Quintessential Places: Analyzing the Character of Precolumbian Sites

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

Settlements of all sizes are quintessential, or have distinctive traits that help to characterize and distinguish them. Papers will analyze the quintessence of places from Native North America through the Andes and query what makes a site distinctive. Previous archaeological and art historical analyses of place may have incorporated these aspects, but perhaps not under the rubric of "quintessential."

Distinctive traits may be attributable to topography; plan; geological features; visual culture; inhabitants; and practices such as rituals and social interaction. Such traits may be tangible or intangible, isolated or intersecting. Above all, quintessential places are sites of dwelling and experience that are shifting rather than static.

Quintessential places are not unlike the Roman genius loci ("spirit of the place"), with orientation, identity, and experience substituting for spiritual aspects of Roman spaces. Orientation may be directional or spatial, and overlap with identity. Identity also may be embodied in land use; architectural and artistic styles; and imagery. Experience can include movement; rituals; climatic and astronomical phenomena; and social and filial interaction. In addition, scale; authenticity; narrativity; interiority; and place as an ecosystem encompass the character of a place.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-14 of 14)

  • Documents (14)

  • Classic Maya Politics and the Spirit of Place: Controlling Architectural Discourse at Uxul, Campeche, Mexico (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Beniamino Volta. Nikolai Grube.

    Settlements are both product and site of innumerable, multi-layered, and constantly changing interactions between humans and the material world. At any given moment, the quintessence of a place reflects the prevailing meanings that are associated with it. In this sense, quintessence is inextricably linked to power—over discourse, material, and space. This talk explores the role played by political power in defining the character of the Classic Maya settlement of Uxul, Campeche, Mexico. After...

  • The Daily Experience of Space in Teotihuacan (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Matthew Robb.

    This paper will explore the daily experience of space in one of ancient Mesoamerica’s quintessential urban environments, Teotihuacan. We often understand places like Teotihuacan through a consideration of its monumental structures and their relationship to the natural landscape, and emphasize the impact of specific burial events on social memory. Classic examples like the Street of the Dead’s geomantic procession in the heart of the city plan, or the Ciudadela’s stage-set quality, seemingly...

  • Desperate Times, Distinctive Places: Human Landscape Interaction at Tzak Naab, Belize (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Eric Heller. Anastasia Kotsoglou.

    Located in northwestern Belize, the ancient Maya site of Tzak Naab lay at the intersection of an urban polity and vital agricultural space during the Terminal Classic, a period of considerable ecological and economic stress. The monumental architecture of the site strays from regional grammars with an atypical spatial syntax that emphasizes a connection to an adjacent bajo, a seasonally inundated wetland significant to the regional political economy. Attention to site planning and experiential...

  • Exemplary Centers as Quintessential Places: Migrants and Architectural Quotations in Late Postclassic Petén, Guatemala (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Yuko Shiratori. Timothy Pugh.

    Exemplary centers are physically schematized archetypes which represent and communicate social realities and political orders. Such exemplary centers are quintessential places, as they represent identity and memory. Migrating populations frequently reconstruct exemplary centers that replicate homelands through materials and images demonstrating their identity. Such "architectural quotations" help the migrants to legitimate social and political positions in the new locations. Members of groups...

  • Identifying the Quintessence of Olmec Centers in Formative Olman (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jillian Mollenhauer.

    In the early 20th century, the discovery of the Olmec colossal heads associated with San Lorenzo, La Venta, and Tres Zapotes led to the early designation of these three sites as the triadic centers of Olmec civilization, implying a level of cultural uniformity. Subsequent archaeological investigation has shown that the three centers, each with a distinct but overlapping chronology, share few commonalities in layout, artifact assemblage, or sculpture style. Indeed, the heads themselves...

  • In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king: Los Guachimontones, Jalisco (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Christopher Beekman. Verenice Yunuen Heredia Espinoza.

    The site of Los Guachimontones was occupied from the late Middle Formative to the end of the Postclassic period. It had a bimodal history of occupation, with the first peak corresponding to the Late Formative period (100 B.C. – A.D. 200) and the second to the Late Postclassic (A.D. 1400-1600). It had an estimated population of 4000-6000 people in the Late Formative, when most of the public architecture was constructed. This makes it a very modest settlement in comparison to other Mesoamerican...

  • The Late Classic Ballgame and Cross-Cultural Interaction at Xochicalco, El Tajín, and Copán (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Andrew Turner. Rex Koontz.

    The proliferation of ballcourts at major sites such as El Tajín and Xochicalco during the Late Classic period suggests that the Mesoamerican ballgame and its associated architectural features played a crucial role in the expression of power and identity in the tumultuous centuries that followed the collapse of Teotihuacan. This paper investigates the role of Late Classic ballcourts in fostering, shaping, and manifesting cross-cultural interaction through focus on sites from three different...

    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jessica Christie.

    My paper will discuss how the Navajo construct Canyon de Chelly as a quintessential place on the reservation. The canyon has been occupied at least since Basketmaker times in the first centuries A.D.. Archaeological investigations have identified Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings from roughly 700 to 1300A.D. followed by a brief Hopi presence. Navajo people began to settle Canyon de Chelly in the late 1700s. Unlike the Ancestral Pueblos, the Navajo lived on the canyon bottom and reused some of...

  • Quintessential Queen of Kaanul: K’abel of Waka’ in the age of empire. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only David Freidel. Olivia Navarro Farr.

    Classic Maya civilization witnessed the reigns of many great queens, but the greatest in the southern lowlands was Kaloomte’ K’abel of Waka’. She presided over the routes of conquest in western Peten during the seventh century wars of Yuknoom Ch’een the Great. During her lifetime she and her consort King K’inich Bahlam turned the power of the ancient Wite’ Naah Fire Shrine, it’s Moon Goddess, its Death God Akan, and its other gods to the conquest and subjugation of Tikal. She and her city knew...

  • Quintessentializing the Power of Place in the Ancient Andes (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Edward Swenson.

    The co-extension of peoples, places, and things as interdependent social actors were fundamental to Andean spatial ontologies. For instance, the "multiflex" Paria Caca of the Huarochiri Manuscript was manifested as five eggs, five falcons, five brothers, and a great mountain that still bears his name. In this paper, I argue that quintessential locales in the ancient Andes were often places where wholes and parts, microcosmos and macrocosoms, interiors and exteriors, and complementary opposites...

  • The Streets of Nixtun-Ch’ich’, Guatemala (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Timothy Pugh.

    Nixtun-Ch’ich’ in Petén, Guatemala was settled shortly before 1000 BC. Sometime between 800 and 500 BC, the settlement was reconfigured into a city with an urban grid—a form until now unknown in the Maya lowlands. As a geometric form, grids regiment a series of lines into a harmonious rhythm over a larger area. Urban grids are formed not by single-dimension lines, but by streets, which are public spaces containing traffic, communication, exchange, and social interaction. Thus, urban grids are...

  • Tan Tun: The Enduring Role of Cozumel in the Maya World (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Leslie Perkins. Travis Stanton.

    The island of Cozumel has long been known to have been a quintessential place in Late Postclassic Maya culture as the home to the shrine of Ix Chel, the lunar goddess of childbirth and fertility. Maya women of this period were expected to make the pilgrimage to the shrine at least once in their lives, which would have transformed the island into one of the most dynamic and multicultural social contexts throughout the late Maya world. Added to the fact that the island is the easternmost part of...

  • Tenochtitlan: A Cultural History of Water (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only John Lopez.

    Located today in Chicago’s Newberry Library, the 1524 Nuremberg Map, representing the pre-Hispanic city of Tenochtitlan on the eve of its conquest to Hernán Cortés, is an ink-and-watercolor image on paper, measuring 47.30 x 30.16 cm. Produced by an anonymous author in an unknown workshop in the German city of Nuremberg, it first appeared in the Latin edition of Cortés’ Second Letter to the Spanish monarch Charles V. It is the earliest printed map of a New World city and although it is a highly...

  • What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Precolonial Sites in Chontales, Central Nicaragua? (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Natalia Donner. Alejandro Arteaga Saucedo. Kaz van Dijk. Alexander Geurds.

    The Proyecto Arqueológico Centro de Nicaragua (PACEN), directed by Alexander Geurds, has recently conducted archaeological research in Chontales, Central Nicaragua. The main focuses of the study include the identification of the different types of settlements, understanding site and mound morphologies, as well as re-defining the regional pottery sequence. Therefore, the authors of this paper carried out a systematic full-coverage high intensity survey of a 52 square kilometer area, a complete...