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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
Fully Booked
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.

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



  • Christopher Beekman (University of Colorado Denver) and Colin McEwan (Dumbarton Oaks), “Waves of Influence: Revisiting Ties along the Pacific Coast”
  • Sonia Zarrillo (Cotsen Institute of Archaeology) and Michael Blake (University of British Columbia), “Tracing the Movement of Ancient Cacao (Theobroma cacao L.) in the Americas: New Approaches”
  • Richard Callaghan (University of Calgary), Alvaro Montenegro (The Ohio State University), and Scott Fitzpatrick (University of Oregon), “The Effects of ENSO on Travel along the Pacific Coast of the Americas”
  • Guy Hepp (California State University, San Bernardino), “Landfalls, Sunbursts, and the Capacha Problem: A Case for Pacific Coastal Interaction in Early Formative Period Mesoamerica”
  • John Pohl (University of California, Los Angeles) and Michael Mathiowetz (independent scholar), “Our Mother the Sea: Pacific Coastal Networks of Mexico”
  • Rebecca Mendelsohn (Metropolitan Museum of Art), “Globalization and Political Authority on the Central American Coast, 300 BC–AD 300”
  • Eugenia Ibarra Rojas (Universidad de Costa Rica), “Trading in the 16th Century: Chibchan Rich Men and Mesoamericans in Southern Central America”
  • James Zeidler (Colorado State University) and José Beltrán Medina (National Institute of Anthropology and History), “Archaeological Evidence for Long-Distance Maritime Contacts between the Comala/Armeria Phases, West Mexico, and the Jama-Coaque Tradition, Coastal Ecuador”
  • Maria Masucci (Drew University) and John Hoopes (University of Kansas), “Evaluating Pre-Columbian Contact between Ecuador and Costa Rica: A Ceramic Approach”
  • Kim Cullen Cobb (Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute), Christopher Beekman (University of Colorado Denver), Emily Kaplan (Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian), and Thomas Lam (Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute), “Mapping and Material Analysis of Axe-Monies in the Smithsonian Collections”
  • Christopher Beekman (University of Colorado Denver), “Spondylus and Its Counterparts in Mesoamerica: Affinities and Oppositions”
  • Richard Lunniss (Universidad Técnica de Manabí, Portoviejo, Ecuador), “The Origins of Trade and the Use of Sailing Craft on the Coast of Ecuador: The View from Salango”
  • Colin McEwan (Dumbarton Oaks) and Richard Lunniss (Universidad Técnica de Manabí, Portoviejo, Ecuador), “An Offering Site on La Plata Island, an Oceanic Sanctuary off the Coast of Ecuador”
  • Benjamin Carter (Muhlenberg College), “Spondylus as a Driver of Interregional Exchange: Using Research on Recent Spondylus to Reconsider the Overharvesting Hypothesis”

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).

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.