With most of the world's population living in cities, archaeological studies of the processes by which early towns became cities, and how cities expanded and impacted rural areas, are critical to understanding the deep roots of social complexity. Supported by the National Science Foundation, Dr. David Carballo will undertake two seasons of investigations at the prehispanic archaeological site of La Laguna, Tlaxcala, in collaboration with Dr. Luis Barba and other researchers from Mexico's National University (UNAM). The project is focused on elucidating the evolution of ceremonial space, the integrative and divisive aspects of community ritual, and the rural impacts of urbanization and state expansion through excavations, chemical studies, and artifact analyses at this regional center in the Central Highlands of Mexico. During the later Formative period (ca. 600 B.C. - A.D. 100) this dynamic chapter in the history of the region witnessed the urbanization of three cities surrounding La Laguna and the political expansion of one of these -Teotihuacan - throughout much of central Mexico and farther abroad in Mesoamerica. The positioning of La Laguna as the largest town within a strategic communication corridor linking the Basin of Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico influenced its autonomous development and likely relates directly to its abandonment coinciding with urbanization and accelerated political evolution in the region.

Documentation of the developmental trajectory and usage of La Laguna's ceremonial center will provide an archaeological case study suitable for assessing current inter-disciplinary models in the behavioral sciences concerning the dynamics of group cooperation, collective-action problems, and more "bottom-up" processes in the origins of complex societies. The investigations will assess what aspects of community ritual were more collective and integrative, and what aspects were more individualizing and competitive. A related set of objectives are to determine whether the burning of ceremonial structures and site abandonment were orchestrated by the inhabitants of the community itself, consistent with more voluntary processes of urbanization, or because of military conquest, and potential Teotihuacano control of the region. These issues bear directly on the mode and tempo of ancient urbanization and state formation, inter-regional exchange and interaction, and the dynamics of power and resistance between an expansionistic state and a more rural periphery.

Methods of investigation and analysis include horizontal excavations to expose floors for chemical analyses of the organic and inorganic residues associated with past activities; the documentation of subterranean features corresponding to cultural deposits; and stylistic and chronological analysis of architectural sequences and artifact concentrations - the latter involving geochemical analyses in order to reconstruct production and exchange relations.

Results from the project will be incorporated into thesis projects and provide professional training for students studying in the US and Mexico. The project involves close collaboration between US and Mexican academic and scientific institutions, and a bilingual project webpage and final monograph will reach a broad audience and make project data available to a wide array of interested researchers.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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John E. Yellen
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Boston University
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