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Farming, Hunting, and Fishing in the Olmec World

AMBER M. VANDERWARKER
Copyright Date: 2006
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/709805
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  • Book Info
    Farming, Hunting, and Fishing in the Olmec World
    Book Description:

    The Olmec who anciently inhabited Mexico's southern Gulf Coast organized their once-egalitarian society into chiefdoms during the Formative period (1400 BC to AD 300). This increase in political complexity coincided with the development of village agriculture, which has led scholars to theorize that agricultural surpluses gave aspiring Olmec leaders control over vital resources and thus a power base on which to build authority and exact tribute.

    In this book, Amber VanDerwarker conducts the first multidisciplinary analysis of subsistence patterns at two Olmec settlements to offer a fuller understanding of how the development of political complexity was tied to both agricultural practices and environmental factors. She uses plant and animal remains, as well as isotopic data, to trace the intensification of maize agriculture during the Late Formative period. She also examines how volcanic eruptions in the region affected subsistence practices and settlement patterns. Through these multiple sets of data, VanDerwarker presents convincing evidence that Olmec and epi-Olmec lifeways of farming, hunting, and fishing were driven by both political and environmental pressures and that the rise of institutionalized leadership must be understood within the ecological context in which it occurred.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79617-1
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chapter 1 AGRICULTURAL RISK AND INTENSIFICATION ALONG MEXICO’S SOUTHERN GULF COAST: AN INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-4)

    Chiefdoms developed along the southern Mexican Gulf Coast during the Early, Middle, Late, and Terminal Formative periods (1400–1000 bc, 1000–400 bc, 400 bc–ad 100, and ad 100–300). Scholars interested in regional political economy for this area have long relied on archaeological data from three large sites: San Lorenzo, La Venta, and Tres Zapotes. This focus on large centers to the exclusion of smaller, outlying villages and hamlets has limited our understanding of regional political development. Scholars have also relied heavily on assumptions about regional subsistence economy, for example, that agricultural tribute was used to fund labor...

  5. Chapter 2 AGRICULTURE AND POLITICAL COMPLEXITY IN THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE
    (pp. 5-30)

    The relationship between agricultural intensification and the emergence of complex political formations (e.g., chiefdoms and states) has been an enduring topic in archaeological research. Indeed, this topic continues to be prevalent in the literature, the number of theories exceeded only by the questions that remain. Though not all scholars agree about the timing of agriculture relative to the emergence of chiefdoms and states, we do know that the adoption and intensification of agriculture varied with the emergence of political complexity in different ways, at different times, and in different places. Such a complex topic cannot be adequately explained by a...

  6. Chapter 3 POLITICS AND FARMING IN THE OLMEC WORLD
    (pp. 31-65)

    The Formative period (1400 bc–ad 300) marked the development of political complexity and the adoption of a mixed farming economy along the southern Mexican Gulf Coast (Figure 3.1). Large civic-ceremonial centers were established at San Lorenzo, La Venta, and Tres Zapotes during the Early, Middle, and Late Formative periods, respectively (Figure 3.2). These large political centers served as seats of power for regional elites who oversaw large labor projects like extensive earthen and stone monument construction.

    The nature of Olmec political organization has long been a subject of contention in Mesoamerican archaeology. Traditionally, the debate has centered on the...

  7. Chapter 4 FARMING, GARDENING, AND TREE MANAGEMENT: ANALYSIS OF THE PLANT DATA
    (pp. 66-115)

    Understanding an agricultural system requires knowledge of the ways in which people interact with the plants and animals in their environment, as well as the causes and consequences of their manipulation of natural surroundings. Archaeologically, we can explore these issues through an examination of the remains of plants and animals within the context of analogy to modern ecology and anthropogenic change. This chapter focuses on the botanical side of Formative farming in the Tuxtlas—I focus more on the Formative occupations of the study sites than the subsequent Classic occupations. I begin with a discussion of methods, including procedures for...

  8. Chapter 5 HUNTING, FISHING, AND TRAPPING: ANALYSIS OF THE ANIMAL DATA
    (pp. 116-181)

    The transition from a relatively mobile foraging economy to a sedentary farming economy involves fundamental changes in the way people interact with their environment. In the previous chapter, I discussed the ways in which Formative people manipulated the composition of their botanical world through swidden farming and tree management. These types of anthropogenic alteration of the local environment undoubtedly affected the distribution of local fauna as well. Moreover, as the livelihood of Formative people became more embedded in a farming economy, they probably altered the manner in which they exploited the faunal resources around them. Thus, the faunal record reflects...

  9. Chapter 6 EATING PLANTS AND ANIMALS: STABLE ISOTOPIC ANALYSIS OF HUMAN, DOG, AND DEER BONES
    (pp. 182-192)

    Although floral and faunal data can reveal much about past subsistence economy, they represent lines of evidence that are often difficult to compare analytically. These two lines of evidence differ both in terms of preservation and recovery biases. Thus, assessing the relative contribution of plants versus animals in the diet using these data is not feasible. Moreover, because the plant and animal remains we recover archaeologically represent only a fraction of what was originally deposited—a fraction biased by a variety of different taphonomic factors—we cannot use these data to determine the absolute contribution of different food resources in...

  10. Chapter 7 FARMING, HUNTING, AND FISHING IN THE OLMEC WORLD: A MODEL OF OLMEC SUBSISTENCE ECONOMY
    (pp. 193-204)

    The relationship between agricultural intensification and the emergence of political complexity has been examined in many different regions of Mesoamerica. These investigations have demonstrated that the timing of these processes varied dramatically with respect to geography, ecology, and culture history. Understanding the relationship between agricultural intensification and political complexity among the Gulf Coastal Olmec has long been hindered by a paucity of subsistence data and an ongoing debate regarding the nature of regional political complexity. The research presented here has addressed this relationship through analyses of archaeobotanical, zooarchaeological, and isotopic data from two Formative sites in the Sierra de los...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 205-206)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 207-232)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 233-244)