david haskell, phd
mesoamerican archaeology

Abstracts of Selected Publications

"Tarascan Historicity: Narrative Structure, Poiesis, and the Production of the Past in the Case of the Two Tariacuris"
Book manuscript submitted for publication Spring, 2013

Tarascan Historicity applies recent theoretical work into the agentic but culturally mediated production of the relations between the past, present, and future to a narrative account of the pre-Hispanic past of the Tarascan State contained in the well-known Relación de Michoacán. Within this background and utilizing a method that investigates the structuring of narrative in the production of temporal relations, I argue that this narrative is not a static reproduction of some pre-Hispanic version. Rather, I demonstrate that the narrative is intricately structured to argue for the colonial-era leadership of the son of the last king by constructing a past legendary figure that shared his name. Additionally, through reference to other information in the document, the book opens a window on how Tarascan elites produced the past and related it to the present the production of the past, thereby mythologizing history in the interests of the state.

"Places to Go and Social Worlds to Constitute: the itinerar(ies) of Tarascan obsidian idols in pre-Hispanic Mexico"
Abstract for version presented at SAR seminar "Objects in Motion" May 7-10, 2012

Interesting things happen to social worlds when the objects through which they take shape begin moving around. Objects do not simply reflect social reality, but as I discuss they and their movements instigate what appear to us as material, spatial, and temporal paradoxes that are fundamental to both social reality and beliefs about metaphysical reality. The holding or bundling of both sides of such paradoxes made manifest in objects and their temporal and spatial distributions, produced through their itineraries, are often fundamental to much of what societies and cultures regard as basic ordering principles and motivating beliefs. In this paper I discuss some of the ways that the pieces of obsidian regarded as idols of the Tarascan deity Curicaueri, and their movements and non-movements, made Tarascan political ideology and temporality what they were through the fractality and various spatial and temporal paradoxes that they instigated.

"The Impact of La Memoria de Don Melchor Caltzin (1543) on Tarascan Historiography and Ethnohistoric Modeling of pre-Hispanic Tarascan State Formation"
Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Memphis, TN, April 19, 2012. Accepted by the journal Ethnohistory to be published October, 2013.

The recent translation and description of La Memoria de Don Melchor Caltzin, produced in 1543 and the earliest document written in the Tarascan (Purhepecha) language, opens an important window into the study of Tarascan historiography and state formation, which has generally been an understudied region of Mesoamerica. For too long, a more extensive document, the Relaci—n de Michoac‡n, has dominated investigations of the Tarascan state, a late pre-Hispanic polity centered in West-Central Mexico, and wider Tarascan culture and history. I discuss how reading both documents in light of one another sheds light on the selective and ideological skewed way in which they represent the past. While La Memoria de Don Melchor Caltzin focuses on a strict set of events to argue for the preservation of the rights of a Nahua community residing in the pre-Hispanic capital of Tzintzuntzan, it also sheds further light on the conspicuous silences in the Relaci—n de Michoac‡n. Furthermore, the information contained in the Memoria indicates that an important stage in the development and consolidation occurred thanks to an alliance between a king and foreign merchants. This data suggests that political consolidation was an ongoing process within the Tarascan state. The data indicating that merchants were key to this kingÕs accession to power is indicative of a struggle to monopolize preciosities leads to the discussion of the possibility that this struggle was also a possible factor in an earlier phase of state formation.

"Re-Envisioning Tarascan Temporalities and Landscapes: historical being, archaeological representation, and investigating social processes in the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin, Mexico"
Paper presented at Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL, May 10, 2013. With Christopher J. Stawski.

The Patzcuaro Basin of West-Central Mexico was a core zone of state formation in Mesoamerica that produced the Late Postclassic Tarascan State. Theorizations of state formation and the longer record of human occupation and human ecodynamics have produced a foundational record of human occupation, environmental change, and to some extent the relation between the two. Such efforts are, however, limited because they envision temporality and landscape in a restricted way that does not address the temporality, the integration of past-present-future in recollection and action, of social life. Our position is that to inhabit the P‡tzcuaro Basin was to perceive its fluctuations, the ways in which the landscape changed, and therefore to be keenly aware of temporality and the passage of time. Integrating GIS analysis, such as remotely sensed imagery analysis and cost surface modeling, with phenomenological philosophy, we quantify and discuss how changes in the landscape would have affected daily life and made inhabitants of the basin keenly aware of such fluctuations. Moreover, archaeological records of settlement demonstrate that past inhabitants of the basin attuned their lives to lake levels, and furthermore such inhabitation demonstrably left evidence of settlement in zones that were variably visible or hidden due to lake fluctuations. We develop a novel way of representing this process of human inhabitation as Òbeing in timeÓ that incorporates the past, present and future. Finally, we offer a case study in which data from the Middle Postclassic (ca. 1100-1350 CE), interpreted through this phenomenologically oriented and GIS enabled process of envisioning time and space, show peoples of the P‡tzcuaro Basin forming a close relationship with the landscape such that this process drew on intimate knowledge of their environment in producing ongoing social processes of settlement, landscape modification, and ultimately sociopolitical transformations.

"Tarascan Kingship: the Production of Hierarchy in the Prehispanic Pátzcuaro Basin, Mexico."
Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Florida.

The present study investigates the manner in which the king of the prehispanic Tarascan kingdom of West Central Mexico exercised his authority and established his legitimacy over subordinate lords. I argue that this authority and legitimacy was established through the king’s ability to encompass the subordinate lords of his realm, in effect making them aspects of his own persona and not autonomous agents. The king’s ability to achieve this effect was an inherently intersubjective phenomenon that relied on the perceptions of other social beings, most notably the commoners that the subordinate lords oversaw. By engaging subordinate lords in specific material practices such as unilateral or asymmetric exchange, the king was able to cause commoners to perceive that the king was the primary agent that endowed subordinate lords with the capacity to act meaningfully, and on his behalf. The ability of the subordinate lords to act on their own behalf was severely compromised, because the commoners who witnessed their actions were led to perceive, through the presence of material objects and the social practices behind those objects, the king’s agency in the actions of the subordinate lords.

I demonstrate that the king was able to encompass the subordinate lords of two sites in the Tarascan core zone, the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin. I achieve this through both ethnohistoric and archaeological investigations. I first analyze how certain discursive practices and narratives, contained in the ethnohistoric record, publicly proclaimed the histories of those social agents and material objects involved in the realization of any act, leading witnesses to perceive that he was the primary motivating and enabling agent in the actions of the subordinate lords. Additionally, I use the ethnohistoric record to identify material correlates of the realization of these material practices. Lastly, I examine the object biographies of those material objects that the king relied upon in his ability to encompass the subordinate lords. Witnesses would have made their inferences according to not only the discursive framing that surrounded particular actions or objects, but also the histories of those objects and whose agencies had gone into the production of their existence in the hands of the subordinate lords.

“The Cultural Logic of Hierarchy in the Tarascan State: History as Ideology in the Relación de Michoacán.”
Ancient Mesoamerica 19:231-241.

This paper seeks to broaden our understanding of the Tarascan state by analyzing the cultural logic of hierarchy as revealed in the Relación de Michoacán. Following the insights of Dumont (1980) and Sahlins (1985), it is proposed that the historical narrative contained within that document is concerned with legitimizing the rule of the Tarascan royal dynasty through a conception of hierarchy based on the logic of encompassment. This analysis interprets the characters of the narrative as instantiations of “elementary categories,” and the interactions between these characters serve to define and ultimately transform those categories. The most important transformation is the encompassing of the “Islander” category by the “Chichimec” category. It is through this encompassment that the royal dynasty symbolized a socio-cosmic totality and therefore possessed legitimate authority. Furthermore, I outline a model of elite interaction and the development of the Tarascan state in which the royal dynasty sought to monopolize foreign trade goods, thus materially constructing its own identity as a possessor of legitimate authority and, therefore, as Chichimecs, according to one connotation of that term. At the same time, a class of status markers was created that could be shared with the lesser nobility, conferring legitimacy on them while preserving the wealth and identity of the royal dynasty.

"History, Ideology, and Problematic Assumptions in the Ethnohistoric Inquiry into the Development of the Tarascan State"
Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, April 2006, San Juan Puerto Rico

See above.

"History and Hierarchy in the Prehispanic Tarascan State: A Syntagmatic Analysis of the Relación de Michoacán"
MA Thesis, University of Florida, August 2003. Available Online

The Relación de Michoacán is the primary ethnohistoric source for the study of the prehispanic Tarascan State, the second largest conquest empire in Mesoamerica at the time of European contact. The document was written only about 20 years after European contact and originally contained chapters concerned with the official Tarascan State history, bureaucratic functioning, and the state religion, although the chapters on the religion have been lost. For this reason, studies of Tarascan religion and ideology have been forced to concentrate on obscure and sparse passages in the remainder of the document. Furthermore, the official state history has traditionally been interpreted literally, as an accurate account of the events that led to Tarascan State formation. The study presented here, by utilizing a structuralist analysis that accounts for both the paradigmatic and syntagmatic aspects of the official state history contained within the document, contributes important new insights into how the Tarascan royal dynasty legitimated their position at the apex of society. By drawing on and constructing, when necessary, religious concepts as well as fundamental divisions in Tarascan society, the official state history constitutes a logically ordered sequence of events that should not necessarily be interpreted as literal history. Rather, through syntagmatic juxtaposition and paradigmatic association, the narrative constructs the hierarchical position of the Tarascan royal dynasty as the superior synthesis of the fundamental supernatural and social categories of Tarascan society.

"Hierarchy, History, and Ideology in the Tarascan State: a Structuralist Analysis of the Relación de Michoacán."
Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Atlanta, GA, December 16, 2004.

See abstract above

"History, Ideology, and Problematic Assumptions in the Ethnohistoric Inquiry into the Development of the Tarascan State"
Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, April 2006, San Juan Puerto Rico

The Relación de Michoacán has emerged as the preeminent source for the study of the Tarascan State. Whether alone or as the basis for interpreting the archaeological record, literalist interpretations of the RM have guided research of the development of the Tarascan State. I argue that the literalist position is unfounded, however. Furthermore, an alternative interpretation is proposed in which the historical details contained within the document can be explained through the cultural logic of the indigenous conception of hierarchy. This position can provide alternate avenues for the archaeological investigation of the development of the Tarascan State.

"Difference of Perception, Perception of Difference: Architecture and Hierarchy in Ancient West Mexico."
Paper presented at the Annual Midwest Mesoamericanist Meetings of Archaeology and Ethnohistory in Lexington, KY, March 13, 2004.

As the body of data grows concerning the presence of complex societies and their antecedents in West Mexico, this area constitutes another example of long-term trends toward greater complexity that is worthy of study. Furthermore, given the somewhat ambiguous status of West Mexico within Mesoamerica, the region provides an interesting contrast with the rest of Mesoamerica in terms of both the processes and resultant sociopolitical forms of cultural evolution.
The specific area of study is central Jalisco, which by the Classic period had given rise to the Teuchitlan tradition, a large complex society that has been called a state or state-like society (Weigand and Beekman 1998). While the influences of the Teuchitlan tradition were felt outside central Jalisco and the cultural antecedents that the tradition was founded upon were dispersed over a larger area, the area of central Jalisco constituted a core area through the centuries of sociopolitical development (Beekman 2000).
While our understandings of the nature and processes involved in the transformations from simple to complex societies in the area are largely in their infancy, certain trends have been identified. Drawing upon these trends, attempts to understand the growth of sociopolitical complexity have relied on quantifications of labor as well as the need of elites to attract more clients. This paper attempts to rephrase the processes of social transformation not in terms of quantifiable labor hours or individuals who can fit into a patio but rather in terms of the perception of various distinctions created by the different forms of architecture that characterize the periods of social transformation resulting in the stratified societies of the Classic period. Therefore the theoretical insights of a phenomenology of perception based particularly upon the writings of Merleau-Ponty (1962) and Barrett (1994) will be drawn upon to conclude that the power of different architectural forms was not only in how many people could participate, but also in how many differentiations could be created and how different architectural forms differentially affected the practice of everyday life.

"Altars and Representations of Houses in Olmec Architecture, and their Role in the Negotiation of Rulership."
Paper presented at the Annual Meeting for the American Anthropological Association in New Orleans, LA, November 20, 2002.

The fact that the tabletop altars/thrones created by the people referred to as the Olmec in the Middle and Late Formative periods in Mesoamerica mimic household altars of the Maya region and the consequences of this relationship was examined by Gillespie. This paper builds on that recognition and examines the effect of these monuments on the space around the many altars found at Olmec sites. This effect relates interestingly to research done considering the layout of many Mesoamerican sites according to cosmological principles, particularly at the Olmec site of La Venta. Essentially, the hypothesis presented here is that the Olmec altars were not monuments in isolation, but due to the constructions surrounding them, marked the space in front of the altars as the inside or property of a house. This would have symbolically incorporated those people within the vicinity of the altar into the house of the ruler who owned or made use of the altar, and involved them in the rituals of this noble house. This metaphorical relationship based on kinship was likely the way in which the hierarchy of the system was reinforced and access to the rights and resources of the ruling house was regulated.

Copyright © 2013 David L. Haskell