Gardens of Prehistory: The Archaeology of Settlement Agriculture in Greater Mesoamerica

By Thomas W. Killion | Go to book overview

processes that greatly modified the distribution and composition of archaeological assemblages.


SUMMARY AND CONCLUDING REMARKS

In this chapter I have argued that inferences about Olmec land use can be defined in some detail if one adopts a spatial perspective that incorporates information from off-site locations as well as evidence of refuse disposal in ordinary household contexts. These data, I believe, are relevant to the question of prehistoric land use because patterning in their distribution reflects in part how households utilize space, both on-site and off-site. The archaeological record represents the accumulation of debris over long periods of time. Thus, rather than using the record as a vehicle to discuss the episodic behavior of human groups at particular moments in time, I have keyed into those properties of the record that reflect behavioral patterning over the longer term. Accurate description of the past is what we want; however, the perspective one may have to take and the level of description adopted may be radically different than those commonly provided by ethnographers. Data on short-term episodic behavior (e.g., the ridging of fields) should not be ignored when available, but archaeologists should not be hopeful that such evidence will be found except in the most extraordinary of situations: hence, my emphasis on off-site artifact distributions and household garbage disposal patterns as a means for describing elements of Formative economic organization.

The present study suggests the following observations about the organization of Olmec economy at Matacapan. Early Formative settlement patterns were dispersed, with evidence of only two levels in the settlement hierarchy; villages and hamlets. Villages may have been somewhat more differentiated than hamlets, but in the main they appear to have been very equivalent socioeconomically. That the landscape around Early Formative sites was utilized is supported by the fact that significant quantities of Olmec ceramics occur off-site. This assemblage of material patterns in systematic ways. More material in general is found closer to sites than far from them. Patterning also occurs by catchment area relative to habitation sites as well as by spatial

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