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Materialism, Mode of Production, and a Millennium of Change in Southern Mexico

  • Robert M. Rosenswig
Article

Abstract

In this paper, I ask why the insights of classical (i.e., materialist) Marxism are not more commonly used by archaeologists of recent academic generations. With evidence from the Soconusco region of Mexico, I explore the relationship between the economic base and political superstructure of the region’s inhabitants as well as evidence for the transformation from a kin-ordered to a tributary mode of production. Major esthetic and political transformations occurred across the region when naturalistic standards were replaced by abstract Olmec-style representation beginning approximately 1,400 cal. B.C. In contrast, macrobotanical, ground stone, and faunal patterns from the site of Cuauhtémoc (along with patterns from across the Soconusco) indicated that a major transformation of the economy occurred during the Conchas phase (1,000–850 cal. B.C.). Along with the marked intensification of subsistence production, the Conchas phase was also when the first system of conical mounds were built at the top three tiers of political centers in the Soconusco. I argue that the use of modes of production holds unrealized potential for a materialist interpretation of the past and that the development of a tributary mode of production helps explain the changes in the Soconusco after 1,000 cal. B.C.

Keywords

Historical materialism Mode of production Origins of agriculture Olmec 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The data summarized here are derived from fieldwork conducted under a series of permits issued by Mexico’s Consejo de Arqueologia. Excavations and analyses were generously funded by the Albers Fund, Department of Anthropology, Yale University, the Yale Council of International and Area Studies, the New World Archaeological Foundation, the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies as well as by Social Science and Humanities Council of Canada and Fulbright-Hays Research Fellowship. Most of these data have been presented at the 2005 Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas in Guatemala City, the 2008 Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Vancouver, and the 2009 International Congress of Americanists in Mexico City. My thanks to James Collins, Richard Lesure, and Michael Love for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Constructive suggestions by three reviewers (Randall McGuire and two who remained anonymous) strengthened this paper on both empirical and theoretical grounds. I dedicate this paper to the late Bruce Trigger who introduced me to the use of historical materialism in archaeology while I was an undergraduate at McGill University in the early 1990s and to my ancestors—members of The Party in the 1930s and 1940s through whom a materialist understanding of politics forms part of my “doxa”.

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

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

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