Polychrome pottery economics and ritual life in postclassic Oaxaca, Mexico

Marc N. Levine, Lane F. Fargher, Leslie G. Cecil, Jamie E. Forde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tututepec was a regional capital that dominated much of southern Oaxaca, Mexico, during the Late Postclassic period (A.D. 1100-1522). This article synthesizes the results of compositional (neutron activation and petrography), stylistic, and iconographic analyses of pottery from commoner household excavations at Tututepec to address questions concerning ceramic production and distribution and also to shed light on aspects of political economy and domestic ritual at the capital. The study focuses primarily on Mixteca-Puebla polychromes, painted serving vessels bearing complex decorative motifs. Our compositional analyses, interpreted in light of the bedrock geology of the region, indicate that commoners obtained at least six to ten distinct varieties of pottery made from raw materials available locally within greater Tututepec. We argue that households probably acquired pottery through a central marketplace at the capital. In addition, our study demonstrates that commoners had regular access to polychromes from multiple producers, challenging the widespread notion that these vessels were restricted to elites who controlled their production. We argue that polychrome serving vessels played a prominent role in commonly occurring domestic rituals. Furthermore, commoners appear to have consciously selected vessels painted with imagery associated with warfare and sacrifice, suggesting that they actively supported the official imperial ideology of Tututepec.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-340
Number of pages21
JournalLatin American Antiquity
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2015


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