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Early Mesoamerican Garbage: Ceramic and Daub Discard Patterns from Cuauhtémoc, Soconusco, Mexico

  • Robert M. Rosenswig
Article

Abstract

Formation processes are all too infrequently addressed by archaeologists excavating in Mesoamerica. This paper examines refuse disposal patterns from the site of Cuauhtémoc on the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico, to provide insight into how the site formed and how artifacts accumulated. This analysis uses materials dating between 1600–800 BCE which encompass the centuries before, during and after the late Early Formative or Early Olmec period (i.e., 1250–900 BCE). First, I employ sherds and daub from shared open-air middens and trash-filled pits to explore trash deposit formation through the 800 years that the site was occupied. Next, I use these same classes of data to make synchronic comparisons between five different depositional contexts dating to the Conchas phase (900–800 BCE). For all phases, these analyses demonstrate that pit features received more debris than open-air middens and that material in the latter contexts were more broken up. Further, the low density of daub from late Early Formative period contexts suggests that distinctive architectural customs may have been practised during this time. Conchas phase refuse indicates that waste disposal locations physically separated an elite residential zone from the rest of society and that elite contexts were more intensively used. Accounting for the formation of archaeological deposits allows for more nuanced interpretations of this early Mesoamerican village.

Keywords

Refuse disposal Site formation processes Post-depositional processes Mesoamerica 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The field work reported here was conducted under a series of permits issued by the INAH Consejo de Arqueología. Financial support for the excavation and analysis reported here were provided by the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc., the New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF), the Yale Council of International and Area Studies, a Fulbright-Hayes Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship and a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Doctoral Fellowship. Special thanks are extended to Artemio Villatoro Alvarado for his hard work directing the recording of data reported here and to John Clark (Director of the NWAF) for logistical and curatorial support. The constructive and thoughtful comments of five reviewers are gratefully acknowledged as are those of Philip Arnold and Robert Kruger. This paper was written while the author held a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Montreal and was presented in a discussion group organized by Philip Arnold at the 71st Annual Meetings of the Society for American Archaeology in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 2006. Finally, thanks are extended to James Savelle who directed me to explore how post-depositional processes mediate the interpretation of archaeological data when I was just starting out (Rosenswig 1994).

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyThe University at Albany—SUNYAlbanyUSA

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