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Journal of Archaeological Research

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 115–162 | Cite as

A Mosaic of Adaptation: The Archaeological Record for Mesoamerica’s Archaic Period

  • Robert M. Rosenswig
Article

Abstract

Mesoamerica’s Archaic period lasted for seven millennia beginning at the end of the Younger Dryas (~8000 cal. BC). The end of this period was uneven, with the earliest ceramic-using villagers documented at 1900 cal. BC, but not until the end of the second millennium BC in the Maya lowlands. Food production progressively increased in Mesoamerica between 8000 and 1000 cal. BC but did not significantly alter a mixed foraging–horticultural adaptation. During the third and fourth millennia BC, sedentism increased around permanent sources of water with dependable aquatic resources, such as the lakes in the Basin of Mexico and the estuaries of the Gulf coast and the Soconusco region on the Pacific coast. A mosaic of different adaptations was created, with more mobile peoples inhabiting the dry highland valleys of Mexico and Guatemala and much of the Maya lowlands. I argue that the ultimate cause of both the beginning and the end of the Archaic period was a return to wet, warm, and more stable environmental conditions after the Younger Dryas and the three-century-long 2200 cal. BC “event.” Ultimate climatic causes, however, provide only a limited understanding of the past, whereas proximate causes provide a more complete picture of where, when, and how food production, sedentism, and ceramic use developed. The archaeological record provides the complex and regionally varied evidence to reconstruct the proximate processes that saw Mesoamerican peoples transform from small groups of dispersed foragers to sedentary food producers who laid the foundation on which later Mesoamerican civilizations were built.

Keywords

Neolithic revolution Horticulture 2200 cal. BC event Mesoamerica 

Notes

Acknowledgments

I am grateful to Barbara Arroyo, John Clark, Dave Grove, John Hodgson, Rosemary Joyce, Chris Pool, and Pru Rice for answering questions and sending me sources in the course of writing this review. Over the years, I have benefited from conversations about Mesoamerica’s Archaic period with Jaime Awe, David Cheetham, John Clark, Jim Garber, John Hodgson, Doug Kennett, Hector Neff, Jon Lohse, Marilyn Masson, Barbara Voorhies, and Harvey Weiss. Thanks are also due to Gary Feinman for his patience in receiving this manuscript and his firm editorial hand. Thomas Hester and four other reviewers who remained anonymous each provided detailed and constructive suggestions that improved this article. None of these individual are responsible for the use to which I have put their advice.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyThe University at Albany-SUNYAlbanyUSA

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