Archive for February 11th, 2006

“Collapse�?

The term “abandonment” is often inaccurate and imprecise in archaeological discourse because it veils a range of behaviors in the past and assumes descendent communities have relinquished their present interests and claims in ancient places.

This bit of wisdom—and they’re so right!—is by Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh and T.J. Ferguson (“Rethinking Abandoment in Archaeological Contexts” in The SAA Archaeological Record, Jan 2006, pp. 37–41).

Substitute “collapse” for “abandonment” and it’s still accurate.

Now you have some idea why Jared Diamond’s books annoy me so much. His perspective is reductionist and ignores the range of comparative data available, indeed he ignores much of the data assembled by ARCHAEOLOGISTS, and the analysis we have done on the issues he’s commented on, especially in Guns, Germs, and Steel and his new Collapse book.

(I’ll quit now before this becomes a full-blown rant!)

The map above is of the civic-ceremonial core and the surrounding residential compounds at the huge city of Teotihuacán, Mexico. It was drafted during the 1960s as part of the the Teotihuacán Mapping Project, headed by Rene F. Millon. (The squares are 1 km on a side, so this city is BIG!)

Many, including probably JD, say Teotihuacán was abandoned at the end of the Classic period. Well, the civic-ceremonial architecture (temple mounds and the like) were burned and not rebuilt, but the residential areas remained mostly inhabited for at least several hundred years after the conflagration. Yeah, I know this sounds like an incomplete story, and it is. Many Mexican archaeologists, and a few foreigners too, are still excavating and working to help us understand what happened at Teotihuacán.