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Out of Many, One: Collective Governance and Its Visual Ramifications in Pre-Columbian Jalisco, Mexico

Christopher Beekman, University of Colorado, Denver, Fellow 2015–2016

During my fellowship, I developed a book on collective governance in Mesoamerica circa 100 BC–AD 500. My case study is the Tequila valleys of highland Jalisco, where my archaeological research has identified an association between corporate groups and specific buildings within a larger architectural template. This association forces us to reassess characteristics of western Mexico that are attributed to a lack of sociopolitical complexity—the absence of sculpture aggrandizing individual rulers, the widespread distribution of hollow ceramic figures, and the modest size of public architecture. Seen within the particular political context of collective governance, in which multiple elite lineages existed side-by-side and were unable to monopolize power or the production of visual culture, I reinterpret these features in new ways. My research came to focus on three major components: (1) composing a history of research in western Mexico, and examining how the discovery of the archaeological Olmec and the definition of Mesoamerica led to the region’s marginalization in the 1940s; (2) identifying the culturally specific meanings of the symbols of authority and identity depicted in the region’s hollow ceramic figures; and (3) developing my narrative on how visual culture was used to reproduce and challenge power relationships. I have drafted three chapters in addition to those finished prior to the fellowship.