Anthropological attention to landscapes has revealed them to be more than where people subsist: landscapes are inherently social entities. People create landscapes in their interactions with the environment and each other. People conceptualize, or imbue the landscape with meaning such that given places serve to impart cultural knowledge, identity, and social order. The link between people and their landscape thus underscores the importance of a landscape focus in the attempt to understand people. Furthermore, as a product of cultural behavior, the landscape constitutes a form of material culture that may be marked in ways that are consistent with how it is conceptualized. The material dimension of people's relationship with their landscape renders it a fruitful focus of archaeological inquiry. The main goal of this study is to identify how the Wixárika of Jalisco, Mexico, conceptualize the landscape, and to assess its relevance to understanding the ancient past. As adherents of a Mesoamerican tradition, the Wixárika offer a distinctive perspective on the landscape, and one with potential to elucidate the ancient past.
Given that a major share of a society's culturally significant cognitive features is expressed most productively by means of language, in this study I rely on aspects of language to ascertain Wixárika landscape conceptualization and materialization. Through the linguistic analysis of placenames and place-talk, I determine the meanings with which the Wixárika landscape is imbued. Through the analysis of the utterance of placenames, I provide examples of how the landscape is instilled with meaning. Utilizing native terminology, I characterize the content of the Wixárika landscape, and describe the process, in terms of movements, whereby the landscape is actualized.
Results indicate that the Wixárika conceptualize their landscape in diverse ways, including as a dwelling, a repository of memories, and a source of identity. The process and manifestation of Wixárika landscape conceptualization yield insights pertinent to understanding ancient landscapes, especially with regard to content and scope. This study is significant in that it represents the landscape from an indigenous perspective. It also sheds light on the construction of a living landscape, and thus is a useful framework for contemplating the past.