Heterogeneity, identity, and complexity: Negotiating status and authority in Terminal Formative coastal Oaxaca

Sarah Barr Barber
Dept. of Anthropology, University of Colorado at Boulder
June, 2005


This dissertation is a study of heterogeneity and social negotiation during the first period of regional political centralization in the in the lower Rio Verde valley of Pacific coastal Oaxaca, Mexico. Like most other regions of Mesoamerica, the Precolumbian culture history of the lower Verde entailed increasing sociopolitical complexity throughout the Formative Period, resulting in a centralized regional polity by the Terminal Formative Period (150 B.C.--A.D. 250). Looking at heterogeneity and negotiation within this early polity, I argue that negotiation of local community, elite status, and regional political identities was a significant process in creating the specific political formation that developed during the Terminal Formative in the lower Verde. I further argue that the Terminal Formative polity was much more decentralized than traditional approaches to sociopolitical complexity would predict. Maintaining a centralized regional polity required the active consent and participation of local elites living away from the polity center. Local elites, in turn, maintained strong ties to their communities. The evidence suggests that social and political mandates came from below more often than they came from above.