Dissertation Research: Frontier Economies: Prehispanic Pottery Production in the Chalchihuites and La Quemada Regions of Zacatecas, Mexico
Ben Nelson Principal Investigator
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Nelson Under the direction of Dr. Ben Nelson, Ms. Nicola Strazicich will collect data for her doctoral dissertation. She will travel to Mexico and collect pottery samples from archaeological sites for both petrographic and chemical analysis. The ceramics derive from two regions in Northern Mexico - Alta Vista and La Quemada. Each has been studied extensively by archaeologists and each is characterized by a different degree of political centralization. The site of La Quemada contains artifically constructed terraces situated on a bluff above the Malpaso Valley floor. The central precinct of the site houses monumental architecture including a hall of columns, votive pyramid and a massive masonry staircase. Architecturally, the site represents significant labor investment and planning. However the region lacks evidence for either economic diversification or the manipulation of prestige goods which indicate a highly stratified and centrally managed society. At Alta Vista, in addition to large-scale architecture, extensive mining and quarrying activities were carried out. Minerals extracted included iron, malachite, hematite, chert and blue-green gem stones. Evidence here argues for a more complex and centralized form of social organization. Ms. Strazicich wishes to understand differences in ceramic production within this comparative context. She will conduct both elemental and petrographic analysis to determine the extent of intrasite variability of both clay matrix and production technique. She hypothesizes that the more complex Alta Vista site will show a higher level of standardization. Archaeologists wish to understand how complex societies emerge and are maintained. Many have focussed on the economic aspects of this process and want to know when and how standardization in production emerges. The assumption is that as societies grow more complex and centralized management emerges, manufacturing activities such as pottery production will come under central contr ol and will be carried out by specialists. The resulting wares will become more standardized. While such a scenario may appear sensible from a theoretical perspective, very little empirical work has been done to either verify or disconfirm this idea. The two sites chosen by Ms. Strazicich provide an excellent context within which to address this issue. This research is important because it addresses a topic of interest to many archaeologists. It will help to develop a technique with potential applicability in many situations and will assist in the training of a promising young scientist.