The Social Dimensions of Complex Industries: Insights from a Thin Section Microscopy Study of Aztec Salt-Making Pottery

Author(s): John Millhauser

Year: 2015


In this paper, I show how thin section microscopy enhances our understanding of the social relations and technological sequences of production in the Late Postclassic (1350-1520 AD) salt industry of the northern Basin of Mexico. Aztec salt-making sites have dense concentrations of "fabric-marked" pottery, which is a light, friable ware distinguished by impressions of textiles on its exterior surface. Fabric-marked pottery was probably used to mold blocks of salt for sale in the market. Because of its strong correlation with salt-making sites, manufacturing fabric-marked pottery was probably a contingent craft practiced within or near salt-making sites. To clarify the spatial and social contexts of fabric-marked pottery production and consumption, I applied formal, stylistic, and compositional analyses to systematic collections from a cluster of six salt-making sites located along the shoreline of Lake Xaltocan. The results of thin-section microscopy—which included quantitative and qualitative analyses of aplastic inclusions (mineral, zoological, and botanical) as well as voids—reflect a highly localized pattern of consumption and, possibly, production. These data complement the results of bulk compositional analysis, but they contrast with patterns of form and style that reflect a greater spatial scale of social interaction among salt-makers beyond their individual workshops and settlements.

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Cite this Record

The Social Dimensions of Complex Industries: Insights from a Thin Section Microscopy Study of Aztec Salt-Making Pottery. John Millhauser. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 397116)


Aztec Pottery Salt

Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

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