Wednesday, February 7, 2018

But what were they doing...

One of the ongoing questions at Calixtlahuaca has been the degree of specialized production at the site. This could either take the form of particular households that focused on producing high quantities of a particular type of good, or the entire site specializing in producing something for trade on a regional scale. We know that specialization at both of these levels occurs at sites in both the Basin of Mexico and in Morelos. Among many other cases, the site of Otumba included specialized workshops to produce obsidian tools, and a neighborhood that made clay figurines and spindle whorls (Charlton, et al. 1991; Parry 1990). Cuexcomate and Capilco in Morelos has site-wide specialization in cotton production, and some households also made amate-bark paper (Fauman-Fichman 1999; Smith and Heath-Smith 1993).

Calixtlahuaca has been frustrating in this regard – most of the standard lines of evidence for craft production have come back negative (Huster 2016:Chap. 5). Neither the survey nor the excavation located areas of intensive obsidian working. The INAA and petrographic data for ceramics showed a wide range of variation within the broader local groups, a pattern consistent with many small producers. We only located a couple of molds for making figurines or other small clay objects, and there are very few duplicates among the finished molded items among our collections. There are a few spindle whorls for cotton spinning, but the frequencies are far lower than in other areas where it was too also too cold to grow cotton.

I’m currently evaluating whether maguey (agave) production might be sitewide or regional-scale specialty. I had previously discarded it a household-level specialization, because pretty much all of the households had some evidence for maguey textile production and none of them stood out as unusual when compared within the site. However, when compared on a regional scale, some lines of evidence suggest that the amount of maguey processing was similar to sites such as Cihuatecpan or Tepetitlan (Cobean and Mastache 1999; Evans 2005), which researchers have argued were sites specializing in maguey products. This would be an interesting finding, because the usual explanation is that people in Central Mexico focus on growing maguey (and other cacti) in areas where it is too dry to reliably grow corn (Parsons and Darling 2000), and the number of cornfields I flailed through while surveying Calixtlahuaca would suggest that this is not the case there. The Codex Mendoza tribute lists for the provide also include both maguey fiber textiles (a fairly uncommon item, limited to a single geographic cluster of provinces) and unusually high quantities of corn (2 bins, rather than the usual one), which would suggest that the two crops were both economically important in the region.

One of the 2006 survey crews trying to figure out how to lay out a surface collection in the middle of a modern cornfield at the site.

Charlton, Thomas H., Deborah L. Nichols and Cynthia Otis Charlton
                1991       Aztec craft production and specialization: archaeological evidence from the city-state of Otumba, Mexico. World Archaeology 23:p. 98-114.

Cobean, Robert H. and Alba Guadalupe Mastache
                1999       Tepetitlán: A Rural Household in the Toltec Heartland / Tepetitlán: Un Espacio Doméstico Rural en el Area de Tula. Serie Arqueología de México. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh PA and Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City.

Evans, Susan Toby
                2005       Men, Women and Maguey: The Houshold Division of Labor Among Aztec Farmers. In Settlement, subsistence, and social complexity : essays honoring the legacy of Jeffrey R. Parsons, edited by R. E. Blanton. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles.

Fauman-Fichman, Ruth
                1999       Postclassic Craft Prodution in Morelos, Mexico: The Cotton Thread Industry in the Provinces. Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh.

Huster, Angela C.
                2016       The Effects of Aztec Conquest on Provincial Commoner Households at Calixtlahuaca, Mexico. Doctoral Dissertation, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ.

Parry, William J.
                1990       Analysis of Chipped Stone Artifacts from Otumba and Neighboring Rural Sites in the Eastern Teotihuacan Valley of Mexico. In Preliminary Report of Recent Research in the Otumba City-State, edited by T. H. Charlton and D. L. Nichols. vol. 3. University of Iowa, Department of Anthropology, Research Report, Iowa City.

Parsons, Jeffrey R and J Andrew Darling
                2000       Maguey (Agave spp.) utilization in Mesoamerican civilization: a case for precolumbian" Pastoralism". Boletín de la Sociedad Botánica de México (66):81-91.

Smith, Michael E. and Cynthia Heath-Smith
                1993       Rural Economy in Late Postclassic Morelos: An Archaeological Study. In Economies and Polities in the Aztec Realm, edited by M. G. Hodge and M. E. Smith, pp. 349-376. Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, Albany.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Joy of Data Management, or Where’s the fourth miscellaneous censer sherd from lot 307-2-2

By Angela Huster

One of my least favorite parts of the lab work at Calixtlahuaca was doing ceramic type changes. Not because I disliked redoing my own work – there’s actually something satisfying in knowing that it’s right now – but because every single change had to be recorded in at least two, and usually four places (the label on the sherd, the type collection datafile, the paper form for the lot, and the computer datafile for the lot). It just seemed like an awful bother for a single change. I regularly tried to pawn off making the changes on anyone else I could sucker into it. We even had a form to keep track of where a change had been entered!

However, as I move on to working on other projects, I have come appreciate exactly how comprehensively the Calixtlahuaca Project tracked their artifact data. As an example of this, a couple years ago, after we were finished with the ceramic classification, we decided that we needed to subdivide a type. (From Misc censers, to Misc censers and Cut-out censers, for anyone who cares.) At that point, a fair number of sherds had been removed from their original lots, either as examples for the type reference collection, or as samples for particular technical analyses. However, because of our data tracking, I could pull not only a list of lots with the type, but also lists of cases where the sherds in question were stored someone else, which made relocating the pieces for reanalysis far easier. For one of the legacy datasets that I’m currently working with from another project, this simply isn’t possible – we know pieces were removed from lots for various analyses, but what was pulled and when it was taken are unknown. (Kintigh 1981 is an interesting look at the same issue in museum collections, with a focus on the possible bias introduced by archaeologists disproportionately pulling high-interest decorated types out of a collection.)

Miscellaneous censer sherds in the the type collection, prior to splitting the type. Knowing that these particular pieces were in the type collection spared me having to fruitlessly look for them in their lot bags.
While I doubt I’m ever going to love double or triple-redundant data tracking systems, I can see the value, and on my current project, nothing comes out of a lot bag unless it’s recorded that it’s now stored somewhere else. I suppose I shall now proceed to torture another generation of students by making them record type changes in multiple places…

Worked Cited:
Kintigh, Keith W.
                1981       An Outline for a Chronology of Zuni Runs, Revisited: Sixty-five Years of Repeated Analysis and Collection. Annals of the New York Academy of Science 376:467-489.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Tamale Pots

By Angela Huster

In a few of our earlier posts, we've mentioned that there don't seem to be that many comales (tortilla griddles) at Calixtlahuaca. This suggests that the ancient inhabitants of the site were eating their corn in some way other than tortillas, such as hominy, atole (gruel), or tamales. Tamales are the most likely alternative to tortillas, and there is a great quote in the Florentine Codex about the diet of the the Quaquata (one of the groups in the Toluca Valley):

“Nothing grew in the land of these Quaquata; only maize, beans, amaranth; no chili, no salt. The principal foods of these were tamales, beans; also their principal drink was fruit atole. Popcorn was produced right there in their land” (Sahagún 1950-82:Book 10: The People. Pp 182-183).

Unfortunately, it's harder to identify pots for tamale steaming, since a large pot can be used for any number of other tasks. One possible candidate for tamale pots are the type that we call interior-incised ollas. This type of large olla has sloppy, deeply scored incision on the interior of the body below the neck. The incisions can't be seen unless the pot is broken, which means that they weren't there for decoration. The incisions are also problematic for most forms of food preparation, since any liquid food would get stuck in them and burn, but we don't see any evidence for scorched reside in the incisions. However, the incisions would have been helpful for keeping the lattice of sticks used to keep tamales out of the steaming liquid from sliding around, and the tamales themselves from sticking to the walls of the pot. This type is not found in Morelos or the Basin of Mexico, where there are much higher frequencies of comales.

Interior-incised olla sherds

The distribution of these pots among the different households at the site also supports the idea that they were used for steaming tamales. Once comales start to used in noticeable frequencies at the site (during the Yata phase), the frequency of interior-incised ollas varies inversely with the frequency of comales; households were picking one or the other!

Comal vs interior incised olla frequencies by household (Huster 2016: Chapter 8)

Works Cited:

Huster, Angela C.
    2016    The Effects of Aztec Conquest on Provincial Commoner Households at Calixtlahuaca, Mexico. Doctoral Dissertation, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ.

Sahagún, Bernardino de
1950-82 Florentine Codex, General History of the Things of New Spain. 12 books. Translated and Edited by Arthur J.O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble. School of American Research, Santa Fe NM, and the University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, UT.