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The Archaeology of Death in Ancient Mesoamerica

James Louis Fitzsimmons, University of New Hampshire/Middlebury College, Summer Fellow 2011

Although there is a tremendous amount of scholarship on mortuary behavior for societies like the Maya or the Aztecs, there has been a notable lack of cross-area comparison within the academic literature on Mesoamerica. My second book project addresses this issue by

  1. reviewing the latest research and illuminating the underlying practices of the major funerary traditions in Mesoamerica;
  2. creating a picture of funerary rituals in societies that are often overlooked in the broader archaeology of death; and
  3. providing a framework for comparing mortuary behavior across the many different societies of Mesoamerica
This project is under contract from the University of Texas Press, and during the next few months I will be polishing the manuscript for a submission in Spring 2012.

Over the course of this Fellowship, I have written two chapters for this manuscript: Chapter 4: Western and Northwestern Mexico, and Chapter 1: Paleoindian and Archaic Origins. The former covers a breadth of cultures and mortuary traditions in western Mexico, from Chupicuaro and Teuchitlán to Chalchihuites and, of course, the Tarascans. The latter explores what we do (and do not) know about the origins of traditions we consider commonplace in ancient Mesoamerica: for example, burials beneath floors, dedication or termination rituals, and the use of red ochre or cinnabar are all well-established Mesoamerican behaviors which predate the Formative. I have also augmented the existing research for some of my chapters, most notably Chapter 2: The Gulf Coast, with materials in the collections that have been difficult to obtain through interlibrary loan. Likewise, I have edited and submitted the final version of a paper accepted for publication by the journal Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing, and written a curricular proposal for an Archaeology Minor at Middlebury College, to be submitted for review in Fall 2011.