Ben A. Nelson – “Power, Distance, and Mesoamerican-US Southwestern Interaction”

Ben Nelson

“Trade goods” found at impressive distances from their sources in today’s American Southwest and Mexico have inspired archaeologists to think of imperial reach, commercial exploitation, mercantilism, and explosive growth of power centers.  Turquoise, copper, macaws, and pseudo-cloisonné ceramics, along with symbols such as butterflies and the horned serpent, have long been seen as evidence of sustained interaction.  Recent discoveries apparently marking widespread consumption of cacao beverages in Southwestern sites add to the intrigue.  Yet Mesoamerican-Southwestern interaction is typically assessed from the point of view of single goods, usually with the assumption that their value was commercial, or from or single sites, seen as trade centers.  New work assesses occurrences of multiple objects and symbols in a wide range of sites, focusing especially on the critical intervening area of Northern Mexico.  The patterns seem inconsistent with expectations that come from existing ideas, leading to new interpretations.  Rather than trade goods, the valued objects are better thought of as costly signals of trust between distant partners, including some in the supernatural realm.  These relationships in turn served local leaders as practical and cosmological validation of their political power.

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