6047 Silsby Hall
Hanover, NH 03755
deborah.l.nichols at dartmouth.edu
My current research on the development of early cities and states in focuses on Central Mexico. One area of research has involved a reanalysis of artifacts and excavation data from the site of Cerro Portezuelo in the eastern Basin of Mexico that George Brainerd excavated in the mid-1950s to understand the Classic to Postclassic transition. The questions he asked are still salient. A large part of the ceramics, mostly pottery sherds, and other artifacts were loaned to UCLA with the understanding that they would be more fully studied and returned to the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, Mexico. In 1992 the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History took over responsibility for the collection and obtained a loan agreement with INAH in 2000. A finding aid to the Cerro Portezuelo Archives at the UCLA Fowler Museum of Culture History Archaeology Facility is available at http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt50001959I
In collaboration with and George Cowgill (Arizona State University), I initiated a project to reanalyze the artifacts and excavation data collected by Brainerd to better understand the nature of relations between the Early Classic city of Teotihuacan and its immediate hinterlands and the change from the Teotihuacan state system to Postclassic city-state organization. Because of Cerro Portezuelo's long occupation that began in the Late/Terminal Formative and continued beyond the Spanish conquest, it is a strategic site to investigate cycles of state formation over this long span. The project “Spanning the Classic to Postclassic at a Teotihuacan Regional Center,” was supported by the National Science Foundation (Grants No. 0514187-Dartmouth College, 0513979-Arizona State University, and 0504015T-Missouri University Research Reactor), the Claire Garber Goodman Fund-Dartmouth College, Rockefeller Center Urban Studies Grant-Dartmouth College, the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the Archaeological Research Institute, Arizona State University. http://archaeology.asu.edu/vm/mesoamerica/CPZ/index.html
The project has been a collaborative effort of various specialists: architecture (Frederic Hicks), lithics (William Parry and Michael Glascock), animal bone (Wendy Teeter), ground stone (Martin Biskowski and Karen Watson), burials (Michael Spence, Christine White, and Fred Longstaffe), and ceramics (Sarah Clayton, Destiny Crider, Christopher Garraty, Hector Neff, George Cowgill, and Deborah Nichols). Excavation plans and maps were redrawn for publication. We correlated ceramic types defined earlier for Cerro Portezuelo by Brainerd, Hicks, and Nicholson with more recent typologies and proposed important refinements to the site’s ceramic chronologies. We undertook geochemical source analyses of samples of ceramic and lithic artifacts to examine changes in patterns of production, distribution, and consumption from a diachronic perspective. http://archaeology.asu.edu/vm/mesoamerica/CPZ/index.html. In some cases, it has been possible to link particular ceramic types and variants to chemical composition groups. We also applied oxygen isotope analysis to human skeletal remains to determine their geographic identities. The findings have been presented at professional meetings and in reports and will appear in a series of articles as a Special Section of the journal Ancient Mesoamerica.
Among the important findings of the project, we established that occupation of the site began in the Late/Terminal Formative/Preclassic, associated with Patlachique/Tezoyuca ceramics. Our findings indicate that, contrary to most models, Teotihuacan did not exert strong central control of the economy of the southeast Basin of Mexico during the Early Classic period. Cerro Portezuelo obtained obsidian from Michoacan, as well as the Pachuca source controlled by Teotihuacan, and imported Early Classic pottery from the western Basin of Mexico, as well as from the Teotihuacan Valley. Cerro Portezuelo was probably administered by the regional center at Cerro de la Estrella or Azcapotzalco. Interference by such provincial centers with Teotihuacan’s trade and political relations with its hinterlands likely was one factor that contributed to the collapse of the great city and its state system.
In the wake of the political vacuum created by Teotihuacan’s collapse, Cerro Portezuelo became the capital of a small polity whose interactions in the Early Epiclassic shifted to the southern Basin of Mexico. However, as the Tula state to the north expanded, Cerro Portezuelo shifted its networks to the eastern and northwestern Basin of Mexico and adopted styles of material culture prominent at Tula. Cerro Portezuelo’s status as a city-state center came to an end with the political and military volatility of the Middle Postclassic. However, expanding commerce through Aztec markets brought ceramics and stone tools to Cerro Portezuelo manufactured in other parts of the Basin of Mexico. A decentralized system of markets, city-states and confederations in the Middle Postclassic experienced increasing integration in the Late Postclassic as Tenochtitlan became the dominant imperial capital and commercial center. No single Postclassic state before the Aztec Empire ever dominated the Central highlands as Teotihuacan did, but by the Late Postclassic period the growth of market and tribute systems created the greatest degree of regional economic integration of any prehispanic period. The Spanish conquest reduced Tenochtitlan’s position and Aztec villagers at Cerro Portezuelo and elsewhere in the Basin of Mexico relied more on local production for household goods in the early decades of the Colonial period.
Our findings support broader critiques of the notion that hinterlands were not passive producers and consumers in early states. Viewed from the hinterlands we see the heterogeneity of relations between hinterlands and powerful state centers and how places like Cerro Portezuelo altered their economic and social affiliations and interactions with shifting seats of political power in Central Mexico.
For a comparative longitudinal perspective, Destiny Crider and Christopher Garraty, and I are using source data to examine the changing political economy of the Teotihuacan Valley from the break up of Teotihuacan and formation of Epiclassic polities through expansion of Tula’s influence, its collapse, the formation of the Aztec empire and the Spanish Conquest.
Working on a broader front, I am co-editing with Christopher Pool of the University of Kentucky a new Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology as part of series to be published by Oxford University Press. The handbook includes topical and regional articles on current research written by leading scholars from Europe, Japan, Latin America, and North America.
Publishing and scholarly peer review are critical to scholarship and the world of scientific and scholarly publication is undergoing significant change as the electronic age offers new opportunities and poses new challenges. I serve as Chair of the American Anthropological Association’s Committee on the Future of Print and Electronic publishing. http://www.aaanet.org/cmtes/CFPEP.cfm. I also Chair the Society for American Archaeology Publications Committee.
Selected Recent Publications
- Nichols, D.L, and J. R. Parsons Thomas H. Charlton (1948–2010). American Anthropologist 113.
- Nichols, D. L. in press Special Section: Cerro Portezuelo. Ancient Mesoamerica.
- Nichols, D. L. H. Neff, and G. L. Cowgill, in press, Cerro Portezuelo: State Formation and Hinterlands in the Prehispanic Basin of Mexico. Ancient Mesoamerica.
- Nichols, D.L. Merchants and Markets: The Archaeology of Aztec Commerce at Otumba, Mexico. In Merchants, Trade and Exchange in the Pre-Columbian World, edited by Kenneth G. Hirth. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections, Washington D.C.
- Nichols D.L., 2011 A City Named for a Cactus—and What a City It Was. Dig11 (04): 11-2
- Nichols D. L. 2011 Ingenuity at Work. Dig 11 (04):12–13Nichols, D. L., and S. Evans 2010 Aztec Studies. Ancient Mesoamerica.
- Nichols, D. L. C. Elson, L. G. Cecil, N, Neivens de Estrada, M. D. Glascock, and P. Mikkelson 2009 Chiconautla, Mexico: A Crossroads of Aztec Trade and Politics. Latin American Antiquity.
- Brumfiel, E. M., and D. L. Nichols 2009 Bitumen, Blades, and Beads: Prehispanic Craft Production and the Domestic Economy. In Housework, edited by Kenneth Hirth. Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 19:239–251.
- Nichols, D. 2008 Artisans, Markets, and Merchants. In The Aztecs. Gary M. Feinman and Elizabeth M. Brumfiel, eds. pp. 105–120. Abrams, New York.
- Crown, P. L. Crown and D. L. Nichols and D. L. Nichols 2008 Introduction. In Multidisciplinary Approaches to Social Violence in the Prehispanic Southwest, edited by Deborah L. Nichols and Patricia L. Crown, pp. 1–6. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
- Charlton, T. H. C. O. Charlton, H. Neff, and D. L. Nichol 2008 Aztec Otumba: AD 1200–1600: Patterns of Production, Distribution, and Consumption of Pottery. In Pottery Economics in Mesoamerica: Integrated Approaches, edited by Christopher Pool and George Bey III, pp. 237–266. University of Arizona Press, Tucson. (Ts)
- Nichols D. L., R. Alan Covey, and K. Abdi). 2008 Rise of Civilization and Urbanism. In Encyclopedia of Archaeology, edited by Deborah Pearsall, pp. 1003–1015. Elsevier, Oxford.
- Nichols, D. L. 2007 Results of the Archaeological Investigations of a Prehispanic Irrigation System Near Santa Clara Coatitlan, Mexico. In Prehispanic Settlement Patterns in the Cuautitlan Region, Mexico, edited by William T. Sanders and L. J. Gorenflo, pp. 317–326. Occasional Papers in Anthropology No. 29 Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park.
- Crider D. , D. L. Nichols, H. Neff, and M. D. Glascock 2007 In the Aftermath of Teotihuacan: Epiclassic Pottery Production and Distribution in the Teotihuacan Valley, Mexico. Latin American Antiquity 18: 123–143.
- Nichols D. L., C. D. Frederick, L. Morett Alatorre, and F. Sánchez Martínez 2006 Water Management and Political Economy in Formative Period Central Mexico. In Ritual Water Management, edited by Lisa Lucero and Barbara Fash, pp. 51–66. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
- Nichols, D. L. 2006 Preindustrial Cities: Demographic Shining Stars or Black Holes? In Urbanism in the Preindustrial World: Cross-Cultural Approaches, edited by Glenn R. Storey, pp. 330–340. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.
- Nichols, D. L. 2006 Archaeology on Foot: Jeffrey Parsons and Anthropology at the University of Michigan. In Retrospectives: Works and Lives of Michigan Anthropologists, edited by Derek Brereton, pp. 106–135. Michigan Discussions in Anthropology Vol. 16. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
- Charlton. T. H. and D. L. Nichols 2005 Settlement Pattern Archaeology in the Teotihuacan Valley and the Northeastern Basin of Mexico A. P. (After Parsons). In Settlement and Subsistence in Early Civilizations: Essays Reflecting the Contributions of Jeffrey R. Parsons, edited by Richard E. Blanton, pp. 43–62, UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, Los Angeles.
- Nichols, D. L. 2005 Chinampas. Calliope 16 (4): 12–13.
- Nichols, D. L. 2005 Tenochtitlan, Calliope 16 (4): 8–12.