Method and Theory in American Archaeology

By Gordon R. Willey; Philip Phillips | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Classic Stage DEFINITIONS

In our previous article1 we observed that the criteria of the Classic stage are, to a large extent, qualitative and relative rather than quantitative and absolute. We listed such qualities as excellence in the great arts, climax in religious architecture, and general florescence in material culture. We adhere to these definitions, but we wish to add one more, which overrides them in importance. The Classic stage in New World native cultures marks the beginning of urbanism. It is the threshold of civilization in so far as "civilization" is defined as city life. Our earlier hesitancy to see the Classic as the stage of urbanism derived largely from our caution in interpreting the archaeological record of Middle America and Peru. For the succeeding stage, the Postclassic, both areas provide certain architectural evidence of large, tightly massed population concentrations. Such fitted, without cavil, the formal and physical requirements of an urban community. For the Classic the record in and on the ground is much less definite. In some instances, such as the Teotihuacán Classic in the Valley of Mexico with its numerous closely spaced apartment-like structures, or the Gallinazo III subphase of north coastal Peru with its thousands of "honeycomb" adobe-walled rooms, there is material evidence of city living. In other cases, however, of which the Classic Maya of the Petén lowlands is a prime example, urban dwelling clusters are either lacking or undiscovered. Nevertheless, for the Classic Maya,

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1
Willey and Phillips, 1955.

-182-

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