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Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology: Mesoamerica Subsistence Strategies by Region

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Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology: Mesoamerica Subsistence Strategies by Region
  Metadata of the chapter that will be visualized online Chapter TitleMesoamerica: Subsistence Strategies by RegionCopyright Year2013Copyright HolderSpringer Science+Business Media New York Corresponding AuthorFamily Name Acosta-Ochoa ParticleGiven Name Guillermo SuffixDivision/DepartmentArea de Prehistoria y Evolución, Instituto deInvestigaciones AntropológicasOrganization/UniversityUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoStreetCircuito Exterior s/n Ciudad UniversitariaCityDel. Coyoacán, D.F.StateMexico D.F.CountryMexicoEmailacostaochoa@yahoo.com.mxEmailacostaochoa@gmail.com  Comp. by: THAMIZHVEL V Stage: Proof Chapter No.: 1669 Title Name: EGADate:29/3/13 Time:23:32:55 Page Number: 1 1 M 2  Mesoamerica: Subsistence 3  Strategies by Region 4  Guillermo Acosta-Ochoa 5  Area de Prehistoria y Evolucio´n, Instituto de 6  Investigaciones Antropolo´gicas, Universidad 7  Nacional Auto´noma de Me´xico, Del. Coyoaca´n, 8  D.F., Mexico D.F., Mexico 9  Introduction 10  Establishing subsistence strategies for  11  Mesoamerica appears quite simple; it would 12  suffice to separate periods associated with 13  hunter-gatherers from those in which agrarian 14  societies appear. However, in practice, the 15  situation is more complex. In addition to the 16  fact that domestication represents a long process 17  that cannot easily be considered to be completed, 18  almost all societies at the time of the arrival of  19  the Spanish continued to use hunting, fishing, 20  and gathering as important parts of their  21  obtaining nutrition. 22  Additionally, periods before the emergence 23  of so-called complex societies have been little 24  studied in comparison with ceramic periods. 25  For this reason, available information regarding 26  earlier subsistence strategies, such as those of the 27  hunters of megafauna, gatherers from the coasts 28  or the interior, and early agriculturalists, is scarce 29  and fragmentary. 30 Finally, the differentiation carried out in this 31 text regarding subsistence strategies is somewhat 32 idealized in that it distinguishes three large 33 groups: a. hunters of megafauna, b. coastal 34 and broad-spectrum gatherers, and c. agrarian 35 societies. This distinction is made simply to 36 define the essential aspect that dominates each 37 these subsistence strategies, without excluding 38 other, secondary activities in obtaining food. 39 Definition 40 Subsistence 41 Subsistenceimpliesallthestrategiesandmaterial 42 means that an individual or human group 43 employs for their survival and reproduction, 44 whether biological or cultural. Thus, it is not 45 synonymous with forms or levels of social inte- 46 gration, such as the terms “band,” “tribe,” “hier- 47 archical societies,” and “archaic state.” 48 Nevertheless, each form of social organization 49 can be linked to specific subsistence strategies: 50 For example, societies defined as “bands” 51 (Service 1962) are characterized by a mode of  52 subsistence based on hunting, fishing, and 53 gathering, whereas in hierarchical or state 54 societies, subsistence is generally based 55 on agriculture. 56 Hunter-Gatherers 57 Hunter-gatherers are human groups whose 58 subsistence is based on the hunting of wild C. Smith (ed.),  Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology , DOI 10.1007/978-1-4419-0465-2, # Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013  Comp. by: THAMIZHVEL V Stage: Proof Chapter No.: 1669 Title Name: EGADate:29/3/13 Time:23:32:55 Page Number: 2 59  animals and the collection of wild plants without 60  their domestication and, with the exception 61  of dogs, without domestic animals (Lee & 62  Daly 1999: 3). 63  Big-Game Hunters 64  Extinct animals whose weight usually was over  65  a half-ton are considered megafauna, although 66  this term is generally employed to designate 67  megaherbivores, such as the mammoth 68  (  Mammuthus ), mastodon (  Mammut  ), or giant 69  sloth (  Megatherium ,  Eremotherium ). Although 70  the Paleo-Indian cultures of the end of the Pleis- 71  tocene have generally been defined as hunters of  72  megafauna, it is likely that Clovis hunters and 73  other contemporary groups were only occasional 74  hunters of this type. 75  Broad-Spectrum Foragers (Coastal and 76  Continental) 77  These groups are oriented toward the collection 78  of plants, mollusks, and smaller fauna and are 79  usually associated with coastal and tropical 80  zones of Mesoamerica, although they are not 81  exclusively from these regions. Even if these 82  groups are identifiable since the end of the 83  Pleistocene, this way of life became widespread 84  in the Mesoamerican zone, beginning with 85  the Holocene. 86  Cultivation 87  This is the artificial human propagation of seeds, 88  cuttings or roots, and/or care of plants, whether  89  wild or domesticated. 90  Agriculture 91  In this cultural system, subsistence is based on 92  domesticated plants. Agricultural production can 93  be separated into two systems of agriculture: 94  intensive and extensive. Extensive agriculture 95  requires a relatively large area of land and is 96  defined as following the cultivation of a parcel 97  of land by a fallow period (which depends on the 98  characteristics of the soil, but may be of up to 99  7 years), during which the soil is allowed to 100  reconstitute its nutrients. 101 Sedentarism 102 This process involves the permanent establish- 103 ment of human settlement in contrast with 104 nomadism, which involves the constant moving 105 of camps to different territories due to causes 106 such as herding, a reduction of the capacity of  107 the environment, or the need for allochthonous 108 resources. Although in the greater number of  109 archeological and ethnographic cases, 110 sedentarism tends to be associated with agrarian 111 societies, this association is not universal. In par- 112 ticular, sedentarism is a notably late process in 113 Mesoamerica in comparison with the appearance 114 of the first domesticated plants in this region. 115 Historical Background 116 The study of subsistence in Mesoamerica has 117 been linked with the development of archeology 118 itself in Mexico and Central America. Most 119 likely, the oldest discussions in this regard 120 began with the debate at the end of the nineteenth 121 century between Florentino Ameghino and Alesˇ 122 Hrdlicˇka.Theformerarguedthatmodernhumans 123 had evolved in South America and subsequently 124 migrated to the rest of the planet; in contrast, 125 Hrdlicˇka denied the idea that humans had 126 originated in the Argentine pampas but also 127 denied that they could have coexisted with the 128 fauna of the Pleistocene. Later, the findings at 129 Folsom, New Mexico, in 1908, would confirm 130 not only coexistence between humans and 131 Pleistocene fauna but also the possible hunting 132 of such fauna. 133 During the first half of the twentieth century, 134 many studies of Mesoamerican societies focused 135 on defining cultural sequences and the chrono- 136 logical position of the various regional cultures; 137 therefore, the study of ceramics, sculpture, and 138 architecture was central to defining regional 139 styles. Although complex societies were the 140 principal subject of this research, studies on 141 subsistence systems prior to the development of  142 ceramics were marginal. This condition 143 held true until the discovery of the so-called 144 Tepexpan Man in 1947, when the investigation 145 of preceramic societies began in earnest, M  2 Mesoamerica: Subsistence Strategies by Region  Comp. by: THAMIZHVEL V Stage: Proof Chapter No.: 1669 Title Name: EGADate:29/3/13 Time:23:32:56 Page Number: 3 146  particularly in Mexico; various research projects 147  on hunter-gatherer groups were carried out after  148  the creation of the “Department of Prehistory of  149  theINAH[theNationalInstituteofAnthropology 150  and History].” At this time, research also began 151  on coastal gatherers, and research until the 152  mid-twentieth century had a marked focus on 153  cultural history. 154  In the second half of the twentieth century, 155  ecological perspectives began to dominate 156  archeological investigations that were centered 157  on defining agricultural systems, their productive 158  potential, and their role in the development 159  of complex societies (Sanders et al. 1979). Addi- 160  tionally, the first long-term studies examining 161  the development ofagriculture began, principally 162  in the Tehuaca´n and Oaxaca valleys (MacNeish 163  1967; Flannery 1986). The last 3 decades have 164  seen a marked change from research with an 165  ecological and evolutionary focus to studies 166  involving nonlinear dynamic models, as well as 167  models where individuals are considered to 168  be active agents in the models of change. 169  Conversely, the application of new techniques 170  for the recovery of evidence (both direct and 171  indirect) for human subsistence (i.e., phytoliths, 172  starch grains, pollen, chemical analyses, and 173  stable isotopes, among others) has permitted the 174  evaluation of traditional models of the srcin of  175  agriculture or the paleodiet and the generation of  176  new research trends. 177  Key Issues/Current Debates 178  Early Peopling and Big-Game Hunting 179  Although it is clear now that the peopling of the 180  American continent took place at the end of the 181  Pleistocene through the Bering Strait, various 182  opinionsremainregardingwhetherthismigration 183  took place through the interior of the continent or  184  along the coast, as well as the time at which this 185  process occurred. 186  One group of researchers argues that this 187  initial peopling must have taken place at the end 188  of the last glaciation (Wisconsin) and suggests 189  that it was not possible until the two large glacial 190  blocsthatcoveredNorthAmerica(theLaurentide 191 and Cordilleran) had melted between 11,000 192 and 12,000 BC. This model (termed  Clovis-first  ) 193 suggests that the first settlers were hunters who 194 used fluted points (Clovis) and entered through 195 a hypothetical “ice-free corridor,” a thin fringe 196 of exposed land that existed between both 197 glaciers and allowed passage through the area 198 now occupied by Alberta (Fiedel 1996: 72). 199 The  Clovis-first   model assumes an accelerated 200 “migratory wave” of groups hunting Pleistocene 201 fauna that would go on to carry out a rapid 202 peopling toward the south of the continent and 203 would be responsible for the extinction of the 204 megafauna. Unfortunately, this model presents 205 several problems. Paleoecological studies have 206 shown that this supposed corridor was either  207 impossible or did not exist until very late in the 208 Pleistocene, when the continent was already pop- 209 ulated.Themodelalsodoesnotconsiderthelarge 210 differences in the gradient of ecosystems located 211 between North and South America, nor does it 212 explain the presence of fully accepted pre-Clovis 213 sites in the New World, such as Monte Verde 214 in Chile. 215 In Mesoamerica, a large quantity of fluted 216 points have been found, almost all of which are 217 from the surface, from the Sierra Gorda de 218 Quere´taro to Honduras (Acosta 2012). These 219 fluted points, which are found from southern 220 Mexico and Central America, are not “typical” 221 Clovis points but are characterized by reduced 222 dimensions and concave edges such that 223 they are more similar to the points of the late 224 Paleo-Indian period of the USA. These points 225 can be associated with points of the “fishtail” 226 type, as in Chiapas or Belize, although the 227 associated stone tools correspond to those typi- 228 cally associated with Clovis, such as “keeled” 229 scrapers ( limaces ), burins, and scrapers with 230 lateral spurs; these tools indicate a type of sub- 231 sistence that is highly dependent on hunting and 232 uses specialized artifacts for removing flesh from 233 prey and preparing skins. Only for Los Grifos, 234 Chiapas, has a study reported on the remains of  235 fauna from Clovis settlements, indicating 236 medium-sized prey, such as white-tailed deer  237 ( Odocoileus  sp.), peccary ( Tayassu  sp.), and 238 Pleistocene horse (  Equus  sp.). Mesoamerica: Subsistence Strategies by Region 3  M  Comp. by: THAMIZHVEL V Stage: Proof Chapter No.: 1669 Title Name: EGADate:29/3/13 Time:23:32:56 Page Number: 4 239  Only two Clovis sites in the Mesoamerican 240  area have been dated: Los Grifos in Chiapas, 241  Mexico and Los Tapiales in Guatemala. Unfor- 242  tunately, the early dates for Los Tapiales ( circa 243  10,500 BC), Guatemala, do not appear to be 244  clearly associated with the Clovis materials, and 245  the site presents various dates from the early 246  Holocene. The dates for Los Grifos 247  (9,000–8,000 BC) time the appearance of fluted 248  pointsinMesoamerica mainlyatthe beginningof  249  the Holocene (Acosta 2012). 250  The association of megafauna with human 251  activity has best been documented at the Valley 252  of Mexico, although many of these sites do not 253  contain diagnostic materials that could associate 254  them with any particular Pleistocene technology. 255  The megafauna (  Mammuthus columbi ) hunting 256  sites associated with projectile points 257  include those for mammoths at Santa Isabel 258  Iztapan and three points associated with them 259  (Lerma, Plainview, and Angostura) in combina- 260  tion with other artifacts linked to the processing 261  ofprey.Othersites,suchasAtepehuacan,contain 262  mammoth remains that are associated with 263  obsidian flakes. These two sites are dated at the 264  beginning of the Holocene, between 9,500 and 265  9,000 BC (Aveleyra 1967). 266  Despite these datings, sites for megafauna 267  hunting in the Valley of Mexico to date 268  correspond to killing sites; however, base camps 269  have not been located that would allow us to 270  determine whether these great preys were impor- 271  tant in the subsistence of these early settlers or  272  these remains only reflect occasional hunting 273  (and most likely scavenging) of the last 274  megamammals that were in the process of  275  extinction at the end of the last ice age. 276  Coastal Collectors and Broad-Spectrum 277  Hunters 278  Human groups have exploited coastal resources 279  since the end of the Pleistocene. Indeed, several 280  authors believe that the peopling of the continent 281  must have taken place along the Pacific coastline 282  earlier than the peopling of the continental 283  interior (Dixon 1999). The earliest evidence of  284  coastal collecting groups appears along the 285  entire Pacific coast from the California islands 286 to Chile. These groups show a marked 287 dependence on collecting marine mollusks; 288 however, depending on the region, the hunting 289 ofbirds,fish, andmarineand terrestrialmammals 290 can also be observed. 291 In the Mesoamerican region, the earliest 292 evidence of coastal occupation comes from 293 submerged caves in the Yucatan Peninsula, 294 where human remains have been recovered 295 that date between 7,000 and 10,000 BC, although 296 no other cultural materials were present 297 (Gonza´lez et al. 2008). Most of the coastal sites 298 of Mesoamerica correspond to the period known 299 as Archaic (10,000–4,000 BC) because sea levels 300 stabilized after 7,000 BC. Although there is 301 a void in the research on the Pacific coast for  302 periods prior to 7,000 BC, coastal sites have 303 been located (principally “shell middens”) along 304 the entire Pacific coast; in Sinaloa (El Calo´n, 305 1,800 BC), Nayarit (Matanche´n, 2,500–2,000 306 BC), Guerrero (Puerto Marque´s, 2,200 BC), 307 and Chiapas (Chantuto, 5,000–2,500 BC) 308 (Kenneth 2012). 309 In the continental interior, groups of  310 broad-spectrum hunter-gatherers based on 311 subsistence linked to the hunting of smaller  312 fauna and the collection of wild plants can be 313 observed from the Pleistocene-Holocene transi- 314 tion point, approximately 10,000–9,000 BC. In 315 zones such as the Sierra de Tamaulipas 316 (Ocampo), Puebla (Tehuaca´n Valley), the Valley 317 of Oaxaca (Guila´ Naquitz), the Central Depres- 318 sion of Chiapas (Santa Marta cave), and the 319 Honduras Plateau (El Gigante Cave), these 320 groups show mixed subsistence based on the 321 hunting of deer, rabbits, and peccary, the capture 322 of animals such as turtles, and the collection of  323 freshwater snails (Santa Marta). Collection 324 includes fruits from cacti in arid zones, pine 325 nuts and acorns in forested regions, as well as 326 fruits from tropical trees in more humid zones. 327 One point worth emphasizing is the use of mill- 328 stones since the Late Pleistocene in sites such as 329 Guila´ Naquitz, Oaxaca, and Santa Marta 330 Rockshelter in Chiapas, which indicates 331 a growing increase in the dependence on plants 332 and their processing. Archaeobotanical remains 333 indicate that these broad-spectrum subsistence M  4 Mesoamerica: Subsistence Strategies by Region
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