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Breath and Being: Contextualizing Object Persons at Paquimé, Chihuahua, Mexico

  • Christine S. VanPool
  • Todd L. VanPool
Chapter
Part of the One World Archaeology book series (WORLDARCH)

Abstract

For almost 50 years North American archaeologists have applied the ­processual paradigm, which holds that culture is an extra-somatic means of adaptation whereby artifacts and buildings “functioned as tools.” Even 30 years ago with the push for postprocessual approaches that de-emphasized functional considerations in favor of other interpretations, such as ritual and cognitive significance, many features and objects were still considered passive items that were used to communicate religious or cosmological principles. Although anthropologists have long been astounded by how many of the various ontologies found throughout the world accorded a spiritual, active, living nature to some artifacts, features, and the landscape, the implications of this fundamental premise for artifact/human interaction has only been considered over the last decade by a handful of archaeologists.

In this chapter, we suggest that by adopting an animistic perspective based on commonalities (e.g., pots and houses have personhoods) such as those reflected in the ethnographic record, archaeologists can strengthen their interpretative frameworks for understanding and evaluating archaeological data. Further, we suggest that a similar ontology is reflected in the material remains from the site of Paquimé (formally called Casas Grandes), which is the ceremonial center of the Medio period (AD 1250–1450) Casas Grandes culture of northern Mexico and the southern Southwestern United States. Specific living beings discussed include the Mound of the Serpent, a long sinuous mound that has been interpreted as a retaining wall, and a small “utilitarian” jar that was placed under a water reservoir that has been interpreted as a ritual offering. We stress that while “functional” interpretations may initially seem incompatible with an animistic approach, they are important for understanding the roles and personalities of past living beings in the form of pots or effigy mounds. Sound functional arguments are not an alternative to a sound animistic perspective, but are instead its foundation, and an animistic perspective can help to further strengthen these functional explanations.

Keywords

Archaeological Record Animated Object Spiritual Power Ethnographic Record Painted Image 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA

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