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This article examines large-scale spatial and temporal patterns in the agricultural demographic transition (ADT) of Mesoamerica and southwestern North America (“the Southwest”). An analysis of published settlement and subsistence data suggests that the prolonged ADTs of these regions involved two successive eras of rapid population growth. Although both periods of growth were fueled by the introduction or development of more productive domesticates, they had distinctive demographic and social consequences. The first phase of the ADT occurred only in a scattering of favorable regions, between 1900 and 1000 BC in Mesoamerica and 1200 BC–AD 400 in the Southwest. Its demographic consequences were modest because it was underwritten by still rather unproductive maize. During this phase, increased population was confined mainly to a few agricultural heartlands, whereas surrounding regions remained sparsely populated. The second phase of the ADT was more dramatic in the spatial scale of its impact. This “high productivity” phase unfolded between 1000 and 200 BC in Mesoamerica and AD 500–1300 in the Southwest, and it was fueled by more productive maize varieties and improving agricultural technologies. It was accompanied by sweeping social, economic, and political changes in both regions.
Small, ceramic figurines used in household settings in Central Mexico during the first millennium bc were emphatically stylistic. Attributes cooperated to direct the viewer's attention to the style of the figurine, to how the figurine was made, and to the choices of makers and users from a range of alternative ways of making. This article draws on studies of modern fashion to develop a social interpretation of these patterns based on two collections of figurines, one from the Basin of Mexico and the other from Tlaxcala. The history of Formative figurine fashions is considered at multiple scales.
The households of Formative period central Mexico represent critical loci for understanding major social transformations during a millennium (900 b.c.– a.d. 100) that witnessed the expansion and contraction of several macro-regional stylistic and economic networks, formalization of enduring political and religious institutions, and initial urbanization and state formation. Households and their constituent members used style to articulate important elements of their identity through practices of group consumption and personal adornment. In this study we consider style within the context of ceramic serving vessels and portable adornments primarily from sites in the state of Tlaxcala. We evaluate the manner in which dimensions of stylistic expression in these material goods contributed to shifting conceptualizations of household and individual identity and their articulation with community and supra-community social networks, noting the generally collective or affinitive manipulation of styles with means of socially differentiating age, status, and other dimensions of identity.
Massive stars often experience fast rotation, which is known to induce turbulent mixing with a strong impact on the evolution of these stars. Local direct numerical simulations of turbulent transport in stellar radiative zones are a promising way to constrain phenomenological transport models currently used in many stellar evolution codes. We present here the results of such simulations of stably-stratified sheared turbulence taking notably into account the effects of thermal diffusion and chemical stratification. We also discuss the impact of theses results on stellar evolution theory.
Magnetorotational dynamo action in Keplerian shear flow is a three-dimensional nonlinear magnetohydrodynamic process, the study of which is relevant to the understanding of accretion processes and magnetic field generation in astrophysics. Transition to this form of dynamo action is subcritical and shares many characteristics with transition to turbulence in non-rotating hydrodynamic shear flows. This suggests that these different fluid systems become active through similar generic bifurcation mechanisms, which in both cases have eluded detailed understanding so far. In this paper, we build on recent work on the two problems to investigate numerically the bifurcation mechanisms at work in the incompressible Keplerian magnetorotational dynamo problem in the shearing box framework. Using numerical techniques imported from dynamical systems research, we show that the onset of chaotic dynamo action at magnetic Prandtl numbers larger than unity is primarily associated with global homoclinic and heteroclinic bifurcations of nonlinear magnetorotational dynamo cycles born out of saddle-node bifurcations. These global bifurcations are found to be supplemented by local bifurcations of cycles marking the beginning of period-doubling cascades. The results suggest that nonlinear magnetorotational dynamo cycles provide the pathway to injection of both kinetic and magnetic energy for the problem of transition to turbulence and dynamo action in incompressible magnetohydrodynamic Keplerian shear flow in the absence of an externally imposed magnetic field. Studying the nonlinear physics and bifurcations of these cycles in different regimes and configurations may subsequently help to understand better the physical conditions of excitation of magnetohydrodynamic turbulence and instability-driven dynamos in a variety of astrophysical systems and laboratory experiments. The detailed characterization of global bifurcations provided for this three-dimensional subcritical fluid dynamics problem may also prove useful for the problem of transition to turbulence in hydrodynamic shear flows.
Swidden agriculture in Mesoamerica is commonly associated with the hot and humid lowlands and with small isolated communities. Charcoal-rich sediments discovered in Tlaxcala, however, suggest that it was practiced in the cold highlands in the Formative and Classic periods. The headwaters of the Xilomantla drainage incised a nine-meter deep channel shortly before 200 b.c., in response to increased runoff from slopes degraded by agriculture. It was filled back within a few hundred years with sands and muds containing recurrent laminae of charred plant matter that reflect the annual burning of secondary scrub in fallowed fields. A gully in the La Ladera drainage received high inputs of charcoal from the surroundings of a nearby settlement between ca. a.d. 400 and 900. The farming practices inferred from these deposits have no exact ethnographic analog. They inflicted lasting environmental damage, but were upheld for several centuries despite changes in settlement patterns.
“The first god was a goddess!” proclaimed Etienne Renaud in 1929. A dozen tiny figurines from Arizona, perhaps two thousand years old, were the immediate inspiration for Renaud's “bold paradox.” Just inches tall, they were roughly shaped in clay with crude facial features and punctate designs suggesting clothing or ornamentation. All had prominent, modeled breasts. To Renaud, these were “fetishes of the feminine principle of fecundity and reproduction” depicting “a goddess of life.” He supported this contention by embarking on a world tour of ancient female imagery. The itinerary included Western Europe, the Balkans, Southern Russia, Anatolia, Cyprus, Crete, Egypt, and the Near East before he crossed the Atlantic again to finish in Nicaragua and Panama. In case after case, female figurines appeared in the most ancient archaeological strata. Surely, this revealed a deeply rooted “worship of the life-giving mother” and “betray[ed] the same psychology in primitive man of different continents.”
Renaud's article succinctly lays out a once-common universalist vision in the study of prehistoric figurines. The goal was to account for the perception that the earliest prehistoric figurines, everywhere, were female. Today, archaeologists are immediately suspicious of Renaud's sweeping cross-cultural generalizations. His drawings, in which a single image stands for each region (Egypt, Crete, Nicaragua), at best seem quaintly amusing. We now insist on serious attention to local variation and context. We also are suspicious of the assumption that the category “female” is stable across contexts. Ambitious cross-cultural explanations are regarded with skepticism.
Figurines from different contexts may be physically similar or they may resemble one another as assemblages. For instance, contexts of recovery may be similar or predominant themes may be shared. The question I am pursuing is how – or whether – such observations should affect our social interpretations. The challenge is to reformulate material similarities into social terms without overburdening them so heavily with partisan theory that our conclusions are from that point foreordained and archaeological evidence no longer matters. Our newly acquired contextualist strategy prompts us to begin by considering the resemblant traits in their original contexts, in interplay with other traits. We would then compare the resulting contextualizations. It is a promising strategy, but the way forward still seems difficult. Let us therefore jump to the end-products of analyses. Sometimes the social interpretations of similar figurines from unrelated contexts resemble one another. Is it possible to identify the source of such convergence?
Let us consider a specific case. Five papers find that prehistoric figurines from different time periods in different parts of the world depict women at different stages of their lives. Patricia Rice argues that figurines of the European Paleolithic “represent women of different ages in proportion to their probable actual frequency in the population.” According to Avi Gopher and Estelle Orrelle, Yarmukian pebble figurines from the Southern Levant some twelve millennia later comprise a record of age differences among females “from girlhood up to perhaps menopause.”
This book examines ancient figurines from several world areas to address recurring challenges in the interpretation of prehistoric art. Sometimes figurines from one context are perceived to resemble those from another. Richard G. Lesure asks whether such resemblances play a role in our interpretations. Early interpreters seized on the idea that figurines were recurringly female and constructed the fanciful myth of a primordial Neolithic Goddess. Contemporary practice instead rejects interpretive leaps across contexts. Dr Lesure offers a middle path: a new framework for assessing the relevance of particular comparisons. He develops the argument in case studies that consider figurines from Paleolithic Europe, the Neolithic Near East and Formative Mesoamerica.
An important theme in the effort to grapple with comparison is the interpenetration of contextualism and universalism. In Chapter 2, I suggested that the interaction went both ways, and I have just concluded an effort to use contextualist strategies in addressing some of the chronic problems of universalist (social) explanations inspired by observations of (material) similarities between figurines. I turn now to the other side of the coin – to reliance on universalist claims as crucial links in context-specific arguments. The strategy is a common and probably necessary tool of interpretation, but it raises concerns. Specifically, such localized uses of universalist logic have unexamined expansive implications. The same logic might apply to what are usually numerous related cases of figurine making surrounding the context being studied. My goal here is to develop analytical strategies that allow us to address this characteristic concern.
My case study is the small, solid, fired-clay figurines of Formative Mesoamerica, and I conclude the chapter by considering what kinds of statements might usefully be made about “Formative figurines” as a general phenomenon.
Of course, contextualist interpretation may draw on general concepts without using universalist logic. We might ask how “domestic space” was constituted in a particular community or how “female” and “male” were given meaningful content in a specific setting. The general concepts are tools for understanding specificity, but the generalities are subordinated to local specifics. They bring the specifics more clearly into focus.
Could there be a general cross-cultural explanation for the making of female figurines by prehistoric peoples? We considered a specific suggestion along these lines in Chapter 1. The results were not encouraging, although the effort got us out from among the “trees” of prehistoric figurine making in the Mediterranean and Mesoamerica. From a worldwide perspective, it became apparent that trees were clumped into “forests” of considerable spatial and temporal scope and that the forests were few in number.
Still, there were at least four deep-prehistoric cases. In each case, figurines have regularly been identified as female. Universalism-as-usual would examine those cases to see what they have in common. We might then declare any commonality to have “caused” the making of female figurines. Yet, there are many plausible causes for image making, with no accepted means of sorting among them. Any commonality found will be heavily laden with theory and likely impervious to falsification. Moreover, the as-usual approach distracts attention from the possibility that there may be no common explanation by ostentatiously debating what the best explanation (now assumed to exist) might be. It is no wonder that there are those who reject cross-cultural explanation altogether.
My goal in this chapter is something else: As an experiment in holistic archaeology, I put contextualist method to work in the service of universalist explanation. The idea is to build a synthesis of patterning midway between “evidence” and “interpretation.”
With my extended attention to universalist logic, I have been ignoring the outcome of an initial encounter with universalism, the testing of Morss's agriculture-pottery-gynecomorph hypothesis in Chapter 1. That effort took us out from among the “trees” of prehistoric figurine making to give us a glimpse of the “forests.” Those proved large in spatiotemporal extension (macro-units) but few in number, with perhaps little in common – a possibility endorsed again in Chapter 4 in an assessment of the prospects for cross-cultural explanation of femaleness in figurines. Most of what there is to explain about figurines must be addressed at a scale no larger than the macro-unit. Although universalist logic still has a role (see Chapter 5), the comparative problem that emerges most clearly is the possibility that – vast spatial and temporal scales notwithstanding – the clustering of figurine-making traditions was the result of direct transmission of ideas between contexts. It is time, then, to consider comparison as a historicist problem.
In historicist explanations, an important analytical goal is to reveal how conditions in one context emerged understandably from antecedent conditions in another context separated from the first in time or space. One possibility for consideration is that continuities in figurine making are the result of the perpetuation of symbolic structures over many centuries, a truly longue durée. However, we face a challenge identified in Chapter 2: analytical essentialism.
Figurines, we now insist, should be interpreted in context. Attention is to be directed to variation within collections and to the spatial positioning of figurines with respect to one another and to other finds. Contextual method, however, has its own larger context. Programmatic statements on the contextualization of figurines direct us to “identify the dimensions of meaning pertaining to particular societies.” Culturally specific meanings are further characterized as shifting and unstable. After all, “the meaning of figurines is likely to have been varied and varying, more ambiguous than fixed.” With contextual analyses of meanings emphasizing variety, ambiguity, instability, and contestability, one might well wonder whether there is any legitimate basis for cross-contextual comparison of prehistoric figurines. By adopting contextualism, do we restrict comparison to relatively small scales of space and time? Is universalism to be rejected altogether?
The goal of this chapter is to grapple with and move beyond such radical doubts about the comparison of figurines from different contexts. I argue that a tension – even an opposition – between contextualist and universalist approaches is real. Indeed, contextualist critiques of universalist explanation and grand history reinforce and extend the concerns about these approaches already raised in Chapter 1. Attention to context is nevertheless compatible with comparison – even comparison that is directed at subsuming multiple contexts in a common explanation. Legitimate contextualist concerns can be addressed by placing the principles of contextualization at the heart of comparative analysis. Instead of comparing figurines as isolated objects, we compare contextualizations.