Recent Research in Latin American Archaeology

Thursday, May 6, 2021 - 3:00pm to 5:30pm
  • Diana K. Moreiras Reynaga, Department of Anthropology, The University of British Columbia.
  • Matthew Longstaffe, Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, The University of Calgary.
  • Amedeo Sghinolfi, Department of Anthropology, The University of Western Ontario.
Contact Email: 
Session Description (300 word max): 

As part of an ongoing agenda to promote and disseminate Latin American archaeology in Canada, the Canadian Latin American Archaeology Society’s (CLAAS) Board of Directors are hosting a session during this year’s CAA meeting. We hope to integrate a wide array of topics involving new and exciting archaeological findings in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. We encourage contributions on diverse topics, including those within the scope of the conference theme and techniques and approaches to studying pre-Columbian societies such as ceramic and lithic analyses, paleoethnobotany, geospatial analytical tools, and zooarchaeological and bioarchaeological studies. The main goal of this session is to provide a varied and representative depiction of the current state of Latin American archaeology from a Canadian context.

03:00 PM: Current research on Maya urbanism at Tenam Puente, Chiapas, Mexico
Presentation format:
  • Elizabeth Paris - University of Calgary
  • Roberto López Bravo - Universidad de Ciencias y Artes de Chiapas
  • Gabriel Lalo Jacinto - INAH-Chiapas

This presentation highlights our recent research in the Central Highlands of Chiapas, focusing particularly on the results of our project at the site of Tenam Puente, near the modern city of Comitán de Domínguez. Tenam Puente was one of the most important political capitals on the western Maya frontier, with an occupation that spans the Late Classic (AD 600-900) and Early Postclassic (AD 900-1250) periods, an era of transition and instability for much of the Maya culture area. Our research has identified an ancient marketplace at the site, presenting an important opportunity to investigate the development of commerce at the city, as it represents a significant labor investment in the architecture of the urban core, relatively late in the site’s occupation. The marketplace also includes features that facilitated the monitoring and policing of the space by political authorities, providing new insights into the investigation of economic surveillance in past societies, which are relevant to similar concerns in modern cities. 

03:00 PM: Evidence of socio-economic complexity at the Precolumbian Maya site of Coco Chan, Belize
Presentation format:
  • Alec McLellan - Trent University Archaeological Research Centre (TUARC)

Archaeologists argue that the resiliency of Precolumbian Maya communities during the Terminal Classic collapse (800-1000 AD) in the Maya lowlands was based on their leaders’ ability to navigate the institutional and interrelational changes of the period, especially as they relate to divine kingship. This can be extended to include the leaders’ ability to adapt to changing trade networks and the commodification of new materials.  Lamanai, a Precolumbian Maya site in Northern Belize, is known for circumnavigating the changes that caused the collapse of many centres in the Maya lowlands.  One of the well-established explanations for the resiliency of Lamanai is its ongoing access to coastal trade networks.  To understand the economic structure of individual communities, archaeologists look for evidence of social stratification, which is evident in variability in the built environment. By analyzing differences in structure size, which has been used as an indicator of long-term labour investment, and the density of ceramics per structure, I argue that one of Lamanai’s supporting communities – referred to as Coco Chan – was heavily stratified in the Terminal Classic period, indicating a community with varied access to the market-based economy.

03:00 PM: Urbanization and transformation during the Late Classic in the Calakmul region, Campeche, Mexico
Presentation format:
  • Kathryn Reese-Taylor - University of Calgary
  • Armando Anaya Hernández - Universidad Autónoma de Campeche
  • Nicholas Dunning - University of Cincinnati
  • Felix Kupprat - Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

The Late Classic (550-850 CE) is a pivotal period in Maya culture, immediately preceding the deterioration of the large cities in the southern lowland area. As the seat of the powerful Kaanul (“Snake”) dynasty, Calakmul, located in the Central Karstic Uplands, played a central role in the geopolitics of the period, emerging as arguably the most dominant center in the Maya lowlands between the mid-7th and late 8th centuries. During the past ten years, the Proyecto Arqueológico Yaxnohcah-Bajo Laberinto has conducted lidar prospection, ground verification, and archaeological excavations in 100 km2 area along the southern rim of the Bajo Laberinto wetlands south of Calakmul. These investigations have revealed a pattern of high density settlement, along with extensive agricultural terraforming and landscape modifications, suggesting that populations exploded at the beginning of the Late Classic. In this presentation, we explore the urban growth and the ensuing social, economic, and subsistence transformations in the greater Calakmul region at this critical juncture in history, when the Calakmul kings established hegemony over much of the Maya lowlands.

03:00 PM: “The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts”: Deconstructing the Ancient Maya Marketplace as a Socioeconomic Institution
Presentation format:
  • Matthew Longstaffe - University of Calgary

Recent research on the ancient Maya has documented market economies, although debate remains as to the importance of associated socioeconomic institutions, such as physical marketplaces, for structuring economic life in Maya societies across space and time. Broadly defined, a socioeconomic institution is an organized group of people that uses regularized practices, labour, and resources to fulfill shared social and economic objectives. One approach to better understand the role of socioeconomic institutions in the organization of ancient Maya market economies, how they changed over time, and how their structure varied from region-to-region, is to employ analytical models that deconstruct these institutions into their constituent parts to allow evaluation and comparison of their properties and mechanics.

Drawing on a growing database of published archaeological and ethnohistoric data on Maya markets and marketplaces, this paper applies a behavioral analytical approach to identifying and categorizing the variable traits or elements that, together, characterize these socioeconomic institutions. I examine ancient Maya market institutions not as immaterial abstractions, but rather as tangible organizations that are defined by the actions and practices of people, are diverse in their organization, and which have material outcomes that are observable in the archaeological record

03:50 PM: Exploring Social Memory and Belonging in Body and Earth: A Moche Burial Offering and Earth Packets from Huaca Colorada, Jequetepeque Valley, Peru (650-950 CE)
Presentation format:
  • Aleksa Alaica - University of Toronto
  • Luis Manuel González La Rosa - Archaeology Centre, University of Toronto

Life histories of human offerings provide important contexts for interpreting social memory and belonging in the past. At Huaca Colorada, the discovery of over two dozen human offerings in architectural renovation events highlight the way that community members from distinct labour and subsistence lifeways were integral to ceremonial practices during the Late Moche period (650-950 CE). This paper focuses on a burial context of an adult male, who was interred in a dense midden context, with signs of healed trauma and a violent death. The context of this offering is associated with a dog burial and over one hundred earth packets that were deposited alongside a principal retaining wall. These earth packets were categorized into four types based on their shape and colour. The variable form of these earth packets in relation to a male burial with intense labour markers links the life history of this burial to the artifacts used for constructing the monumental walls at Huaca Colorada. This paper argues that the coastal affiliation and occupational role of this male offering were memorialized in the social memory of ceremonial practice at Huaca Colorada and fostered a continued sense of belonging among coastal participants during mortuary rituals.

03:50 PM: Gray Wolves and Golden Eagles in the Mexica World: New Insights on the Use of Animals from the Sacred Precinct of Tenochtitlan’s Offerings through Zooarchaeological and Phosphate Oxygen Isotope Analyses
Presentation format:
  • Diana K. Moreiras Reynaga - Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia
  • Israel Elizalde Mendez - Proyecto Templo Mayor, INAH
  • Ximena Chávez Balderas - Fiscalía General del Estado de Quintana Roo
  • Leonardo López Luján - Proyecto Templo Mayor, INAH
  • Fred J. Longstaffe - Department of Earth Sciences, The University of Western Ontario

Based on written and pictographic sources, we know that the Mexica assigned particular attributes and symbolic associations to a wide range of animal species. In particular, wild carnivorous species like golden eagles and gray wolves played an important role in Mexica myths and religious cosmovision. For instance, the golden eagle was associated with the sun, while the wolf was linked to the day/night transition. While there is knowledge that the Mexica kept exotic animal species in a vivarium at Tenochtitlan, questions remain about the length of captivity and overall treatment of these animals prior to their use in Mexica sacrificial/oblatory rituals. In this paper, we present the osteological, paleopathological, and phosphate oxygen isotope results of an adult golden eagle and three Mexican wolves recovered from three offerings within Tenochtitlan’s sacred precinct. Our findings indicate that the Mexica kept these animals in captivity at Tenochtitlan for a prolonged period, took care of them, and in the case of the gray wolves, bred them in captivity. As such, this study provides new insights to better our understanding of the interactions between the Mexica and these exotic animal species at their most sacred precinct.

03:50 PM: Ritual Time, Space, and Memory in Early Colonial Hearths at Coyotepetl, Tepeticpac, Tlaxcala
Presentation format:
  • Lisa Overholtzer - McGill University

This paper presents data from extensive excavations of a household terrace on Coyotepetl (Coyote Hill), Tepeticpac, one of the four señoríos or altepetl that made up the state of Tlaxcallan. The Tlaxcaltecas allied with the Spanish to defeat their Aztec enemies, becoming self-identified Indigenous conquerors, colonizers to the north and south, and direct subjects of the Spanish crown with lighter tribute obligations. Our 2017 excavations of one terrace recovered the remains of domestic occupation spanning the Late Postclassic to early Colonial periods. One room, in particular, featured a series of four stratified floors all dating to the 16th century and each featuring a fired brick hearth. These hearths were located in the four cardinal directions, their construction over time forming a counterclockwise circuit that would have not been visible except in the social memory of the home’s inhabitants. These hearths allow us to understand colonial Indigenous cosmology—the four corners of the universe, solar cycles, ritual movement, and the calendar—as it was rooted and recreated in the home. Alongside material culture recovered in a midden just outside, this house provides a window into the forging of a dynamic and vibrant ritual life and Indigenous social identity under Spanish colonialism.

03:50 PM: The secular clergy and the Indigenous people of Oztuma, Guerrero: an example of evangelization in the 16th century
Presentation format:
  • Lorena  Medina Martínez - UAA - INAH

During the sixteenth century, the Mesoamerican territory experienced a series of changes in its social, political, economic and religious structure. In accordance with population size and the specific characteristics of each area, it developed its own dynamics of contact, interaction and evangelization. This resulted in a new conformation of the territory and its inhabitants that was necessary for the establishment of the viceregal government. This presentation will address the particular case of the archaeological site located to the north of Guerrero state, Mexico, named Oztuma, ranging from the period of contact to the end of the sixteenth century. My analysis will focus on the secular clergy and their evangelizing activities, the strategies they used in the area and the relationship developed with both Indigenous groups and Spanish authorities to accomplish the relocation of Oztuma’s inhabitants.

03:50 PM: Women, body, and embodiment in Postclassic Huasteca
Presentation format:
  • Fabiola  Sanchez - University of Victoria

The analysis of a group of feminine imagery, including ceramics and sculpture, from the Huasteca culture and region provide evidence for practices of embodiment in the Late Classic and Postclassic periods. Multiple lines of evidence for the interpretation of the ritual use of the dhayemlaab/quexquemitl, as textile or body ornamentation was used by elite women to negotiate their status. Through an integrated application of theories of embodiment and body with archaeological material culture, ethnohistorical sources, and ethnography offer a visible role for Huasteca women as active participants in ceremonial and ritual practices.

04:40 PM: Artificial head-shaping and craniovascular traits: a case study in pre-Columbian crania from Cuba, the largest Caribbean archipelago
Presentation format:
  • Gizeh  Rangel-de Lazaro - Natural History Museum

Artificial cranial modification (ACM) was a widespread practice in the Americas at European contact. Previous research indicates that the pressure and tension exerted during ACM induced functional and structural changes between soft and hard tissues. The impressions left by the vascular system on the surface of the skull are a unique source of evidence when working with bioarchaeological collections. Craniovascular features have been investigated in multiple populations; however, no information is available on artificially modified pre-Hispanic Caribbean skulls. To shed light on this matter, this case study provides a reference for the craniovascular traits using a bioarchaeological collection of fronto-occipital tabular oblique artificially shaped pre-Columbian crania from Cuba. Results suggest that changes produced by intentional head-shaping may have affected the pattern and direction of endocranial vascular structures, while emissary foramina placed in less-affected areas appear to be less influenced by changes in cranial morphology. Future work will investigate the consequences of ACM on the vascular systems and compare them with unmodified pre-Columbian specimens. Also, the effects of head-shaping in endocranial thermoregulation should be explored in the future. Providing new knowledge about the prevalence and variation of the craniovascular traits may be useful in research based on bioarcheological collections and medicine.

04:40 PM: Away from ‘The Field’: Pivoting Archaeological Investigations during Pandemic Times
Presentation format:
  • Marieka Brouwer Burg - University of Vermont
  • Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown - Athabasca University
  • Shawn Morton - Grande Prairie Regional College

The past year has brought about a new reality for archaeologists, especially those working outside their home countries or as part of diverse multinational collaborations. As many of us grapple with the possibility of missing or radically modifying yet another field season this summer, we ask whether there is a silver lining to our new normal? Across our discipline, researchers/academics, government officials, rights holders, stakeholders, and interested publics are marshalling to keep the conversation going and developing new ways of interacting. At a time when “physical distancing” is a near-universal public health strategy, we have–with the aid of new and developing digital platforms–never been more connected. We are hopeful that this spirit of connection will continue, with long-term positive consequences for truly collaborative projects. In this presentation, we outline remote research strategies inspired by the new normal and pursued by our two field programs in Belize, which stand to push science forward and generate more meaningful community collaboration beyond COVID-19. We discuss key considerations that should structure future decisions regarding field-based research in Belize and beyond. Finally, we wish to solicit feedback from our colleagues, both travelers and hosts, in order to improve our practice.

04:40 PM: Mapping Las Colmenas: Using an Integrated Remote Sensing Approach to Map Buried Architecture
Presentation format:
  • Kayla Golay Lausanne - McMaster University

This presentation discusses the results of a survey project conducted in 2018 and 2019 on the North coast of Peru at Las Colmenas (V-157), a site within the Gallinazo Group. The project addresses two main research questions: (1) What remote sensing technique(s) worked best to identify buried features at Las Colmenas? (2) What combinations of techniques proved to be optimal for identifying buried features, and what are the benefits and limitations of the use of an integrated approach? This project incorporated two scales of analysis: macroscale optical and thermal Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) surveys and microscale Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR), magnetic susceptibility, and magnetometry surveys. A side-by-side comparison proved the thermal UAV, GPR, and magnetic susceptibility surveys were most successful at Las Colmenas. However, by integrating these methods, we noted that a multi-faceted approach documents more features than any one method. But integrating a smaller subset of these methods can still be beneficial depending on the resources available and the goals of the project.

04:40 PM: Mummies as Microcosms – the interdisciplinary, collaborative analysis of mummy bundles from the Central Coast of Peru
Presentation format:
  • Andrew  Nelson - Western University
  • Lucía Watson - Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú
  • Jocelyn  Williams - Trent University
  • Suellen Gauld - Santa Monica College
  • José Arias - Centro Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia
  • Joanna Motley - Western University
  • Lauren Poeta - Western University
  • Cameron Beason - Western University
  • Teegan Muggridge - Western University
  • Pauline Kirgis - Université de Bordeaux
  • Jean-Bernard Huchet - Université de Bordeaux
  • Christophe Bou - Université de Bordeaux
  • Andres Shiguekawa - Independent Specialist
  • Jhon Baldeos - Universidad de Trujillo
  • Sarita  Fuentes - Museo Pachacamac
  • Susana Abad - Museo Pachacamac
  • Denise Pozzi-Escot - Museo Pachacamac

The phrase, “mummies as microcosms” emphasizes that mummy bundles, known as “fardos”, are microcosms of the individual(s) contained within, and the society that buried them.  They are literally bundles of biological and cultural information.  Our objective is to use non-destructive paleoimaging techniques in concert with minimally invasive sampling techniques to analyze collections of fardos from sites on the Central Coast of Peru dating to the Middle Horizon, Late Intermediate Period and Late Horizon.  In keeping with the theme of this session, this paper seeks to present a “representative depiction” of this project to our CLAAS colleagues by describing the project’s myriad components and by presenting some preliminary findings. Topics to be discussed include CT and x-ray analysis of the fardos, consideration of taphonomic processes, including archaeoentomology, the mortuary treatment of children, the use of deep learning algorithms to segment skulls from CT scans for the assessment of non-metric traits, effective practices of knowledge mobilization of information derived from bioarchaeological research, biomechanical analysis for the reconstruction of activity patterns, conservation of fardos and the analysis of textiles, isotopic and C-14 analysis and more.  In this paper we will focus on our work at the site of Pachacamac. 

04:40 PM: The Prehispanic Occupation of the Carabamba Valley, Northern Peru
Presentation format:
  • Amedeo Sghinolfi - Western University

Archaeological investigations in the Central Andean region have usually focused on the coast and the highlands, neglecting the intermediate zones that connect these two ecological macro areas. One such zone is the Carabamba Valley in Northern Peru (ca. 150 to 3,500 m.a.s.l.). This river valley includes the resource-rich chaupiyunga area (ca. 500-2,300 m.a.s.l.), where valuable goods like coca and fruits can be grown and is also a natural corridor that connects the coastal Virú Valley to the Carabamba Plateau. In the past, this stretch of land played an important role in supplying water to the arid coast and put into contact peoples featuring different sociopolitical organizations, beliefs, identities, and material cultures. A pedestrian survey of the Carabamba Valley was conducted in 2019 and allowed to identify several unreported archaeological sites. The analysis of artifacts collected from the surface reveals a long occupation spanning from the Early Horizon (1,000 – 200 BC) to the Late Horizon (1,470 – 1,532 AD). The Carabamba Valley likely acted as a borderland between coastal political formations (Virú, Moche, Chimú), and highland polities, and the admixture of coastal and highland traits shows interaction among different groups.