Community, Territory, and Polity in Postclassic Highland Oaxaca

Author(s): Stephen Kowalewski

Year: 2017


In late prehispanic Oaxaca, Mexico, the community was a territorial polity cross-culturally comparable to the city-state. Sixteenth-century native and Spanish sources describe aspects of these communities. Full-coverage archaeological surveys have mapped dozens of cases, providing information on size and internal structure not available in the documents. This study compiled evidence regarding population, territory size, boundary marking, internal complexity, political status, languages, hydrology, and agricultural practices for some 60 communities that have both full-coverage archaeological survey and documentary data.

Communities (city-states) usually had less than 10,000 inhabitants; the largest had 100,000. Larger city-states were also the capitals of greater states made up of subordinate communities. Territories were small—usually less than 100 km2. All had shrines or temples, many of which were located at the edges of the territory. Polities were simultaneously urban (over half the population living in large towns or cities) and had strong rural development. Communities had this same form regardless of language or predominant agricultural practice. Larger cities and the capitals of greater states were located in larger valleys. They had key positions in the Mesoamerican world-systm. The similarity in form despite environmental differences echos conclusions about Hohokam communities made by Paul and Suzanne Fish.

Cite this Record

Community, Territory, and Polity in Postclassic Highland Oaxaca. Stephen Kowalewski. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430318)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

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

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 13285