Craft production and socio-economic marginality: living on the periphery of urban Teotihuacan

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This dissertation investigates socio-economic strategies adopted by a small craftworking community situated on the edge of one of the earliest, largest and most complex cities in Mesoamerica. The focus of

This dissertation investigates socio-economic strategies adopted by a small craftworking community situated on the edge of one of the earliest, largest and most complex cities in Mesoamerica. The focus of investigation is San Jose 520, a hamlet located on the southeastern margin of Teotihuacan and occupied primarily during the Tlamimilolpa and Xolalpan phases (ca. A.D. 200-500). Its inhabitants were potters of low socio-economic status living in small, architecturally simple residential structures. The investigation complements much more numerous studies of higher-status groups residing in Teotihuacan's famous apartment compounds, much larger and architecturally more formal structures clustered primarily within built-up parts of the city. The founding residents of San Jose 520 might have initially been immigrants, arriving at Teotihuacan after most of the city was already filled in and occupied, and therefore settling in a spatially marginal area with limited potential for farming. Archaeological field and lab investigations demonstrate that they adopted ceramic production as a strategy of economic survival in a competitive urban system. They specialized in the manufacture of the outcurving bowl--a vessel widely used at Teotihuacan for food service and certain ritual activities. At smaller scales of production, these potters also made other types of serving and ritual vessels and figurines. Evidence relating to mortuary and domestic rituals indicates participation in a number of the rituals typical of other sectors of Teotihuacan society, but not all. The most general goal of this investigation is to improve understanding of how socially and spatially marginal peoples possessing low economic status developed and exploited viable economic niches in pre-industrial urban systems. The San Jose 520 potters appear dynamic in their economic adjustment--in part by enhancing their production system over time through the adoption of various specialized pot-making tools (some as yet undocumented for Teotihuacan), and to some extent by modifying their product line, they survived for many generations. Nevertheless, they never succeeded in significantly raising their economic status; at the time of their apparent disappearance sometime in the Xolalpan phase, these potters and their households continued to constitute a case study of urban poverty in a massive pre-industrial city.