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Waves of Influence: Revisiting Coastal Connections between Pre-Columbian Northwest South America and Mesoamerica

Dumbarton Oaks Music Room
October 11  –  12, 2019
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Pre-Columbian Studies Symposium, Christopher S. Beekman and Colin McEwan, Symposiarchs

Since the days of Max Uhle, Marshall Saville, René Verneau, Paul Rivet, and Samuel Lothrop, scholars have drawn attention to archaeological evidence linking the Pacific Coast societies of South America with those of Mexico and Central America. Investigators have pointed to the shared occurrence of shaft tombs, stirrup spout vessels, copper-alloy axe monies and bells, and even hairless dogs. This early trait-list approach presented intriguing data that have attracted periodic attention, but generated few satisfactory explanations. This symposium addresses afresh the evidence for interaction along the contiguous coastal littoral from western Mexico to northern Peru. Participants will consider the history of local and regional waterborne contacts, as well as long distance voyaging, as alternate modes of movement along the coast. How can we recognize the beginnings of open sea navigation in the archaeological record? What is the likelihood of early cultigens including maize, cacao, and chili peppers being transported by sea? How does new ceramic, metallurgical, sculptural, and architectural comparative evidence point to specific geographic locations that were in contact with one another from Formative times onward? And how and why did coastal communication vary over time? Far from following a culture area model, individual centers emerged to form local, regional, and long-distance networks, which structured coastal communication and navigation. We seek to reshape our views of Pre-Columbian societies around dynamic and overlapping social networks that connected, rather than separated, different geographical areas.

Image: This vessel depicts an unusual modeled central face flanked by depictions of steering boards (guares) for rafts. Rows of sea birds decorate the upper registers, together with appliqué marine shells (possibly Spondylus princeps).


Bliss Symposium Awards for students (deadline: August 1, 2019)

Jar, 1200–1500 CE. Peru, Ica or Chincha Valley. Earthenware with colored slips. Collection of the Denver Art Museum: Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 1970.230.1.