The Mesoamerican Late Postclassic Period (ca. CE 1200-1520) featured radical transformations in society, culture, and demography. World-system exchanges of valuable goods grew in volume as did competition for trade routes and raw materials. The Central Mexican Highlands emerged as Mesomerica's major economic and political core zone, and here economic change spurred political change as large empires asserted control over the growing economic system. A sorting-out period of competition between imperial aspirants was finally resolved as the Aztec Triple Alliance (Aztec Empire) consolidated control over the Central Highlands and beyond. Wars between Central Mexican polities were among the bloodiest and most closely-fought during this period. While the Empire was eventually able to dominate, one polity alone, Tlaxcala, remained unconquered (this is highly relevant to later colonial history, since Cortés would not have defeated the Aztecs except for the fact that he allied with free Tlaxcala).

The goal of this project is to combine ethnohistoric and archaeological data to better understand how the Tlaxcalans successfully resisted imperial incorporation. What this project's research has discovered to date, mostly from ethnohistoric sources, is that during the post-1300 period the Tlaxcalans crafted a new political regime that, although borrowing from some conventions of Nahua political culture, in many ways radically departed from them. Most notably, the Tlaxcalans rejected the typical pattern of Nahua rulership in favor of a council-based form of government that allowed voice to a broad cross-section of the polity's population. Secondly, new modes of recruitment to official positions were instituted that favored achievement over noble status. Both of these strategies also aimed at the effective incorporation of diverse ethnic groups into the governing body and society more broadly. As a result, the polity attracted large numbers of persons who had emigrated from imperial areas as political dissidents or to escape political turmoil and war.

A key strategy of the Tlaxcalan state-builders was the foundation of a new capital center, located on a high ridge-line and adjacent low hills near the polity's geographical center. This settlement both symbolized the new polity, and forged a settlement system consistent with council-based rule and military defense. Prior research by this project indicates that the location chosen for the capital had no prior occupation, and that following its founding there was a flurry of construction that shaped the ridge-line zone and other city zones into a suitable setting for the new political regime. Mapping and surface collection of artifacts will confirm the chronology of the capital's foundation and subsequent rapid population growth, and will confirm preliminary findings of this project's prior work suggesting that the city-planning represented a radical departure from Nahua architectural and urban conventions. The goal of city planning was to create an open and highly connected settlement pattern interspersed with large open and highly accessible plaza features that might have served for ritual and market transactions. Lastly, mapping and surface collection of artifacts will aim to better understand to what degree there was an economic, as well as political, basis for the center's growth.

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