Classic to Postclassic in Highland Central Mexico

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Science  17 Mar 1972:
Vol. 175, Issue 4027, pp. 1208-1215
DOI: 10.1126/science.175.4027.1208


The data and argument we have presented converge on three points.

1) With the decline and abandonment of Teotihuacan by the end of the Metepec phase (Teotihuacan IV), the valleys of Mexico and of Puebla-Tlax-cala witnessed the development of a ceramic culture that was represented, on the one hand, by obvious Teotihuacan derivations in presumably ritual ware and possible Teotihuacan derivations in simpler pottery of red-on-buff, and, on the other hand, by elements that seem to represent a resurgence of Preclassic characteristics. Whether the development is explained through a measure of outside influence or as a local phenomenon, the direct derivation of a substantial portion of the complex from Classic Teotihuacan is unmistakable. This transitional horizon predated the arrival of plumbate tradeware in highland central Mexico.

2) The transitional horizon coincided with (and no doubt was an integral part of) an alteration of Classic settlement patterns so drastic that it must bespeak political disruption. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that the Postclassic center of Tula represented a significant force in the highlands at that time. There is no evidence that the center of Cholula, which may even have been substantially abandoned during the previous period, was able to exert any force at this juncture; it appears more likely that Cholula was largely reoccupied after the abandonment of Teotihuacan. There is no direct evidence of domination by Xochicalco or any other known major foreign center, although some ceramic traits suggest that relatively minor influences may have emanated from Xochicalco; unfortunately, the state of research at that center does not permit a determination at this time. Thus the most reasonable view on the basis of present evidence is that the abandonment of Teotihuacan was not the direct result of the strength of another centralized power, although some outside populations may have been involved in a minor way. Whatever the proximate cause, however, it is now clear that the abandonment of Teotihuacan led to a period of Balkanization in which no single center, or pair of centers, were dominant in the highlands.

3) The transitional horizon saw the immediate development of a cultural distinction between the Valley of Mexico and the Valley of Puebla-Tlaxcala, a distinction in which differential degrees of outside cultural influence may have played a part. This distinction was magnified in the early Postclassic, with the rising power of Tula on the west and of Cholula on the east, and Balkanization ended with the growth of empire.