The nature of governance in secondary centers of the Classic Period, Mixteca Alta, Oaxaca, Mexico

Verenice Yunuen Heredia Espinoza, Purdue University


The study of secondary centers is crucial to understanding how a state functions as they are important points of interaction between state authorities and ordinary households. In this dissertation I focus on the nature of political organization of lower-level centers of the Early Classic Period (A.D. 200–500) in the Mixteca Alta, Oaxaca, Mexico. A previous comparative analysis of architectural arrangements at secondary centers between the Valley of Oaxaca and the Mixteca Alta indicated that single plaza groups were the major form of public architecture. I interpreted these enclosed plaza groups as the residences of elite governing households suggesting dominance of secondary centers by single households in the Mixteca Alta. Conversely, in the Valley of Oaxaca secondary centers show a pattern of multiple enclosed plaza groups, indicating that multiple households shared administrative functions. The main question I ask are Mixteca Alta centers, characterized by a single plaza pattern, imply less political centralization or a broader span of control at the secondary level? or alternatively, do these single plaza groups suggest that the state vested power in single households? To answer these questions, I focused my research on four secondary centers of the Mixteca Alta. Using intensive site survey and systematic random collection as my main methods of data recovery, I collected artifacts over whole site areas in relation to public buildings. By comparing the distribution of various artifact categories within the site limits, including costly goods, in relation to zones of the site containing public architecture, I evaluated the degree of political centralization. Although the results varied from site to site, the overall conclusions are that political actors did not entirely control material or symbolic resources to negotiate their status. These centers appear to have been only moderately stratified. This implies a form of systemic power, perhaps a bureaucratic system, in which individual power holders were not required to engage in status negotiation.




Blanton, Purdue University.

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