Southeast Mesoamerica Research History
The goal of this section is to place the efforts of the SBAP within the context of previous and ongoing research within Southeast Mesoamerica. We will not provide a comprehensive summary of these earlier investigations (see Beaudry 1987 for a thorough examination of the topic). Rather, several themes that have dominated Southeast research and directly impinge on our own investigations will be highlighted (see also Schortman and Urban 1986 for a summary of research foci).
The most obvious aspect of Southeast Mesoamerican research is its preponderant focus on the major Classic period lowland Maya centers within the region, Copan and Quirigua, to the virtual exclusion of other zones. Southeast Mesoamerican investigations, in lowland Maya and non-Maya areas, are equally old stretching back to the early surveys of Sapper (1895, 1897), Squier (1853, 1858), Maudslay (1889-1902) and Gordon (1898a, 1898b). Subsequent to these pioneering investigations, however, work came to center almost exclusively on the monumental site cores of Copan (e.g., Gordon 1902; Morley 1920; Longyear 1952; Stromsvik 1941, 1952) and Quirigua (e.g., Hewett 1916; Morley 1935). The "non-Maya" Southeast witnessed no comparable intensity of work with only a few wide-ranging surveys (e.g., Blackiston 1910; Lothrop 1926; Stone 1941, 1957; Yde 1938) and small-scale excavation efforts (e.g., Boggs 1944, 1945, 1950; Longyear 1944; Popenoe 1934; Ries 1940; Strong, Kidder and Paul 1938) being pursued. The result is that our understanding of material patterns, chronology, local developmental trajectories, and external connections in the non-Maya Southeast lags considerably behind comparable knowledge of these features at Copan and Quirigua. What work was pursued outside lowland Maya centers was primarily devoted to relating the cultures uncovered to Classic period lowland Maya developments, especially with defining the border of the lowland Maya culture area (Longyear 1947; Lothrop 1939). These research biases are understandable for the initial stages of work in the Southeast when it was important to define the limits of the zone over which generalizations concerning the nature of lowland Maya culture were meant to apply (Schortman and Urban 1986). Nevertheless, as time went on old patterns of research did not change. Little effort was invested in studying non-Maya regions in their own terms, in understanding the range of variation in sociocultural developments among regions, even in reconstructing local chronologies. Once the southeast lowland Maya border was defined the area beyond it could, apparently, be ignored. It was within this context that the non-Maya Southeast came to be seen as an area of watered-down Mesoamerican culture (Cooke 1982; Kennedy 1986) and the pejorative term "periphery" was applied to it. As a periphery, there was little to attract archaeologists to its study.
A second major theme is the emphasis in Southeast research on investigating particular sites with little attention paid to broader regional settlement patterns. This trend is as clearly evident at Copan and Quirigua, where settlement pattern studies are of recent vintage (e.g., Ashmore 1981, 1984; Fash 1983, 1986; Webster and Gonlin 1988; Willey and Leventhal 1979), as in other portions of the Southeast. Non-Maya sites have been chosen for investigation because of their size and presumed chronological depth (e.g., Yarumela, Canby 1949, 1951; Joesink-Mandeville 1987; Chalchuapa, Sharer ed. 1978; Los Naranjos, Baudez and Becquelin 1973; Playa de los Muertos, Kennedy 1981, 1986), mention in ethnohistoric documents (e.g., Naco, Strong, Kidder, and Paul 1938; Wonderley 1981, 1986) and/or their supposed role in trade with core areas of Mesoamerica (e.g., Chalchuapa, Quelepa, Andrews 1976, 1977). Focus on the investigation of single, usually large, sites reflects the tendency of Mesoamerican archaeology in the mid-twentieth century and earlier to study monumental centers at the expense of their hinterlands (Willey and Sabloff 1974:148-151). Also this work provided material which could be compared to that gathered elsewhere in Mesoamerica from the investigation of other monumental centers. The reasons for this pattern of study are clear, and the investigations conducted at major centers have yielded a wealth of important chronological and culture historical data, the latter especially pertaining to the uppermost segments of society. It is equally obvious, however, that a full understanding of Southeast Mesoamerican developments must depend on the placement of large centers within their regional settlement systems.
A related theme has been the tendency to concentrate Southeast research on the study of the Classic period. Since investigations in Southeast Mesoamerica were primarily designed to define the borders of Classic period lowland Maya culture, or to determine the influence of that culture on its neighbors, it was imperative that most investigations emphasize remains pertaining to that epoch. This trend was further encouraged by the relative abundance and surface visibility of Classic period remains in the Southeast. Materials from earlier and later periods have been identified and studied but are far less well known than their Classic era counterparts (but see, Bruhns 1980, 1986; Fowler 1989; Fowler ed. 1991; Healy 1974, 1976, 1978, 1983; Kennedy 1981, 1986; Popenoe 1934; Sharer ed. 1978; Strong, Kidder and Paul 1938; Wonderley 1981, 1983, 1986).
Ethnohistoric research in the Southeast also partakes of these trends and so lags considerably behind comparable investigations carried out elsewhere in Mesoamerica. Additional problems faced by ethnohistoric studies here include an apparent paucity of relevant documents, lack of success in relocating sites to which the available documents can be related (see Lara Pinto 1982; Weeks et al. 1987; Wonderley 1981, 1983, 1986 for exceptions), and the rapid decline in indigenous populations following the Conquest due to disease and enslavement. Related to the last point is the paucity of ethnographic work in the Southeast. Wisdom's report on the Chorti in the mountains between Copan and Zacapa (1940), Adams' ethnographic survey of Honduras, including the central Santa Barbara area (1957), studies of remnant Lenca and Jicaque populations (Campbell 1976; Chapman 1958, 1962, 1978; Conzemius 1923; Foletti 1990; Plowden 1959; Squier 1858; Stone 1948; von Hagen 1943), and investigations of coastal peoples including the Mosquito (Helms 1971; Nietschmann 1972), Sumo (Conzemius 1932), Paya (Conzemius 1927-1928), and Black Caribs (Conzemius 1928; Gonzalez 1969; Taylor 1951) constitute the major contributions to this literature.
The archaeological, ethnohistoric, and ethnographic study of Southeast Mesoamerica has, therefore, fallen well behind research to the north and west. Viewed as a simple adjunct to more complex and important developments within core areas, such as the Maya lowlands, it has attracted little interest in its own right. The result is that while basic time-space frameworks were being laid out for other portions of Mesoamerica similar data was not available for the Southeast. All of the trends summarized above are based on a series of deep-seated assumptions that have dominated archaeological research in general from at least the late 1950's (Schortman and Urban 1987b). These assumptions may be summarized as follows. The most important processes to study archaeologically are those related to the development of sociocultural complexity and the economic shifts, such as domestication, which underlay them (e.g., Sheets 1987). The most fruitful places to study these processes are in those areas where they gave rise to particularly elaborate socioeconomic configurations (core states). Processes of increasing complexity within core states were most effectively analyzed by treating studied areas in isolation from significant contacts with other zones. The causes of significant sociopolitical change were to be found in intraregional interactions between a culture and its physical environment (e.g., Hodder 1984; Steward 1972; Schortman and Urban 1987b; Trigger 1984). Societies on the margins of major states were passive recipients of core innovations, playing no creative roles in shaping intersocietal interaction patterns, core developments, nor change trajectories within their own borders. It is only by questioning these basic assumptions that earlier trends of Southeast Mesoamerican research can be reversed.
An emphasis on local, physical resources in sociopolitical processes is not so much wrong as unreasonably limiting. Models in which entire societies are seen as passive are equally unrealistic as people are not completely controlled by events but use resources at their disposal to define and achieve their own goals (e.g., Bloch 1977a, 1977b; Bourdieu 1977; Gailey 1987; Giddens 1984; Nash 1979). Understanding sociopolitical organization and process requires cognizance of the flexibility and dynamism of political systems and the shifting ground on which power struggles are waged. Efforts to achieve dominance are, at best, temporarily successful and always challenged by factions ready to seize opportunities provided by changed circumstances to (re)assert their autonomy. Local and extralocal resources may play significant roles in these contests within and outside core states. "Peripheral" societies are not necessarily passive nor powerless in their interactions with more complexly organized neighbors just as subordinate factions within core and "peripheral" polities always have some resources available to question and undermine political hierarchies. Sociopolitical processes cannot be adequately comprehended from the "top down,· focusing on the uppermost social stratum, nor can any polity be understood in isolation from events occurring in surrounding zones supporting societies at varying levels of complexity (e.g., Blanton and Feinman 1984; Schortman 1989; see papers in Schortman and Urban 1992). No one social segment, no matter how powerful, is isolated from and unaffected by its subordinates and neighbors (e.g., Kohl 1978, 1992; Upham 1992; see papers in Brumfiel and Earle 1987 and McGuire and Paynter 1991). The above statements deny the marginality of Southeast Mesoamerican societies in all periods and raise questions concerning the variety of sociopoloitical trajectories this complex area sustained, the factors underlying this diversity, and the developmental significance of intersocietal linkages, incorporating Maya and non-Maya polities.
Southeastern societies must, therefore, be systematically studied and understood in their own rights if we are to answer such newly significant queries. Close to a century of neglect cannot be overcome immediately, however. As the pace of Southeast Mesoamerican investigations has accelerated over the past two decades considerable effort has been devoted to writing regional culture histories and interregional syntheses. Without this base, long ago developed in Mesoamerica·s core areas, complex questions of sociopolitical change cannot be addressed.
The initiation of intensive investigations in the non-Maya Southeast can be traced to projects conducted at Los Naranjos on the north shore of Lake Yojoa, Honduras (Baudez and Becquelin 1973) and Chalchuapa, in eastern El Salvador (Sharer ed. 1978). These initial research projects concentrated on the study of single major sites or site zones and produced chronological data essential to periodizing Southeast prehistory (e.g., Sharer 1974). Subsequent research has expanded considerably from this base. Copan and Quirigua, long foci of study, have undergone renewed investigations both in their site cores and sustaining hinterlands (e.g., Ashmore 1981, 1984, 1986, 1988; Ashmore ed. 1979; Cheek 1983, 1986; Fash 1983, 1986, 1988; Fash and Sharer 1991; Jones and Sharer 1986; Sanders ed. 1986, 1990; Schortman and Urban eds, 1983; Sharer 1990; Webster and Gonlin 1988; Willey and Leventhal 1979; Andrews and Fash 1992; Fash et al. 1992; Freter 1992; Sharer et al. 1992; Webster et al. 1992). Outside these lowland Maya preserves, regional survey and excavation programs have been pursued on an unprecedented scale. Work has been conducted in western and central Honduras in the Sula plain (Henderson ed. 1981; Joyce 1991; Pope 1987; Robinson 1986, 1987), Naco valley (Henderson et al. 1979; Schortman and Urban eds. 1991a, 1991b, 1994; Urban 1986a, 1986b; Urban et al. 1988; Wonderley 1981, 1986), Sulaco and Humuya drainages (Hirth et al. eds. 1989), La Florida and La Venta valleys (Nakamura et al. eds. 1992), Comayagua valley (Dixon 1987, 1989, 1992; Joesink-Mandeville 1987), in eastern Guatemala within the lower Motagua valley beyond the immediate Quirigua hinterland (Nowak 1973, 1975; Schortman 1984, 1986, 1993), at San Agustin Acasaguastlan in the middle Rio Motagua drainage (Walters 1980), and in El Salvador at Quelepa (Andrews 1976, 1977), Santa Leticia (Demarest 1981, 1986), Cihuatan (Bruhns 1980, 1986), the Zapotitan valley (Sheets 1986, 1992, ed. 1985; Sheets and McKee eds. 1989, 1990), Ceren (Sheets 2002), and the Cerron Grande area (Earnest 1976).
Ethnohistoric investigations have also been proceeding at a rapid pace as represented, for example, in the work of Lara Pinto (1980, 1982, 1985, 1989, 1991), Fowler (1989), and Newson (1981, 1986). All of these efforts have contributed significantly to our understanding of Southeast Mesoamerican prehistoric and early historic developments and regional variation within this sequence. Some recent data syntheses have even begun to reconsider tentatively the place of the lowland Maya within the Southeast and to question the passiveness of their non-Maya neighbors in interactions with the residents of Copan and Quirigua (e.g., Gerstle 1987; Leventhal et al. 1987; Schortman 1986; Schortman and Nakamura 1992; Urban and Schortman 1987a; Urban and Schortman 1987, 1988). Nevertheless, basic research lacunae still exist in the Southeast and much work remains to be done before even the outlines of culture history can be firmly established. (see Healy 1984; Sharer 1974; Sheets 1984 for recent efforts to sum up our general knowledge of Southeast Mesoamerican prehistory.)
The SBAP was conceived and initiated in this context. Our work has been pursued within one of these research gaps bounded by better studied zones to the west, north, and east. Like all Southeast Mesoamerican projects, therefore, we invested a good part of our efforts in writing local culture history and defining chronology. Survey, excavation, and laboratory analyses aimed at establishing basic time-space systematics took most of our available energy. This does not mean that culture historical investigations were our sole research foci. As work progressed we took advantage of our growing control over chronology and material patterning to address behavioral questions of broader scope. It must, nevertheless, by admitted that the dearth of archaeological information available for central Santa Barbara prior to 1983 limited our ability to conduct problem-oriented research throughout the project.
The SBAP is, therefore, part of the recent spate of investigations in the Southeast and is constrained by many of the same factors of research history operating on all projects in the area. We have attempted, however, to use the middle Ulua data as a basis for developing and evaluating models of sociopolitical change.