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Comparative Understanding of Peripheral Urban Gardens and Garden Functions

Barbara Stark, Arizona State University, Fellow 2009–2010

During my time at Dumbarton Oaks I was able to complete a paper draft concerning “Comparative Perspectives Concerning Urban Green Space in Archaeological Complex Societies: A Review.” After examining concepts about green space, I focused on gardens and parks (including groves). To understand the social roles of these urban green spaces in premodern states and empires, the activities, contents, and contexts of gardens and parks are approached by assembling and discussing comparative data from twenty societies summarized in three tables. The paper also evaluates biases in current data (including weak coverage on political economy and a focus on elites), and the implications of the data for archaeological practice. Three interpretive topics are examined in more detail: the role of social competition in garden and park elaboration, the role of garden symbolism for states and empires, and the implications of private, semi-public, and public access to gardens and parks in relation to theoretical approaches involving collective action theory.

A second paper draft called “Peripheral Urban Green Space in a Mesoamerican Capital: Cerro de las Mesas” addresses reserve spaces (no residential features detected) around the periphery of an archaeological capital in Veracruz, Mexico. These are evaluated as green spaces forming part of the boundary of the settlement. The boundary is more appropriately conceptualized as a transition zone because of the peripheral mosaic of installations and land uses at urban margins. Comparative data provide examples of peripheral urban gardens and parks and the reasons for their locations; the comparative cases point to possible archaeological interpretations of the reserve spaces at Cerro de las Mesas.