Dissertation Research: An Archaeological Study of the Aztec-Tarascan Frontier

Project: Research project

Project Details


Under the direction of Dr. Kenneth Hirth, Mr. Jay Silverstein will collect data for his doctoral dissertation. The goal of his archaeological project is to understand the organization of a border area, located in the Guerrero region of Mexico, which separated the Tarascan and Aztec empires. In late prehistoric times two great empires - the better known Aztec and the less studied Tarascan arose in central Mexico. Both extended their ranges through conquest and the incorporation of subject peoples and Guerrero, where their borders met, was the scene of extensive and prolonged conflict. Ethnohistoric sources record major battles in the region. Archaeologists rarely have the opportunity to study such a well defined and demarcated frontier and, in part, Mr. Silverstein wishes to define the material correlates of such a situation. Although the border was defended, it also remained inhabited by local peoples who were present before the establishment of either empire. Preliminary data indicates that exchange took place across the boundary and people continued to live in this region. Mr. Silverstein wishes to understand the nature of the trade and interaction involved. Researchers interested in the rise and functioning of empires have tended to focus more on the `core` or capital regions of empires and less on peripheral areas. To gain a better perspective, both core and periphery must be taken into account and this research will provide insight into how both the Aztecs and Tarascans governed. Mr. Silverstein has designed a two stage plan. First, sites known from previous research and air photo interpretation will be sampled and mapped. Secondly, an intensive field survey will be conducted over a 60 km square area between the nearest Aztec and Tarascan habitations. Sites located will be plotted on air photos, sampled through intensive collection and all visible features will be sketched and photographed. Artifact samples will be analyzed to provide information on both chronology and exchange. This research is important for several reasons. It will provide new information on how prehistoric empires functioned and interacted. It will help to fill in the archaeological record for a poorly known part of Mexico and will assist in training a promising young scientist.

Effective start/end date2/1/981/31/99


  • National Science Foundation: $11,800.00


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