Robert M. Rosenswig
Interests: Anthropological Archaeology; Development of Complexity; Origins of Agriculture; Settlement Patterns; Ceramic Analysis
My research focuses on the emergence of sociopolitical complexity and the development of agriculture in Mesoamerica. Archaeologists are unique among social scientists as they possess data stretching back over centuries and millennia of humanity's past. With such long-term archaeological evidence we can study the origins of institutionalized hierarchy that permeates modern life as well as the origins of food production needed to sustain such specialized cultural organization. How and why did complex societies (dependent on agriculture) evolve from the egalitarian hunter-gatherers that constitute 99% of human history? In order to explore these fundamental questions, I conduct fieldwork in two areas of Mesoamerica: in the Soconusco Region of southern Mexico and in northern Belize.
The Soconusco, a section of the Pacific coast that spans the modern border of Chiapas and Guatemala, is where some of the earliest ceramic-use, settled life and social complexity are documented in Mesoamerica. I began the Soconusco Formative Project in 2000 to explore the long-term local processes of agricultural origins and the development of social stratification. This research has interpreted developments in the Soconusco in relation to the type and intensity of interaction that local elites maintained with their counterparts on Mexico's Gulf Coast. The Soconusco Formative Project has thus far focused primarily on the Early Formative Period (1200-900 B.C.) apogee of the Olmec capital of San Lorenzo. The project has collected regional, 100% coverage settlement survey data from the 3500-year occupation of the region within a 28 sq km area of the coastal plane. Excavations at the site of Cuauhtémoc, occupied during the entire Early Formative Period (1600-900 B.C.) and beginning of the Middle Formative Period (900-800 B.C.), document how one Soconusco community fared for the 800 years period before, during and after the apogee of San Lorenzo. The next stage of Soconusco Formative Project research will expand the survey coverage and encompass many environmental zones beyond the coastal plane. The next stage of research will also include excavations at Middle and Late Formative sites contemporary, with the nearby regional capital of Izapa.
In contrast to the Soconusco, the inhabitants of northern Belize were some of the last people in Mesoamerica to begin using ceramics, live in settled villages and develop complex social organization. Since 1999, the Northern Belize Archaic Project has documented ten previously unknown Preceramic sites and carried out excavations at four of them. During the latter part of the Late Archaic Period (2500-900 B.C.), the inhabitants of northern Belize lived alongside the Early Formative ceramic-using villagers who occupied most other parts of Mesoamerica. The coexistence of groups with such different adaptations demonstrates that the origins of sedentary village life and the use of ceramics was not a universal development across all Mesoamerica. Instead, the inhabitants of northern Belize maintained their Archaic adaptation (i.e., non-sedentary and non-ceramic using horticulturalism) for over half a millennia longer than did their neighbors in the Soconusco, Gulf Coast and highlands of Mexico, Honduras and many other areas of Mesoamerica.
In 2005 and 2008, the San Estevan Archaeological Project was undertaken as a UAlbany Fieldschool that at the San Estevan site center. We documented extensive Middle and Late Formative Period (900 B.C. - A.D. 300) occupation at the site core and at ten mound in the surrounding area. This occupation encompasses the first settled villages in the area as well as the subsequent development of the earliest states in the region. Combined with the results of the Northern Belize Archaic Project, we are documenting more than two and a half millennia of occupation in the region.