States and households: The social organization of terrace agriculture in Postclassic Mixteca Alta, Oaxaca, Mexico

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This is a study of agricultural intensification on the household scale in a Mixtec cacicazgo of Oaxaca, Mexico, during the Postclassic period (A.D. 800-1521). Through archaeological, ethnohistorical, and ethnographic methods this study investigates the roles of the state and the independent farming household in the emergence and operation of intensive agricultural systems, and agricultural terracing. I present data on two Postclassic houses and residential and agricultural terraces excavated at the site of Nicayuju in the municipality of San Juan Teposcolula, Oaxaca. Artifact and architectural data are reported. Ethnographic information is presented and used to create a model for terrace construction that is tested against the terrace excavation data presented in this article. It is argued that Robert Netting's agrarian smallholder model may characterize the social organization of intensive agricultural production in prehispanic Mixtec society and that intensification may have functioned without direct state direction. The application of the agrarian smallholder model in Prehispanic Mesoamerica is significant in that it suggests that long-lasting and environmentally viable methods of agricultural production may originate and operate at the household and community levels. Copyright

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-22
Number of pages20
JournalLatin American Antiquity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2006


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • History

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