Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Balkansky, Andrew


This study examines the origins of complex societies in Mesoamerican archaeology, and the “mother culture” versus “sister cultures” debate and whether or not the sharing of ideas and materials, from one or multiple sources, catalyzed internal changes toward greater complexity for some early centers during Formative times, prior to the emergence of cities and states. The examination includes pottery analyses and other contextual observations from the Tayata site, in the Mixteca Alta region, as a marker for larger regional and macroregional developments, and as a means of evaluating the Olmec-centric (mother culture) versus pan-Mesoamerican (sister cultures) viewpoints. Tayata is an ideal case study to examine the emergence of complex societies and interregional interaction for early Mesoamerica because of its initial dates of occupation, its location in one of the “nuclear areas” in the emergence of Mesoamerican civilization, and because of its relationships with other regions and contemporaneous sites. The central research question guiding this study concerns the origin of early decorated, well-finished pottery in the Mixteca Alta, and whether they were imported products from other regions, or local copies, or if it was a simultaneous and mutually influential tradition present not only in the Mixteca Alta and greater Oaxaca area but also in different Mesoamerican regions. The focus of this study is Area A of Tayata, where excavations in 2004 revealed one of the largest pre-urban Formative centers in the Mixteca Alta. Tayata’s growth in social complexity is evident by 900/850 BC, when the site expanded significantly and initiated the construction of non-residential buildings and public spaces far in excess of prior phases of occupation. This data set includes architectural features and other deposits, which permit an analysis that compares the presence, and characteristics of pottery in different contexts. Data generated from this study come from 166 sherds selected for macroscopic fabric analysis, then 141 used for portable X-ray fluorescence analysis (pXRF), and then 60 for applying instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA), show relevant and potential conclusions to understand the local, regional and macroregional exchange and production of pottery. The sample includes utilitarian vessels, such as tecomates, jars, and braziers, and non-utilitarian vessels, such as well-finished vessels of gray and white wares, and focus on pan-Mesoamerican pottery styles identified across Early and Middle Formative times. Samples were from diverse contexts excavated at two different compounds, where Compound 1 shows the earliest material (ca. 1400 BC) and presents clear evidence of multi-craft production; and Compound 2 has later occupation, from Middle Formative to the beginning of Late/Terminal Formative, and its contexts correspond to an elite residence, an adjacent temple, and cremated human and animal burials. Multiple lines of evidence, including pottery production, multicrafting, goods and routes of exchange, architecture, and funerary practices, support the idea that Tayata in the Mixteca Alta, was immersed in social transformations observed across different regions during the Early/Middle Formative (ca. 1400 – 350 BC). Tayata’s interactions with multiple areas related to its local development, showing particularly similarities with the Central Valley of Oaxaca in public constructions, such as the one-room temple, and rituals, such as feasting and funerary practices. Results of macroscopic, contextual, and compositional analyses from Tayata’s pottery, show that pottery production at this site followed both regional and macroregional traditions. Tayata’s imported pottery was primarily associated with a Pacific-coast exchange route that crossed the lowland coastal Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the mountainous Nejapa/Yautepec region, and the highland Central Valleys of Oaxaca, and from there reaching the north of the Mixteca Alta, being a corridor of influence in both goods and ideas to the Formative centers in the region.

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