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Maya Gods of War. By Karen Bassie-Sweet. Louisville: University Press of Colorado, 2021. Pp. viii + 324. $66.00 hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-64642-131-2.
Maya Ruins Revisited: In the Footsteps of Teobert Maler. By William Frej. Santa Fe, NM: Peyton Wright Gallery Press, 2020. Pp. 291. $55.17 hardcover. ISBN: 978-0-578-63921-5.
Archaeology and Identity on the Pacific Coast and Southern Highlands of Meso-America. Edited by Claudia García-Des Lauriers and Michael W. Love. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2016. Pp. ix + 226. $60.00 hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-60781-504-4.
Life and Politics at the Royal Court of Aguateca: Artifacts, Analytical Data, and Synthesis. Edited by Takeshi Inomata and Daniela Triadan. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2014. Pp. vii + 356. $30.00 hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-60781-318-7.
Miscellaneous Investigations in Central Tikal: Structures in and around the Lost World Plaza. By H. Stanley Loten. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2018. Pp. xvii + 36. $55.00 hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-934536-97-1.
Miscellaneous Investigations in Central Tikal: Great Temples III, IV, V, and VI. By H. Stanley Loten. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2017. Pp. xix + 61. $59.95 hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-934536-93-3.
The Real Business of Ancient Maya Economies: From Farmers’ Fields to Rulers’ Realms. Edited by Marilyn A. Masson, David A. Freidel, and Arthur A. Demarest. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2020. Pp. xvii + 631. $125.00 hardcover. ISBN: 978-0813066-29-5.
The Origins of Maya States. Edited by Loa P. Traxler and Robert J. Sharer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2016. Pp. ix + 681. $69.95 hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-934536-86-5.
The objective of Ancient Oaxaca is to understand and account for the sudden appearance of a new city on a mountain, Monte Albán, about 500 BC, and the consequences of that event, which in the following few centuries would transform almost every aspect of cultural life. These developments in the Valley of Oaxaca region were part of and contributed to the creation of the sociocultural formations that characterized the world system or civilization of Mesoamerica.
The Neolithic Revolution saw the invention of diverse political, economic, religious, and other social institutions in highland Oaxaca and across Early Formative Mesoamerica, including: varying forms and degrees of social differentiation in prestige, personhood, and social ranking; aggregation sites and large villages; dual organization, cosmology, and ritual practice; writing systems; and institutions for long-distance trade.
Monte Albán conforms to broader cross-cultural expectations, one pattern being the disembedded capital city; other expectations are measurable degrees of collective action in planned urban nucleation, modest social segregation by spatial separation, and city plan facilitating communication and large gatherings.
These analyses indicate that causality did not have a preferred scale of operation, so a multiscalar method is required; likewise, in both nonstate and state societies an expanded institutional approach reveals greater complexity than in theories that assume ruler or elite dominance. The case illustrates a coactive causal process in which collective action policies by the state resulted in population growth, urbanization, production intensity, market participation, and material standard of living across social sectors, which in turn fed back to the state-building process.
The founding of Monte Albán as a new political capital superseding the polities of its constituents immediately entailed urbanization, an expanding hinterland, migration, and population growth. Institution building was expressed by monumentality in public spaces, buildings, and stone sculpture.
Monte Albán endured for 1,200 years, much longer than other Mesoamerican cities. Perhaps the mix of cooperating interests and institutions present since its founding allowed society to respond to new challenges creatively and effectively. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With its rich archaeological data from surveys and excavations, Monte Albán and its regional context in highland Oaxaca, along with cross-cultural comparative science, are useful for evaluating current theories about sociocultural evolution. Older theories and persistent ideas about only two paths to state building – premodern (Oriental) and modern democratic (Occidental) – are less effective as explanations than those that recognize alternative pathways, heterarchy, and multiple important institutions. Collective action theory shows significant promise.
The origins of the state in Oaxaca lie in the founding of Monte Albán, which in turn led to consequences much in evidence by the Late Formative (100 BC): hierarchy development, warfare, urban and rural demographic growth, social stratification, local irrigation projects and other new agricultural strategies, and an inclusive religious cult associated with fertility. Economic behavior changed with marketplace exchange, more output by craft specialists, and increased spending on house construction and portable goods (standard of living, economic growth).
Over two thousand years ago, Oaxaca, Mexico, was the site of one of the New World's earliest episodes of primary state formation and urbanism, and today it is one of the world's archaeologically best-studied regions. This volume, which thoroughly revises and updates the first edition, provides a highly readable yet comprehensive path to acquaint readers with one of the earliest and best-known examples of Native American state formation and its consequences as seen from the perspectives of urbanism, technology, demography, commerce, households, and religion and ritual. Written by prominent archaeological researchers who have devoted decades to Oaxacan research and to the development of suitable social theory, the book places ancient Oaxaca within the context of the history of ideas that have addressed the causes and consequences of social evolutionary change. It also critically evaluates the potential applicability of more recent thinking about state building grounded in collective action and related theories.
The aim of the Element is to provide a comprehensive comparison of the basic organization of power in Mesoamerica and Egypt. How power emerged and was exercised, how it reproduced itself, how social units (from households to cities) became integrated into political formation and how these articulations of power expanded and collapsed over time. The resilience of particular areas (Oaxaca, Middle Egypt), to the point that they preserved a highly distinctive cultural personality when they were included or not within states, may provide a useful guideline about the basics of integration, negotiation and autonomy in the organization of political formations.
Monte Albán, one of Mexico’s earliest cities, was founded in the Valley of Oaxaca around 500 bc as a central fulcrum in a dynamic episode of change that grounds subsequent regional history. Proposed explanations for the establishment of Monte Albán are numerous and diverse; yet, to date, they tend to emphasize only the agency of the elite. Here, we offer new theoretical perspectives on the dynamic processes associated with this multifaceted, transitional episode. Adopting a multiscalar approach, we view this transition as the outcome of innovative social negotiations that yielded new opportunities and social contracts that ultimately advantaged both certain powerful individuals as well as larger segments of the population. The collective mode of governance that was instituted (ca. 500 bc) at this early Mesoamerican city proved to be resilient, enduring for more than a millennium, despite challenges, adjustments, and changes over time.