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Origins of the Ñuu

Origins of the Ñuu: Archaeology in the Mixteca Alta, Mexico

Stephen A. Kowalewski
Andrew K. Balkansky
Laura R. Stiver Walsh
Thomas J. Pluckhahn
John F. Chamblee
Verónica Pérez Rodríguez
Verenice Y. Heredia Espinoza
Charlotte A. Smith
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 552
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  • Book Info
    Origins of the Ñuu
    Book Description:

    Combining older findings with new data on 1,000 previously undescribed archaeological sites, Origins of the Ñuu presents the cultural evolution of the Mixteca Alta in an up-to-date chronological framework.   The ñuu - the kingdoms of the famous Mixtec codices - are traced back through the Postclassic and Classic periods to their beginnings in the first states of the Terminal Formative, revealing their origin, evolution, and persistence through two cycles of growth and collapse. Challenging assumptions that the Mixtec were peripheral to better-known peoples such as the Aztecs or Maya, the book asserts that the ñuu were a major demographic and economic power in their own right.   Older explanations of multiregional or macroregional systems often portrayed civilizations as rising in a cradle or hearth and spreading outward. New macroregional studies show that civilizations are products of more complex interactions between regions, in which peripheries are not simply shaped by cores but by their interactions with multiple societies at varying distances from major centers. Origins of the Ñuu is a significant contribution to this emerging area of archaeological research.

    eISBN: 978-0-87081-990-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Archaeology, History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xxiii-xxviii)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Regional Study of Ancient Societies in the Mixteca Alta
    (pp. 1-28)

    The Mixteca Alta in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, was an important region in the center of Mesoamerica (Figure 1.1). But compared to the better-known Maya lowlands and the Aztec heartland, the Mixteca Alta has received much less archaeological attention. This was a magnificent land with wonderful archaeological sites. The Spanish conquerors in the sixteenth century described it as well-populated, rich, and prosperous. Today it is notoriously eroded and poor; the Mixteca’s major export is its own people. This volume sheds light on what happened to the Mixteca Alta.

    To do so, we consider the fundamental question: What were the...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Western Nochixtlán Valley
    (pp. 29-80)

    Today and in the past the well-watered hills and small valleys on the western side of the Nochixtlán Valley have been favored places for human settlement. The soils are quite fertile but they are easily eroded. Today and in the past farmers have terraced the slopes and drainages to capture and hold the soil and water. Subsequent abandonment of the terraces inevitably leads to further, accelerated erosion, so paradoxically a place that now looks utterly wasted was likely to have been very productive sometime in the past.

    The western Nochixtlán Valley readily breaks into five physiographic and cultural subregions, each...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Greater Teposcolula
    (pp. 81-156)

    Greater Teposcolula is like a solar system: a Sun—the Teposcolula Valley itself—and six planets held in its gravity. The subordinate ñuu (the planets) are Nuñu, Yodobada, Yucunama, Lagunas, Yolomécatl, and Nduayaco. Here, even better than with the area covered in the previous chapter, we can see how subregions were linked together to form larger aggregations, yuhuitaiyu as they were known in the sixteenth century. The leading position of Teposcolula was established with the first sedentary villages in the Early Formative and it continued through the prehispanic sequence and the Colonial era. Teposcolula is still the head town for...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Greater Huamelulpan
    (pp. 157-182)

    The three valleys described in this chapter—Yucuxaco, Huamelulpan, and Tayata—are crucial to understanding the rise of urbanism and the state in the Mixteca Alta. A large part of this area was surveyed in 1994–1995 (Balkansky 1998b) and we did more in 1999. All of these results are drawn together in this chapter. Balkansky has begun a more intensive investigation of Tayata that will add much more to what is reported here. Tayata was the seat of a large Formative head town, peer to Oaxaca’s other Olmec period centers. But to judge from the settlement pattern there was...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Inner Basin
    (pp. 183-254)

    Between the Sierra de Nochixtlán and the next big mountain range to the west are seven little valleys, each of which had at one time or another a recognizable polity, or ñuu. No one subregion dominated this inner basin. It supported an important Early/Middle Formative cluster of villages. Every one of its subregions had one or more fortified hilltop sites in the Late Formative, but of these only the one spectacular site of Dzinicahua, plus a few outposts of Huamelulpan, survived or flourished in the Terminal Formative. Some of these subregions had significant Early Classic (Las Flores) development but others...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Greater Tlaxiaco
    (pp. 255-284)

    The Tlaxiaco Valley is an important place: head of a Mixtec yuhuitaiyu, center of an Aztec tributary province, and Colonial and recent commercial, political, and ecclesiastical seat. It has somewhat limited land for agriculture but it is well watered and it lies at the juncture of major corridors for interregional exchange. The first section of this chapter describes the Tlaxiaco core (the valley itself ) and the following sections explore its extensive and mountainous adjacent peripheries. The real economic power of this yuhuitaiyu in Natividad times resided beyond these peripheries in the prosperous ñuu of the inner basin (Chapter 5)....

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN The Polities of the Early and Middle Formative
    (pp. 285-296)

    The evidence for Archaic period populations in the Mixteca Alta is intriguing but too fragmentary for us to put together a picture of social life. Little is known about the transition between Archaic and sedentary social systems, and the question of continuity between Archaic and Early Cruz remains completely open. For the Early and Middle Formative our survey found settlement clusters made up of large villages and their smaller satellites. The larger, better endowed valleys were settled first and the smaller subregions were colonized later. Each settlement cluster probably was a distinct social and political group. The variations in settlement...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT The Emergence of Urbanism and the State
    (pp. 297-304)

    The first cities in the Mixteca Alta arose during Ramos, the Late and Terminal Formative. We think that the complex, hierarchical institution of the state was in place by the end of the period. The Middle Formative polities (Chapter 7) did not simply grow larger and become the ñuu of Classic times. The transition from the head-and-satellite-village polities to urbanism and the state was not smooth, for these were tumultuous times. The birth of the ñuu was a destructive and a creative process. There were three successive episodes: the abandonment of virtually all the earlier Formative settlements, the move to...

  14. CHAPTER NINE The Classic Ñuu
    (pp. 305-314)

    After the time of regional abandonment, consolidation, and organizational development, Las Flores was the time of the “break out,” the re-population of the abandoned areas, expansion into new places, and demographic growth (Figure 9.1, Table 9.1). The expansion took place with the organizational framework developed in Late Ramos. Compared to Late Cruz and Early Ramos, Las Flores society was more urban, more complex and differentiated, and more integrated. And it was not as compact and centralized as Huamelulpan had been in Late Ramos.

    We mapped 341 Las Flores sites, a total occupied area of 3,468 ha. By comparison, the Valley...

  15. CHAPTER TEN The Postclassic Ñuu
    (pp. 315-330)

    In the Late Postclassic the Mixteca Alta was one of Mesoamerica’s largest, wealthiest economies. Settlement and population increased to levels not seen before or since. The patterns of hierarchy and integration reconstructed from the archaeological data are similar to the cacicazgos described in the sixteenth century.

    This study mapped 843 Natividad archaeological sites (Figure 10.1, Table 10.1). In many subregions almost every archaeological site ever inhabited has a Natividad component. The number of sites is more than twice that of Las Flores. The large proportion of Postclassic sites is characteristic of other areas in Mesoamerica.

    The total occupied area was...

  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN The Ñuu in Anthropological Perspective
    (pp. 331-350)

    Thus far our discussion has been involved with the particulars of the Mixteca Alta. Here we place the archaeological results into a more general Mesoamerican and comparative perspective. In this final chapter we reach five major conclusions. These concern the method of archaeological survey, the societies of the Formative period, the nature of the state, episodes of decline and abandonment, and a form of urbanism that is primarily agrarian.

    Survey is early homonin behavior: more or less upright posture, hands free, bipedal locomotion, visual attention to surroundings, in touch with nearby comrades, on the lookout for wild dogs, searching for...

  17. CHAPTER TWELVE Resumen en Español
    (pp. 351-358)

    En este libro presentamos los resultados de un recorrido arqueológico sistemático realizado en la Mixteca Alta Central y una serie de estudios sobre el surgimiento y desarrollo de su civilización. En el siglo XVI la Mixteca fue descrita como una región rica, próspera y densamente poblada. Los datos arqueológicos sugieren que esta región fue una de las más importantes y densamente pobladas en la Mesoamérica Postclásica. En la actualidad, la región está severamente erosionada, lo que ha dejado a varias comunidades con pocos suelos cultivables, además de que gran parte de su escasa población ha tenido que emigrar por falta...

  18. APPENDIX ONE: Ceramic Chronology
    (pp. 359-386)
  19. APPENDIX TWO: Flaked and Ground Stone
    (pp. 387-394)
  20. References Cited
    (pp. 395-406)
  21. Tables
    (pp. 407-500)
  22. Index
    (pp. 501-516)