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Subsistence and Economic Diversity, Resilience and Transformation in the Northern Basin of Mexico

Students measuring in field

As part of a larger project – The Historical Ecology Project of the Northern Basin of Mexico – Dr. Chris Morehart is specifically studying the dual role of political and climatological change on human settlements and landscapes during a period of dramatic transformation in Mexico, the Epiclassic to Early Postclassic periods (ca. 650-1200 CE).

As part of a larger project – The Historical Ecology Project of the Northern Basin of Mexico – Dr. Chris Morehart is specifically studying the dual role of political and climatological change on human settlements and landscapes during a period of dramatic transformation in Mexico, the Epiclassic to Early Postclassic periods (ca. 650-1200 CE).

With several years of support from the National Science Foundation, the key focus of this research is to assess how local people responded to

  1. the macro-regional political economy and 
  2. climatic variation.

Documenting peoples’ strategic responses to these phenomena will shed light on how regional conditions affected livelihoods and, significantly, how local processes influenced regional transformation in the social, political and physical landscape.

Targeting such complexity requires considerable investment and extensive efforts to reconstruct both top-down and bottom-up processes. It requires research that is

  1. regional in scope and 
  2. intensively local, focusing on communities and households.

The project area covers over 200 square kilometers in several municipalities.

We are resurveying and mapping many sites documented almost 40 years ago. We are combining this work with a systematic program of test excavations as well as intensive horizontal excavations in a range of different sites, such as small hamlets, villages and centers.

This work is integrated with a program of paleo-ecological coring as well as geomorphological excavations in a series of areas with evidence of human impact, such as ancient canals and terraces.

This project integrates several lines of data and analysis:

  1. Analysis of the spatial and temporal organization of archaeological sites via intensive mapping and excavation
  2. Aerial photography
  3. VHR Satellite data (i.e., Quickbird and GeoEye)
  4. Geological and chemical soil characterization
  5. Paleobotanical and paleoethnobotanical data (macrobotanical, phytoliths, pollen and starch)
  6. Zooarchaeological data
  7. Artifact data, including chemical characterization of pottery and lithics
  8. Analysis of diatoms, ostracodes, calcareous algae and micro-mollusks
  9. Bioarchaeological data

In terms of the size of the project area, the investment in both regional and local investigation, as well as the multiple methodologies employed, this research represents one of the largest archaeological projects to be undertaken in the Basin of Mexico in decades.

The project is also an international collaboration, involving researchers and students from both the United States and Mexico.

As part of a larger project on the long-term historical ecology of the northern Basin of Mexico, this is engaged research. Project contributors work closely with community members, organizations, museums and, importantly, local initiatives, such as community-directed ecological protection and reforestation projects.

This project offers exceptional opportunities for ASU students to undertake research for theses and PhD dissertations and to collaborate internationally. Interested students and prospective graduate students are encouraged to contact Dr. Morehart and consider a graduate career at ASU studying the complex historical ecology of Mexico.

Supporting and Collaborating Institutions:

  • Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)
  • Luther College
  • University of Texas, Austin
  • Terra Nostra Earth Sciences Research
  • Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia

Funding Sources:

  • National Science Foundation 
  • Wenner-Gren Foundation
  • Digital Globe Foundation

 

Senior Project Members/Collaborators:

Christopher Morehart
Associate Professor
Arizona State University
School of Human Evolution and Social Change
(PI and field director)

Christopher Campisano
Associate Professor
Arizona State University
School of Human Evolution and Social Change
(geoarchaeological collaborator with broader historical ecology project, documenting Late Pleistocene-early Holocene landscape)
Dr. Destiny CriderDestiny Crider
Professor
Luther College
Museum Studies Department
(ceramicist)
Charles Frederick
Research Fellow
University of Texas
Department of Geography and the Environment
(geoarchaeologist)
Toño Lorenzini, Lic.
UDLA
(project management)
Abigail Meza Peñaloza 
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Alejandra Alonso
Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia
Manuel Palacios-Fest
Terra Nostra Earth Sciences Research
(paleoecologist)

Graduate Students Working on the Project or Who have Participated in the Field:

Christopher Caseldine
Arizona State University
School of Human Evolution and Social Change
(surveyor, mapping team)
Maria García
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
(bioarchaeologist, surveyor, mapping team)
Mechell Frazier
Arizona State University
School of Human Evolution and Social Change
(surveyor, mapping team, surface collection team)
Omar Márquez Portillo
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
(bioarchaeologist, surveyor, mapping team, surface collection team)
Sofia Pacheco-Fores
Arizona State University
School of Human Evolution and Social Change
(bioarchaeologist, surveyor, mapping team)