Archaeology and Mapping

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[edit] The use of maps in Archaeology

In Archaeology, mapping serves an important function when searching for and documenting archaeological sites. Maps are especially important for locating archaeological sites during surveys. During survey work, archaeologists walk along routes within a predetermined area where there is a high probability of encountering cultural remains. They also collect archaeological materials that are on the ground surface, since these indicate where archaeological remains are located. At this point the geographical location of the remains are documented, and archaeological intervention can proceed to the next stage. During surveys, archaeologists used to rely primarily on compasses and pacing to determine the location of archaeological remains, but now technology such as GPS allows to much more precisely obtain this in formation. After the survey of a region is completed, the information collected throughout this process can be integrated into maps that show changes in settlement patterns and resource exploitation in the area. Documenting this is vital to understanding the cultural changes in a region, especially when they are prone to destruction by development or natural causes.

[edit] The Basin of Mexico Survey

[edit] Development of the Project

The book The Basin of Mexico: Ecological Processes in the Evolution of a Civilization presents the results of a long-term project that aimed to document the archaeological remains in the Basin of Mexico. This settlement pattern survey lasted from 1960-1975, and was designed to better understand this major culture area. Sanders et al. [1] explain that at the time of the Spanish Conquest, the Basin of Mexico was densely populated. It follows that gaining a better understanding of the history of the region and how it achieved such a centrality during pre-Columbian times is a noteworthy enterprise.

This project was based on the premise that civilization equaled a socioeconomic system characterized by centralization of political authority and internal differentiation of an economic and political nature. The challenge this presents archaeologists is that is designing methods to better capture these two aspects of the region. Sanders et al. (1979) employed a materialist paradigm to explain the emergence of these phenomena in the Basin of Mexico.

[edit] Project Objectives

At the time the survey began in 1960 the neighboring Teotihuacán valley, which was part of the area covered in the survey, was still predominantly rural, and thus provided good interpretive analogues for farming and subsistence practices. For this reason it was assumed that the preservation in the Teotihuacán Valley would be better than in areas closer to Mexico City.

The objectives of the Basin of Mexico Survey were outlined by Sanders and colleagues at a conference organized in 1960, and held at the University of Chicago. First, the project aimed to trace the development of agriculture, with a focus on irrigation and agricultural terracing, as well as the development of settlement types in the area. Another objective of the survey was to construct a population profile. Finally, the archaeologists organizing the project wanted to explore the relationship between phenomena such as settlement patters, agricultural techniques, and demography was they related to cultural evolution. The areas considered in the survey were the Teotihuacán Valley, the Basin of Mexico, and the Central Mexican Symbiotic Region.

[edit] Mapping the Basin of Mexico

In order to complete the survey, these archaeologists faced the task of transforming the raw survey data into regional settlement pattern maps for each time and region in the surveyed area. During the 1960s and 1970s, Mexico City grew rapidly, so some of the proposed area to be covered in the surveyed was affected. This urban expansion led to the destruction of cultural remains, an event which limited the collection of data that had been outlined in 1960. The strategy that Sanders, Parsons, and Santley employed was that of 100% survey, where no sampling was done and instead all cultural materials were collected from the ground surface. Although this strategy was initially costly and time consuming, in the long term it provided rich information for interpretation. The natural topography allowed for the definition of a meaningful survey area, since it followed the natural topography of the region. Thus, the area surveyed in the Basin of Mexico encompasses a 7000 km2 region.

To construct the Basin of Mexico basemap, Sanders, Parsons, and Santley turned to maps that had been previously produced by Comisión de Estudios del Territorio Nacional (Cetenal)and by La Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional. They chose a 50 m contour interval, since it proved to be the most useful for the scale at which the map was drawn. Using this combination of sources proved to be problematic for locating some sites, especially at lower elevations, since there were some errors in the National Defense maps, at which point they relied solely on the Cetenal maps. The settlement localities were plotted on the Basin of Mexico basemap using a symbolic notation adapted from the Parsons (1971) [2] survey. To mark the boundaries of Teotihuacán, Sanders et al. turned to the Teotihuacán Map (Millon et al. 1973) [3] .

[edit] Implications of the Basin of Mexico Maps

The data generated by the Basin of Mexico Survey was eventually published in a book, accompanied by a series of well-drawn maps which represented the distribution of human settlement in the area over a period of approximately 3,000 years. These maps also integrate useful information that covers social and natural factors [4]. Blanton [5] on the other hand, considers these maps to be the main contribution of the survey. The maps were printed in a scale of 1:125,000, and they represent the data for the entire project, which spans all the periods in the area from the Early Formative up to the arrival of the Spanish. One of the shortcomings Blanton points for the project is the uncritical attitude the authors exhibit throughout the work. Sanders et al. approached the survey as a test of the hypotheses set out by cultural ecological theories, and in this way they narrate the process of conducting the fieldwork of the survey. Blanton's critique is that Sanders et al. only test hypothese for which they already know the answer to, therefore defeating the purpose of doing the survey. He does mention that the maps produced from the project are the only raw data presented, increasing the value they will have for future archaeologists who might undertake research in this region.

[edit] References

  • Sanders, W. T., Parsons, J. R., Santley, R.S. 1979 The Basin of Mexico: Ecological Processes in the Evolution of a Civilization. Academic Press, New York.
  • Parsons, Jeffrey R. 1971 Prehispanic settlement patterns in the Texcoco region, Mexico. Memoirs of the Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, 3, Ann Arbor.
  • Millon, René, Bruce Drewitt, and George Cowgill. 1973 Urbanization at Teotihuacán, Mexico, the Teotihuacán map. Austin, University of Texas Press.
  • Boucher, Douglas H. 1980 Review of The Basin of Mexico: Ecological Processes in the Evolution of A Civilization. By Sanders, W.T., Parsons, J.F., and Santley, R.S. The Quaterly Review of BIology 55(4):463-464.
  • Blanton, Richard. 1981 Review of The Basin of Mexico: Ecological Processes in the Evolution of A Civilization. By Sanders, W.T., Parsons, J.F., and Santley, R.S. American Anthropologist 83(1):223-224.


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