Pottery, Politics, and Trade Routes : Evaluating Independence in Late Classic Jalieza, Oaxaca Public Deposited



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  • The Oaxaca Valley, located in the state of Oaxaca in Southern Mexico, was the site of the Zapotec civilization and its now famous capital, Monte Albán. This site, with political, military, and economic influence and control, helped to consolidate the three arms of the Oaxaca Valley, resulting in a state-level polity which lasted for over 1,000 years, from ca. 500 B.C. all the way to ca. 850 A.D. At the close of the Late Classic period, however, the state seemingly dissolved and the main site shrank from a peak population of 24,000-25,000, down to just a few thousand people. The reasons for this dissolution remain unknown, but it has been hypothesized by researchers that the growth of regional centers of elite power caused the state to fracture and lose authority. This study evaluates the possible economic independence of one regional center, Jalieza, Oaxaca. Sitting 20 km to the southeast of the central seat of Monte Albán, Jalieza had grown into a community of 16,000 people by the Late Classic period, and was the second largest community in the valley. Using a combination of trace element analysis of pottery and the geographic science of GIS, I examine the question of whether the Jaliezans were becoming economically independent from the capital of Monte Albán. In order to evaluate this hypothesis, I first developed a GIS model to identify the most likely trade partners for Jalieza. I began by modeling the landscape in terms of effort expended (travel time), and then compared a number of trade routes from Jalieza to other important Late Classic sites, showing which of these routes would be most cost efficient. Lastly, I discuss the possibility of a specific trade route, called the Camino Antiguo, that may have allowed the Late Classic Jaliezans to avoid trade with Monte Albán while connecting them to important Late Classic sites in the Tlacolula sub-valley. Using a gravity model, I then addressed which sites and routes would be preferred. The results of this model set a baseline, by predicting economic interaction along least cost paths. This predictive model was then compared to the perspective of ceramic exchange. In order to do this, a total of 245 ceramic objects were sampled from three contexts dating to Late Classic Jalieza. These contexts include two houses, situated along the Camino Antiguo, as well as more generalized surface sample. All of these ceramics were analyzed for their trace-element composition via INAA and matched with known clay signatures for various parts of the valley showing with whom Jalieza was trading during the Late Classic. The results of the least cost path analysis and the gravity model analysis predict that the Late Classic Jaliezans would have traded with places that are 1) large population centers, 2) relatively close to Jalieza, and/or 3) along energy efficient travel routes. Specifically, the model indicate that Jalieza should have been trading with the main site of Monte Albán. However, the results of the INAA study show this to be not true. Jalieza had little in the way of ceramic exchange interactions with Monte Albán, and in contrast was trading with areas that would appear to be costlier in terms of travel time and energy expenditure. By combining these analytical techniques, the study suggests that Jalieza was indeed moving away from the control and administration of Monte Albán by this Late Classic period. This study thus provides new data on the Late Classic economy and political environment of the Valley of Oaxaca, and new insights into the conditions surrounding the decline of the Zapotec state.
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