationship between...

  • Pyramids, Plazas, and Walls: Hilltop Settlements at the Periphery of El Zotz, Guatemala (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Omar Alcover. Thomas Garrison.

    Landscape studies provide new insights into the ways communities manipulated and used their environments. Among the ancient Maya, settlements at the outskirts of important centers varied greatly in design, elevation, and function, pointing to a unique and complementary form of urbanism. Among these, hilltop groups are key to understanding some of the social and political dynamics taking place in the Maya lowlands. Serving as strategic locales in the landscape, hilltop settlements served varying...