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Stories on The Southwest - Mesoamerican Connection

Isabelle Lowy Lewis, MA.

My concern in this paper is to provide an evaluation of the current theories regarding the sphere of influence encompassing the cultural areas known as the Southwest and Mesoamerica. I will consider what are usually referred to as Mesoamericanist and Southwesternist views relating to the nature, form and extent of exchange between the two areas, and in the process question the concept of a separation or border between the two areas.

I will look at systems of exchange and examine various models which have been applied to the evidence of movement and exchange. I choose the term “ exchange” rather than “trade” because it seems to me that: “ exchange is a more comprehensive concept than trade or barter, since the reciprocity implied in making an exchange need not be in kind or even of material goods for material goods, nor need it occur at the same instant or under the same social circumstances.” (J.L. Chartoff, 1982).

I will identify the Southwest as roughly the states of Arizona, New Mexico, southwest Colorado, southeast Utah, trans-Pecos Texas, Sonora and Chihuahua (R. McGuire, 1980). Mesoamericanists often refer to this area as the Gran Chichimeca. Chichimec is the Nahuatl term for barbarians and Chichimeca refers to the land of the barbarians. Mesoamerica refers to the prehistoric high culture area of Central America. The northern boundary of Mesoamerica shifted through time but at its northernmost extent between A.D. 1000 and 1520 it included parts of the modern Mexican states of Sinaloa and Durango. (Kirchoff, 1943).

Mesoamericanists generally work within the premise of a mesoamerican central system of influence, a “greater civilization” paradigm and view the Southwest as a “northern frontier” or cultural outpost. These two categories fall within the classical image of a dominant/dominated, colonizer/colonized ideological framework, and it seems necessary to denounce the pitfalls implied in such an imposition.

Southwesternists, on the other hand, tend to fall into an isolationist mode, defining “their” area as a totally self-sufficient, autonomous sphere with no, or little external influence. The truth, as usual, seems to lie somewhere in between, perhaps based upon a model of cultural interaction, a network of relationships involving technology, social organization, and belief systems rooted in a common cultural bed.

Following Clifford Geertz’s approach to the interpretation of culture, I will venture that cultural anthropology is not “an experimental science in search of law, but an interpretive one in search of meaning” (Geertz, 1973). When it comes to try and understand how other peoples see the world and live within their own definitions of reality, we can only play a game of wild guesses, and at best try to understand, in their language, the answers they may have to offer. This involves learning the art of conversation and of reading another discourse.

The major flaw inherent in the interpretation of culture, or in the attempt to read another cultural discourse, past or present, is the imposition of our own subjectivity, ever present, upon what we envision as an objective reality. Hence the wild dance of theoretical models and theories, the mental and psychological luggage we carry everywhere we go. In trying to decipher the amount of material available in any field of study, we should first proceed with a kind of archaeology of knowledge, a critical review of the origin and evolution of the author’s position, a “thick description” of his own reality.

In order to understand the nature and function of exchange in the prehistoric Southwest, we need to turn our attention toward the type of items exchanged, their quantity, the mode of exchange and the symbolic meaning of such items.

“When one begins to write of the ancient Pueblos and cliff-dwellers, the real work on Mexico and Central America, to some extent also on the Andean People, has commenced…One cannot ravel the Mexican plateau or the Guatemalan and Andean highlands without being conscious on every hand of shadows from the Great Southwest. The Pueblo region proper ends in southern Chihuahua, roughly with the Conchos valley.” (E. Hewett, 1936)
To Edgar hewett, as to Adolph bandelier, the Southwest was indeed an integral part of Mesoamerica. The vast area stretching from the American Southwest to Bolivia was part of one interrelated culture. (C. Riley, 1986)

E.Hewett, though, was an isolationist. The isolationist school started developing before WW II but reached its peak in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Archaeologists began to look at the Southwest as having a largely autonomous development and assumed for some reason, that the area stopped at the international border.

After WW II, there was again a swing back to a belief in strong Mesoamerican-Southwest interaction, with Mesoamerica functioning as a donor and the Southwest as a recipient. This viewpoint, still popular today, was most highly developed by Charles Kelley and the late Charles Di Peso. Both see the Southwest as a source area for raw materials obtained by some organized group or groups. Kelley and Di Peso refer to these groups as Pochteca, by analogy to the trading sodality of the Aztecs. (Di Peso 1974; Kelley 1966).

Another approach, which also developed after World war II, and also popular today, is that of an isolationism set in a processual mode. Changes in Southwestern social and economic institutions, religion, art, are seen as the result of interactive internal processes, or the interaction of various cultural sub-systems with the environment.

A great deal of interest has been shown in recent times for a model of southwestern-Mesoamerican interaction based on Immanuel Wallerstein’s world system concept, a model which could embrace the pochteca mechanisms of Kelley and Di Peso.

It would seem that, before we can provide an explanatory model for Southwest-Mesoamerican interaction, we need to evaluate the nature and level of contacts, and how such contacts modified the lives of the peoples involved, as well as how these contacts were affected by historical changes. The problem inherent to any study of the protohistoric Southwest is that data are sketchy and uneven.

Caroll Riley (1986), identifies two major periods of Mesoamerican influence into the Southwest before protohistoric times:
The first corresponds to the rise of the macrotraditions: Anasazi, Mogollon, and Hohokam. Schroeder (1965; 1966) postulates the introduction of a superior race of Chapalote maize into the Southwest, perhaps in late B.C. times.

This augmented economic base would have permitted the development in subsequent centuries of ceremonial architecture, pottery (or, at least new ceramic techniques), irrigation, new art motifs, a taste for shell ornamentation, cotton, and cremation practices, among other traits.
Shell beads have been documented in the Southwest as early as 6.000 B.C. (McGuire, 1980), and the identification of ceremonial architecture in the Southwest remains an open field of research, while the other traits mentioned are also subject to argumentation.

The second wave of Mesoamerican traits appear in the Great Pueblo period at Chaco canyon, the sedentary Hohokam, the expansionist Medio period at casas Grandes, and perhaps also Classic Mimbres. Evidence for these contact points in several directions and the nature of the connection is also disputed.

Kelley and Kelley see clear penetration of a Mexican trading group or pochteca into chaco canyon during the Pueblo III period at chaco. (Kelley and Kelley 1975: 201-206). They consider the pochteca to be middlemen in a trade network which funneled turquoise to Mesoamerica while copper ornaments, feathers and shells were traded northward.
Kelley and Kelley also believe that a number of architectural features at Chaco canyon were of Mesoamerican origin. They feel that the great kivas were pochteca headquarters. They assume a widespread pochteca network, and other researchers have reported high status burials of possible pochteca type in a number of southwestern sites in Pueblo III times.

Researchers such as Frances Joan Mathien and Randall McGuire, on the other hand, reject the pochteca theory, questioning the impact on the Southwest in Chacoan times of mobile traders, pochteca or otherwise.
McGuire’s hypothesis regarding the Mesoamerican connection in the Southwest envisions an interaction based on exchange of goods, ideas, beliefs encompassed within a vast sphere of similar value systems (1980). He suggests that further identification and specification of local sources of production and influence is necessary, as well as the importance of distinguishing between symbolic form and symbolic meaning when comparing cultural traits.

McGuire argues against the elements of support for the pochteca theory. Pochteca theorists base their argumentation on four points:
1)The presence of Mesoamerican derived traits in the Southwest.
2)The identification of presumed pochteca burials in the Southwest.
3)The identification of presumed pochteca outposts in the Southwest.
4)The presumed missionization of the southwest by Mesoamerican

The pochteca theorists treat Mesoamerica as being sufficiently homogeneous to be sampled haphazardly in providing traits for comparison to the southwest. They compare such diverse traits as an observatory from Yucatan (Kelley and Kelley 1975:209), spindle whorls from West Mexico (Di Peso 1974), a ball court from central Mexico (Di Peso 1974), and even an artistic motif from the Dominican Republic (Di Peso 1974), to specific cultural manifestations in the Southwest as if these Mesoamerican traits all originated from a single culture.

“Pochteca theorists have put great stock in the occurrence of Mesoamerican-derived traits or influence as evidence for pochteca activity in the Southwest…Comparison of traits without reference to their cultural contexts cannot establish intervention in the Southwest by specific representatives of specific Mesoamerican states. Establishment of such intervention is necessary for proof of the pochteca hypothesis since pochteca were agents of specific conquest states. Furthermore, Mesoamerican influence in the Southwest does not by itself indicate pochteca activity as this is only one possible mechanism to account for such influence (McGuire, 1980:7).

A brief examination of the Mesoamerican influences advocated for one region of the Southwest, Chaco Canyon, suggests that these arguments are somewhat forced.
Lister (1978:236-39) presented a list of 30 traits (table 1) that he identifies as, or presumes to be of Mesoamerican origin. Although he recognizes that the appearance of these traits is not a priori evidence of pochteca in Chaco Canyon, he feels that the extent of these traits and the suddenness of their appearance at approximately A.D. 1000 supports the pochteca theory.
McGuir notes that this date of A.D. 1000 is important, as the beginning date for the cultural florescence of Chaco Canyon is ca. A.D. 1030.

Vivian and Matthews (1965:30), point out pre-A.D. 1000 Anasazi precedents for most architectural features and note that even though these features replicate Mesoamerican forms, they function differently in Anasazi contexts. They also note that architectural parallels from Mesoamerica for tower kivas and tri-walled ruins are based on little more than shape.

Beyond major architectural features, a number of traits that Lister advocates for increased Mesoamerican influence in Chaco Canyon at A.D. 1000 have been documented in the Southwest at earlier dates than in Mesoamerica. They would include T-shaped doors (Love 1975), turkeys (McKusik 1974:275), and turquoise (Jernigan 1978:222). Shell beads occur in the Southwest as early as 6000 B.C. and in terms of jewelry in general, Jernigan (1978:222) concludes that commonality in form between the Southwest and west Mexico results not from a one way passage of style north but from long term casual interaction between the two areas beginning ca. A.D. 1.

Of Lister’s 30 traits of Mesoamerican origin which are supposed to appear suddenly at Chaco Canyon in the mid-1000’s only eight are not of questionable Mesoamerican origin or do not appear in the Southwest before A.D. 1000. These traits include the inference that a tree in the courtyard at Pueblo Bonito represents the “tree of life”. MacGuire notes that this is a questionable inference as similar symbolic forms do not always indicate similar meanings.

Also, more important than Lister’s apparent overemphasis of the extent and impact of Mesoamerican influence at Chaco Canyon is the fact that none of the traits he lists can be traced to specific Mesoamerican cultures. The presence of these traits does not therefore support the contention that Chaco canyon was dominated by the pochteca of a given Mesoamerican sate.

Pochteca Burials:
Burial items in the Southwest, like shell trumpets, locally made pottery, human and animal sacrfices, and baskets, cannot be associated with pochteca. Ceremonial staffs, canes, or sticks, identified by pochteca theorists as symbols of pochteca, appear in the anasazi area at least as early as Basketmaker II (A.D.1-400). Parsons ( 1939:325-28) discusses aboriginal pueblo uses of staffs, canes, or sticks as religious and political symbols. These aboriginal Pueblo uses of canes, staffs, or sticks indicate the extremely wide range of functions and meanings these artifacts have.

Pochteca Outposts:
Kelley and Kelley (1975) identify Chaco canyon as a pochteca outpost, and Di Peso identifies Casas Grandes as another. Kelley and Kelley advance that the occurrence and the florescence of Anasazi kivas in Chaco Canyon are evidence for pochteca domination of Chaco Canyon. They also assume that Chaco Canyon functioned as a trade outpost: “Pueblo Bonito, at least, looks very much like a trading post crammed with trade objects, ready for transport and sale.” (Kelley and Kelley, 1975:205).

According to McGuire: “the Kelleys’ hypothesis that Mesoamerica pochteca introduced the great kiva into the Southwest flies in the face of established interpretations which maintain that great kivas originated in the Mogollon area and later spread to the Anasazi. (Vivian and Reiter, 1960).

Between A.D. 1000 and 1150 great kivas occur at Aztec Ruin and Solomon Ruin on the San juan, the Lowry Ruin in Southwest Colorado, Fort Wingate on the Navaho reservation (Vivian and Reiter, 1960: 6-7), at LA 835 near Santa Fe (Stubbs, 1954) and many other sites. (McGuire, 1980: 17).

The Mesoamerican structure the Kelleys propose as a great kiva prototype is dubious, and there is at present no long developmental sequence of great kiva structures in Mesoamerica. There is, however,, a long and unbroken developmental sequence of great kivas in the Mogollon area (Neely, 1974). If we must seek recurrent inspiration for Anasazi great kivas we must look no further south than the Mogollon. Also, if the great kivas were pochteca structures, then they should not vary between the Mogollon and the Anasazi, just as Spanish churches were similar among the Pima and the Tewa. This, however is not the case, as Mogollon great kivas do not share all the features of Anasazi great kivas and come in greater variety of forms than Anasazi examples. (McGuire, 1980: 17).

Chaco Canyon as Trade Outpost:
Close examination of Pepper’s (1920) and Judd’s (1954, 1964) descriptions of Pueblo Bonito reveals that no more than 12 rooms out of 341 excavated contained large quantities of items. Also, excavations at three other Chacoan towns, Pueblo del Arroyo (Judd, 1959), Pueblo Alto and Chetro Ketl, have failed to produce even this much evidence of storerooms filled with goods. When goods were found in storage rooms, had they been stored there for transport and trade or were they stored for distribution within the chacoan interaction sphere?

As far as shell is concerned, for instance, it appears that shell was passed from chaco to its outliers, that is within the Chacoan interaction sphere, the Chacoan system appears to be the northern terminus of the shell trade between A.D. 1000 and 1180. Thus, large quantities of stored shell were more likely used within the Chacoan interaction sphere and not for external trade.

The Turquoise Trade:
Kelley and Kelley (1975) claim that the pochteca used Chaco Canyon as an outpost primarily to control the flow of turquoise into Mesoamerica. Was Chaco a large-scale exporter of turquoise? McGuire notes that: “no turquoise occurs naturally at Chaco Canyon nor in the Chaco interaction sphere. It has long been held (Pepper 1920) that Chaco canyon turquoise originated from the Los Cerrillos mine near Santa Fe and it has been demonstrated that 80-odd pieces of turquoise at the west Mexican site of Alta Vista came from the Cerrillos mine. (Weigand et al., 1977:31). The Cerrillos mine lies 200 km east of chaco Canyon. If Mesoamerican pochteca had sought to establish an outpost to control this mine, why would they locate it 200 km west of the mine and not in the Rio Grande to the south of the mine?” (McGuire, 1980:18).

Furthermore, large amounts of turquoise have been recovered from Pueblo Bonito, over 50,000 pieces, but the distribution of the material at the site does not suggest large scale production of it for export. Pepper (1920) and Judd (1954, 1964) located turquoise at Pueblo Bonito with burials, cached in various crevices, and randomly scattered through the deposits. They report no evidence of workshop areas or storage of large amounts of unworked turquoise or finished items.

McGuire suggests that the widespread distribution of turquoise in Pueblo Bonito and the lack of evidence for specialized manufacturing suggests that Chaco Canyon was not an exporter but an importer of turquoise. The present evidence leads McGuire to formulate the hypothesis that: “Chaco Canyon was not a peripheral outpost of development but instead a cultural center in its own right…Chaco canyon lies at the center of an extensive road system linking the canyon to outlying Chaco sites such as Aztec to the north and Kin Ya-a to the south.” (p. 19)

McGuire argues that the low volume of Mesoamerican goods from Chaco canyon: 34 copper bells (Sprague and Signori, 1963), 38 macaws (Hargrave, 1970:52), and a handful of pseudo-cloisonne items (Holien, 1975:162), suggests specialized trade between the elite of chaco Canyon and the elite of northwest Mexico. The Mesoamerican-derived characteristics of Chaco Canyon could have resulted from this type of exchange with no need for pochteca domination.” (p. 19)

Casas Grandes:
The site of casas grandes in northern Chihuahua shows marked Mesoamerican features, and particularly evidence of macaw aviculture and copper metallurgy. According to McGuire, copper and macaws are interesting items at Casas grandes because in the Southwest only Casas Grandes has yielded evidence for the production of copper and the breeding of macaws.

Copper items are widely distributed in the Hohokam area before the Medio period at Casas Grandes; however, it is not until the Medio period that they begin to appear in the Mogollon, Salado, Sinagua, and Anasazi regions. Also during this time period copper items (primarily bells) become less common in the Hohokam region and disappear from the Southwest altogether shortly after the collapse of Casas grandes (ca. A.D. 1300). This leads McGuire to suggest that the copper items which occur in the Mogollon, Salado, Sinagua and in the Anasazi between the A.D. 1100’s and A.D. 1400 may have been produced at Casas grandes.

From A.D. 1060 to 1340 the frequency of macaws in the Southwest in general parallels fluctuations in the frequency of macaws at Casas Grandes (Di Peso et al., 1974b: 184). According to McGuire, this evidence “strongly suggests that most macaws recovered in the prehistoric Southwest came from Casas Grandes and not lowland Mesoamerica.” (p.21).

In general, McGuire feels that: “the available evidence clearly indicates that Casas grandes was a major trade center but it also indicates that the overwhelming bulk of such trade was to the north of Casas Grandes and not to Mesoamerica. (p. 22). McGuire suggests that, as a major trade center in the southwest, Casas Grandes may have sought to emulate high cultural centers to the south.

The occurrence of copper metallurgy and macaw aviculture suggests that specialized individuals may have gone south to learn these techniques, and travelled north with these skills. McGuire advances the hypothesis that the leaders of Casas Grandes may have imported those skills in order to dominate the Southwestern market for such rare and valued commodities.

In summary, McGuire suggests that: “the evidence for pochteca outposts in the Southwest clearly indicates that one such proposed outpost, Chaco Canyon, does not fit expectations and that the other proposed outpost, Casas Grandes, was not controlled by mercantile interests in Mesoamerica. Both these locations appear to be centers in their own right, not provincial outposts of a Mesoamerican state.” (p. 23)

Mesoamerican cults in the Southwest:
The pochteca theorists place great importance on the appearance in the southwest of iconographic traits which they believe represent central Mexican deities or cults (Di Peso 1968, 1974: 301-08), Kelley and Kelley 1975: 211). McGuire rightfully notes that: “ the symbolic association of meaning and form is arbitrary” (p.24). Many of the iconographic traits such as the bird-serpent motif are distributed from Peru to the Southwest, so it is difficult to see how their appearance in the Southwest represents the introduction of a central Mexican cult rather than “ the existence of a widespread set of symbols and beliefs the central Mexican cults were built from.” (p. 24)

The feathered or horned serpent motif, found throughout the Southwest and Mesoamerica, is a good example of this phenomenon. Snake symbolism has a great antiquity in the Southwest. Parsons (1939: 184-86) indicates the horned or feathered serpent is found in all Pueblo religions except the Tewa, and represents the water serpent. This serpent can be a collective being which lives in springs or a single being, a god of terrestrial waters. The water serpent controls floods, earthquakes and landslides and is a fearsome and punitive personage. Zuni and Hopi tales include reference to the sacrifice of children to placate the water serpent. These Pueblo beliefs parallel symbolic associations of the feathered serpent seen in Classic period Mesoamerica. (Krickeberg et al., 1968: 18-42)

The Toltec Quetzalcoatl cult, however, brought together a variety of symbols, among them the feathered serpent and gave them new meanings. The Toltec and Aztec in their Quetzalcoatl cult associated the feathered serpent not with water symbolism, but with sky symbolism. Given that ethnographic Pueblo beliefs parallel more closely Classic period Mesoamerican associations of the feathered serpent with water symbolism than the Toltec and Aztec Quetzalcoatl myth, it is unlikely that Toltec pochteca introduced the feathered serpent to the Southwest as part of the Quetzalcoatl cult.

The central Mexican cults the pochteca theorists present as the religion of Mesoamerica are a complex synthesis of earlier beliefs and symbols. Also, the gods of central America are not the gods of all Mesoamerica. “Although there is no question that Mesoamerican-derived beliefs, such as the Zuni new fire ceremony, occur in the Southwest, these symbols and beliefs all have wide distribution in Mesoamerica. The appearance of these symbols and beliefs in the Southwest does not indicate proselytizing by missionaries of specific central Mexican cults but does indicate the northernmost extent of a basic set of beliefs and symbols that were variously combined in different cults.” (McGuire, p. 25)

The Kachina cult:
Beals (1943: 248) notes that there is no evidence of the Kachina cult
between the valley of Mexico and the Pueblos and concludes that it did not
result from direct contact but from an earlier shared cultural stratum. The appearance in the southwest of brightly colored and narrative kiva murals signals the appearance of the Kachina cult at the beginning of Pueblo IV (A.D. 1300).

Many iconographic traits originating from Mesoamerica, including jaguars, macaws and feathered serpents, appear on these murals. There are conceptual similarities between these murals and those of Mesoamerica, but there are also considerable differences, especially stylistic ones (Brody, 1968: 8). The Anasazi murals are characterized by a clearly defined geometry, which is not an important factor in Mesoamerican murals. McGuire agrees with Borody that Mesoamerican murals may have been a prototype for Pueblo IV kiva murals, but he argues that a large stylistic gap separates the two, preventing a simple mechanistic influence as suggested by the Kelleys.

To sum up, it seems that the pochteca theorists have overemphasized the extent and nature of Mesoamerican influence in the Southwest. The pochteca theory is not substantiated by any real evidence in the Southwest. The evidence for central Mexican cults in the Southwest is extremely tenuous. The symbols and beliefs that ethnographic and prehistoric Southwestern cultures shared with these cults are part of a basic set of symbols and beliefs which are variously combined and synthesized in a large number of Mesoamerican cults.

It also appears that trade between Mesoamerica and the Southwest was neither a prime mover, nor an autonomous phenomenon, but an integral part of a network of relationships, involving technology, social organization and belief systems. The influence of Mesoamerica on the Southwest would have resulted from interaction between northwest Mexican and Southwest societies rather than domination by any single group such as pochteca.

“This interaction encompassed not only the exchange of goods but also of ideas, accounting for shared beliefs, symbols, and architectural forms in the two regions. Furthermore, this interaction both influenced and changed due to changes in social complexity, markets, and access to natural corridors of communication in both regions.” (McGuire, p. 33)

Ripples in the Chichimec Sea:
Mesoamericanists studying Mesoamerican influence on the Southwest tend to rely mostly upon economic models to explain what they call the integration of the northern hinterland into the Mesoamerican sphere of influence. Most recently, some researchers have used Wallerstein’s (1974) world systems model in an effort to yet again discuss this issue. (Di peso 1980, Dirst & Pailes 1976, Kelley 1980, Pailes & Whitecotton 1975).

The world system model is based on economic premises, or a core-periphery model of interaction derived from the research of mostly European historians who have attempted to explain the rise of capitalism. (Braudel 1972). Wallerstein begins with the concept of a social system which he defines in terms of a division of labor, or a grid [network] which is substantially interdependent” (Wallerstein, 1976: 397). He argues that only two classes of social systems can have existed: “those relatively small, highly autonomous subsistence economies not part of some regular tribute-demanding system…and world systems”. (1974: 348, 1976). Wallerstein identifies two classes of world systems: world empires, which are politically as well as economically integrated; and world economies, which are not politically integrated.

Wallerstein’s model leads us to examine how the development of cores derives from the creation of peripheries, shifting our focus from diffusion or adaptation to interaction and dependencies. He directs us to the right questions, but his work does not provide us with the tools to answer those questions in non-capitalist societies.

Southwestern archaeologists have primarily utilized Wallerstein’s concept of world economy as a mode of production, but when Wallerstein discusses world economies, he refers specifically to the capitalist world economy.

Wallerstein’s model emphasizes how the core subjugates the periphery, but it does not adequately deal with the unique aspects and developments of peripheries or how peripheries affect the core. It seems that we must be able to interpret the variation and development of societies which are not cores in terms of interregional relationships, and step out of the arbitrary opposition between core and periphery. What would be the scale by which we judge what societies are cores or peripheries? In the context of Anasazi development, Chaco canyon might qualify as a core, but in terms of the Southwest and Mesoamerica, the entire Southwest would have to be a periphery. These concepts do not appear to fit the study of the specific development of regions.

Little or no evidence exists for direct contact between the southwest and any Mesoamerican core (McGuire 1980). The Southwest did interact with the societies of west Mexico, such as the prehistoric cultures of Durango, Nayarit, Jalisco and Sinaloa. Most archaeologists consider this area a part of Mesoamerica only between A.D. 1100 and 1300. Even during this time period west Mexico was a periphery first of the Toltec and then of the world economy that followed. The Southwest, therefore, was the hinterland of a periphery. (McGuire, 1986: 245-246). Identifying the Southwest as a periphery does not really describe its position in the system, nor does it throw any light on the dynamics of change in the Southwest in relation to alterations in the larger world system.

The economic system that seems to be most relevant to Mesoamerican-Southwest interactions is a prestige-goods economy. “Prestige-goods economies are based on the association of political power with control of access to foreign goods, which assume meaning as social valuables…Such economies are most commonly associated with kin modes of production and may link kin and tributary modes.” (McGuire, 1986: 251)
In prestige-goods economies, the items exchanged are social valuables essential for the reproduction of the group. These items validate the major social and religious life-transition events, as well as the essential ritual events. The supply of foreign valuables normally depends on trade relations which link the ruling elite of the group to faraway societies, over which they have no control. Environmental, political, or social perturbations several hundred miles away can disrupt the flow of valuables to the elite.

A prestige-goods economy existed in the Southwest among the Hohokam at least as early as A.D. 700 (McGuire, 1983b), and such a system clearly existed in Chaco Canyon by approximately A.D. 950 (Akins and Schelberg 1981, Gledhill 1978). Blanton et al, (1981: 250) have argued that a prestige-goods economy existed in Mesoamerica from 1000 B.C. until the last two centuries before the Spanish conquest. According to Blanton et al., a prestige-goods economy regulated the exchange between Mesoamerica and the Southwest, and there is no evidence of regular interregional dependencies for food before the fifteenth century.

Most of the discussions of Mesoamerican-Southwest interaction focuses on events beginning around A.S.1000, with the appearance of larger, more economically and socially diverse settlements throughout the Southwest. At the same time, the Mesoamerican boundary was approaching its maximum northern expansion. In many of the discussions, there seems to be a belief that Mesoamerican trade and traders are Postclassic phenomena. This is obviously the result of the use of the pochteca model by Mesoamericanists.

Michael Foster (1986: 55-64) argues that long distance trade has a long history and an important role in the development of many Mesoamerican societies as in many other prehistoric societies around the world. Foster quotes evidence of the presence of Olmec personages on boulders in western El Salvador, and of Olmec influence in Guatemala and Honduras as well. (These areas are at a minimum of 700 km from the Olmec heartland.)
Teotihuacan is another example with its influence dominant or present in vast areas of Mesoamerica from western Zacatecas to Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala, and into western New Mexico.

Rock art styles in the Southwest are valuable components of the archaeological record. Graphic images painted on, or carved into the rock derive from various aspects of cosmologies and mythic systems. The native peoples of the Southwest have been using the rock surfaces of canyon walls, rock shelters and talus boulders as canvases to express and record meaningful symbols of their cosmologies. These petroglyphs and pictographs may have had various purposes and meanings through time and regional interpretations. Again, it is important to keep in mind that symbolic form may differ from symbolic meaning according to regional variations.

The style concept is helpful in understanding the prehistoric cultural systems in the Southwest. Schaafsma (1980) suggests the term “interaction sphere” to deal with regional configurations in archaeological context.: “ The concept of the interaction sphere is applicable to areas of stylistic uniformity. Stylistic uniformity results from a pan-regional information exchange network, and the degree of homogeneity in a region depends on the efficiency of the intergroup communications. A shared repertoire of rock art elements, figure types, figure complexes, and aesthetic modes—hence styles--, thus signifies participation in a given ideographic system, and in turn, in a given communication network.” (Schaafsma 1980: 8)

The desert Hohokam culture, refered to by Haury as a “frontier, spacially displaced, Mesoamerican society (Haury, 1976: 351-53) is believed to have made its debut in the Southwest as a result of an actual migration of people from the south, who brought with them a knowledge of village living, water management, tillage technology and pottery making, as well as cotton and a new variety of maize. A number of cultural items typical of the Hohokam have their origin in Mesoamerica. Copper bells, ear-plugs, mirror mosaics constructed of iron pyrite, and clay figurines of a type found in Mesoamerica, are evidence of contact with the south. The spiral, a dominant motif in both Hohokam rock art and pottery decoration is frequently present in the petroglyphs of Sinaloa and Nayarit. (Mountjoy, 1974b)

Mexican origins seem apparent for many of the features present in the Jornada style of the desert Mogollon, which flourished from ca. A.D. 1000 to ca. 1500. There also seem to be similarities in the Jornada and Mimbres regions with Casas Grandes, immediately to the south in Chihuahua. Di Peso has shown that a Mexican art style and iconography is apparent at Casa Grandes around A.D. 1060, and that these changes coincide with the arrival of pochteca merchants from west Mexico who were heavily under Toltec influence.

Mesoamerican cults of deities such as Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, and Huitzilipochtli are introduced at Casas Grandes by the pochteca, as well as Tlaloc and Xipe Totec (Di Peso, 1966: 21). There was a network of communication and exchange between the Jornada and mimbres regions and Casas grandes, and the desert Mogollon culture after A.D. 1050 shows elements of a new ideology which is reflected in art.

“Masks and faces with almond eyes and also abstract decorations, horns, feathers, and pointed caps. Mythical beings with round, staring eyes, large blanket designs; horned serpents, flying birds and spread-winged eagles, turtles, tadpoles, fish and insects; corn, cloud terraces, and rainbows.” (Schaafsma, 1980: 199) These figures replaced the simple and repetitious figures of earlier rock art of this region. The goggle-eyed figure prevalent in the rock art of the Jornada region is believed to be a northern representation of the Mesoamerican Rain God Tlaloc. (Schaafsma, 1980: 203)

What can be called “classic” Tlaloc or Rain god types in the eastern jornada style are abstracted anthropomorphic designs consisting of a trapezoidal or rectangular head above a similarly shaped, larger block representing the body.” (ibid., 203). A second and less usual type of Tlaloc is a further abstraction of the figure just discussed. In these instances Tlaloc is represented by eyes placed above a free blanket design without a bounding outline.

A profusion and variety of masks also characterize the Jornada style, which can be identified as representations of Mexican-derived Quetzalcoatl forms.
The horned or plumed serpent is also a part of the jornada iconography.
Masks with conical caps suggest features of this personage in the jornada style. A petroglyph of a death’s head with such a horn suggests the Mexican portrayals of Quetzalcoatl with the Death God, Mictlantecuhtil, as his twin. (Schaafsma, 1980: 217)

The Jornada style can be traced as the most direct source for contemporary Pueblo ideography. A Mexican-Mogollon-Pueblo continuity in religion has been pointed out by Ellis and Hammack: “The existence of a Mexican-derived religious art complex in the prehistoric Southwest between A.D. 1050 and A.D. 1400 explains the observations of many earlier investigators regarding the apparent parallels between the religions of central mexico and those of the ethnographic Pueblos.” (1968: 39)

In conclusion, the survey of some of the current theories regarding Mesoamerican-Southwest connections indicates a sphere of interaction based on the exchange of items, ideas, and religious symbols. The interaction fluctuated through time, according to the respective florescence and decadence of cultural centers. It seems that Casas Grandes, and the desert Mogollon and Hohokam, functioned as relay centers for the transmission of Mesoamerican values, but the interaction model cannot be simplified into a one way, northward direction. It would appear that the cultural value systems of Mesoamerica and the Southwest spring from a common source, with regional variations and adaptations. Sharing a comparatively similar environment, it would seem natural that the cultures would share religious and symbolic interpretations as well as artistic and aesthetic representations.

The models of domination, pochteca or otherwise, or of world systems do not seem to apply to the development of prehistoric societies in the Southwest. It seems therefore more helpful to adopt a model of interaction set in a processual, or dynamic mode, and take into account first existing worldviews, then ecological and historical phenomena in order to understand the mechanisms of cultural change.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1993


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