With National Science Foundation support, Drs. Barber and Joyce will direct two years of interdisciplinary archaeological research in the lower Río Verde Valley on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, Mexico. The research team includes U.S., Mexican, and Native American scholars specializing in archaeology, geology, and physical anthropology who together will examine the processes of early state formation and collapse at the site of Río Viejo. The Río Viejo state was one of more than a dozen interacting nascent states that developed in the highlands and lowlands of Oaxaca between 400 B.C. and A.D. 250. Despite their contemporaneity and proximity, however, these early states varied significantly in terms of geographic extent, longevity, scale of urbanism, and their long-term historical trajectories. Río Viejo was one of the largest of these states based on both population at the political center and geographic area but was also one of the shortest-lived, collapsing after only 150 years. It was also one of only two known early states to develop in Oaxaca's coastal lowlands. The goal of the project is to determine the form of rulership and the degree of political integration for the Río Viejo state as means of explaining why some early states endured and others did not.

The project will make valuable intellectual contributions in terms of both data and theory. The data generated by this project will provide the first robust description of political organization for an early state on Mesoamerica's Pacific coast west of the Soconusco and will inform broader debates in Mesoamerica and beyond on how social factors influenced the historical trajectories of ancient states. With its proximity to other important nascent states, such as Monte Albán in the Valley of Oaxaca, the Río Viejo state was integral to broader social changes like state formation and collapse that are of ongoing interest to Mesoamerican archaeologists and social scientists more generally. Because the research focuses on rulers and political integration, data are required from the Río Viejo's administrative center located on its monumental central acropolis. The project will greatly expand knowledge of the uses to which the acropolis was put by: 1) identifying facilities associated with governance such as palaces or assembly halls; 2) determining whether there was political oversight of economic actions like production, redistribution, and market exchange; 3) determining the degree to which the general population was involved in government-sponsored rituals; and 4) quantifying the amount of labor needed to construct government facilities. Fieldwork will include archaeological excavation and ground penetrating radar.

Broader impacts include the generation of new data that will expand knowledge of early states. Taken together, Oaxaca's macro-regional dataset of early states will offer unparalleled insight into divergent political trajectories in a heterogeneous environment unlike that of the more environmentally homogenous southern Maya lowlands or Mesopotamia. The project will develop scientific resources in United States and Mexico by training graduate and undergraduate students at three U.S. and two Mexican universities while creating new international collaborations between U.S. and Mexican scholars.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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John E. Yellen
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University of Central Florida
United States
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