Prehispanic Adaptation in the Ixtapalapa Region, Mexico

Science  24 Mar 1972:
Vol. 175, Issue 4028, pp. 1317-1326
DOI: 10.1126/science.175.4028.1317


Data accumulated during an intensive survey of Prehispanic settlements in the Ixtapalapa Peninsula region enables me to formulate hypotheses regarding the nature of sociocultural change and adaptation during the Prehispanic period. A summary of these hypotheses follows. The Early and Middle Formative period was a time of low population, when most communities were located on or near the agriculturally productive lakeshore plain zone. During the subsequent period, attendant upon the development in the central highlands of more productive varieties of maize, population increased, and for the first time the agriculturally marginal piedmont zone was colonized. This process may have resulted in the enhancement of status differentiation in these societies because some communities maintained access to the preferred land along the lakeshore plain zone. Also, occupation of a variety of environmental zones may have encouraged symbiosis, which could have further enhanced status differentiation as some individuals or groups became the focuses of exchange networks. During the Late Formative period, developments along this line proceeded throughout the Valley of Mexico, but later, during the Terminal Formative period, some groups prospered more than others because they were favorably situated for the construction of large-scale irrigation systems. The foremost example of the latter is Teotihuacan, which eventually dominated the population of the Ixtapalapa Peninsula region, as well as the remainder of the Valley of Mexico and probably adjacent groups in the central highlands.

From A.D. 0 to A.D. 700, the region was dominated by Teotihuacan. This was a period of low population and apparently rural settlement patterns. A similar situation existed during the Late Toltec period as Tula dominated the region. I suggest that Teotihuacan and Tula had similar relationships with their rural peripheries; specifically, they were largely extractive and so dominated rural populations that they were the only important focuses of exchange and craft specialization. Population declined in the rural areas in part because they were too far from the urban centers to participate effectively in the exchange networks. In contrast, the Aztec period was characterized by the presence of a number of urban centers scattered widely over the valley; these centers served as the focuses of exchange and specialization. A similar situation may have characterized the Early Toltec period. During the Aztec period, the combination of intensive local and valleywide symbiosis plus the introduction of chinampas allowed the population to reach the greatest density of the Prehispanic period.