Formative Period Interregional Interaction and the Emergence of Mesoamerican Scripts

Author(s): Joshua Englehardt; Michael Carrasco

Year: 2015


Interregional interaction often serves as a catalyst for cultural innovation. This paper explores the effects of interaction on the development of Mesoamerican scripts during the Formative period. Current models suggest that the transition from iconography to phonetic writing involved the recontextualization of visual symbols: motifs were excised from the pictorial frameworks in which they were usually contextualized and enclosed within the emergent textual–linguistic conventions and organizational schemes of writing. The dynamics of this developmental process, however, remain obscure. We propose that interregional interaction facilitated the re-situation of iconographic elements and their incorporation into the nascent structure of writing. Sustained interaction between distinct groups employing an integrated, mutually-intelligible iconographic system potentially allows certain users to extract signs from that system to serve in more specific contexts. Scribes may thus juxtapose new values on visual elements, infusing icons with new meaning, and allowing them to function within the context of writing. Effectively, fixing variable meanings to icons in the context of interregional interaction detached them from previous interpretations and facilitated their new use as written signs. This paper examines several potentially illustrative examples of this process.

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Cite this Record

Formative Period Interregional Interaction and the Emergence of Mesoamerican Scripts. Joshua Englehardt, Michael Carrasco. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396373)


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min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;