Gulf Coast Archaeology: The Southeastern United States and Mexico

By VanDerwarker, Amber M. | Southeastern Archaeology, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Gulf Coast Archaeology: The Southeastern United States and Mexico


VanDerwarker, Amber M., Southeastern Archaeology


Gulf Coast Archaeology: The Southeastern United States and Mexico. NANCY MARIE WHITE (ed.). University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 2005. xvi + 416 pp., illus., tables, biblio., index. $65.00 (cloth). ISBN 0-8130-2808-6.

Reviewed by Amber M. VanDerwarker

The aim of this volume is to update and reassess the contemporary archaeological understanding of ancient connections between native peoples living in the southeastern United States and those along the Gulf Coast of Mexico. In an era where most archaeologists are firmly entrenched in regionally circumscribed speciatizations, the broad scope of this book challenges us to expand the normative boundaries of both research and ancient contact. White brings together 17 contributors (herself included) to consider the past few thousand years of occupation along the circum-Gulf Coast. Based on my reading of the volume, each chapter can be categorized in one of the following ways: those that explicitly consider tangible connections between the southeastern United States and Mexico, those that consider cultural developments within a restricted, bounded region (e.g., most of the Texas articles), and one that uses archaeological models from one region to inform another without attempting to draw an ancient, tangible connection between the two regions. Each of these essays has its purpose in the volume, which I consider more closely below.

The chapters that draw connections between the peoples of the southeastern United States and Gulf Coast Mexico follow one of two approaches. The first approach deals with the potential movement of people, goods, and ideas throughout and between these regions. White and Wilkerson (chapters 1 and 2) both explore possible interaction in terms of likely exchange routes, specifically, the ease of water travel along rivers and across the Gulf. Their point is well made; indeed, we have ample ethnohistoric evidence throughout the circum-Gulf region of boat construction and riverine travel. Certainly it is possible that ancient groups of people used their boats to make the occasional journey to more distant lands. Daneels, Flores, Ibarra, and Zola (chapter 9) consider the potential interregional movement of goods by focusing on two Middle/Late Classic sites in central Veracruz. They argue that agricultural intensification in this region (cotton at Primero de la Patina and maize at Buenavista) corresponds with increased regional and extraregional exchange. The implication is that cotton and maize represent "cash crops" that would have been produced for export, in exchange for exotic imports. While this argument is especially intriguing, it requires further exploration; it's not entirely clear that cotton production was even occurring at Primero de la Patina, nor that maize intensification at Buenavista was causally related to interregional exchange practices. Nevertheless, Daneels et al. present an interesting argument, and I will certainly be on the lookout for follow-up publications addressing these issues.

While some chapters explore the potential for interregional interaction, others address the available evidence that such interaction actually occurred. Evidence for interaction is presented as comparison of material culture commonalities, which are then related to exchange of goods and/or ideas through direct interaction or indirect down-the-tine exchange. Architectural and artifactual commonalties explored in the volume include mound construction, effigy pipes, head pots, iconography, and gaming stones, to name a few (White, chapter 1; Dávila Cabrera, chapter 4; Zaragoza Ocana, chapter 11; Kehoe, chapter 12).

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