Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Has William Sanders been to Calixtlahuaca?

One of the reasons we are working at Calixtlahuaca is to try to understand the site as an urban center. This was a major Aztec-period city, and not to many such sites have been intensively studied. I've been working on and off on Mesoamerican urbanism since my first fieldwork in Mexico, with William T. Sanders in 1974. I'm sure that Bill Sanders visited Calixtlahuaca during his long archaeological career. But the title of this entry refers to the influence of Sanders's thought on my own approach to urbanism in general and to Calixtlahuaca in particular.

William Sanders passed away a few weeks ago. I've already blogged about my relationship with Sanders and about his impressive publication record, and I just sent in a post to H-Urban, a listserv on urban history, that outlines Sanders's work on urbanism. I often argued with Sanders, in person and in print, and I frequently criticized his approach to urbanism as too limiting and confining for ancient Mesoamerican cities. That said, much of what we are doing at Calixtlahuaca are things that Sanders would consider important activities for urban archaeology.

After two seasons of fieldwork, we are still not in a position to make a credible population estimate for the site. This is completely unacceptable to me--probably because of the influence of Sanders on my thinking. Yes, it is limiting to put too much emphasis on urban population levels. But we certainly do need those data. So in our next grant we will include funds for some geophysical prospecting that will allow us to figure out how many people lived at Calixtlahuaca. We are also working to document the houses of Calixtlahuaca, and the entire spectrum of the urban economy, from gardening to using imported bronze bells, topics that Bill Sanders would want to know about the site.

So apart from any personal visits he may have made, the ideas and inspiration of William Sanders have certainly been to Calixtlahuaca, and they continue to influence this project.

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