A tentative model of the organization of copper production in the Tarascan state

A tentative model of the organization of copper production in the Tarascan state
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  Ancient Mesoamerica Additional services for  Ancient Mesoamerica: Email alerts: Click hereSubscriptions: Click hereCommercial reprints: Click hereTerms of use : Click here A TENTATIVE MODEL OF THE ORGANIZATION OF COPPER PRODUCTION INTHE TARASCAN STATE Blanca E. Maldonado  Ancient Mesoamerica / Volume 19 / Issue 02 / September 2008, pp 283 - 297DOI: 10.1017/S0956536108000400, Published online: 20 November 2008 Link to this article: How to cite this article: Blanca E. Maldonado (2008). A TENTATIVE MODEL OF THE ORGANIZATION OF COPPER PRODUCTION IN THETARASCAN STATE. Ancient Mesoamerica, 19, pp 283-297 doi:10.1017/S0956536108000400 Request Permissions : Click here Downloaded from, IP address: on 04 Sep 2014  A TENTATIVE MODEL OF THE ORGANIZATION OFCOPPER PRODUCTION IN THE TARASCAN STATE Blanca E. Maldonado El Colegio de Michoaca´n, A.C., Extensio´n La Piedad, Cerro de Nahuatzen 85, Fracc. Jardines del Cerro Grande, 59379 La Piedad,Michoacan, Mexico Abstract At the time of the Spanish conquest, the main locus of metal production in Mesoamerica was the Tarascan region of western Mexico.Scholars have argued that mining and metallurgy evolved into a state industry, as metal adornments used as insignias of social status andpublic ritual became closely associated with political control. In spite of its importance, however, Tarascan metallurgy is poorlydocumented. The extractive processes involved and the organization of the different aspects of this production are virtually unknown.Numerous questions arise from the notion that metal items functioned as wealth finance in the economy of the Tarascan state of LatePostclassic period Michoacan. Foremost among these is whether and how wealth was produced and controlled by the central power. Thispapercombines archaeological and ethnohistorical data to propose a model for pre-Hispanic copper production among the Tarascans. Thegoal of this analysis is to gain insights into the nature of metal production and its role in the major state apparatus. This will also provideclues to a better understanding of the development of technology and political economy in ancient Mesoamerica. Archaeologists have long been concerned with the relationshipbetween craft production and political and institutional structures(Wailes 1996). Economic differentiation and political complexityare often seen as inextricably intertwined and are widely perceivedasthe defining characteristics of earlystates and empires. Craft pro-ducts can perform a number of functions in political economies: asexchange goods, as sources of wealth, as tools that produce thematerial infrastructure of complex societies, and as prestigegoods or symbols of power and status. The relations betweencraft producers and institutions tend to be both multiple and multi-dimensional, with varying degrees of autonomy and interdepen-dence, and much production can occur outside the control of thestate (Sinopoli 2003). This paper explores some dynamic levels of interaction between the production of copper and copper-basedgoods and the centralized power of the Tarascan empire of LatePostclassic period Mesoamerica. Archaeological evidence and docu-mentary sources provide a picture of organizational patterns in thepre-Hispanic Tarascan copper industry. THE TARASCAN EMPIRE Empires can be defined as large, multiethnic states ruled from a single center (Sinopoli 1994, 2003). By definition, empires incor-porate cultural and economic diversity. In the sphere of production,such diversity is manifested in scale and organization and the natureand degree of integration of different productive areas into an impe-rial order (Sinopoli and Morrison 1995). In the early sixteenthcentury, much of western Mexico was under the rule of thePurepecha empire. People of the empire called themselvesIrechequa and were later known to the Europeans as the Tarascankingdom of Michoacan. The maximal extent of this political unit was roughly equivalent to the modern Mexican state of Michoacan, but it also included parts of Guanajuato, Queretaro,Jalisco, and possibly Guerrero and the state of Mexico(Gorenstein and Pollard 1983; Pollard 1993; Warren 1985).Between  a.d.  1450 and 1520, the Tarascan state controlled a terri-tory that extended beyond the Lerma River to the north and as far as the Balsas in the south (Figure 1). The core of the Tarascanempire was located in the Lake Patzcuaro Basin, covering an area of 929 km  2 (Pollard 1993).Using the number and distribution of settlements of the LatePostclassic period ( a.d.  1350–1520) (see Table 1 for establishedchronology for the Patzcuaro Basin), Pollard (1993:79) estimatedthe total population of the Patzcuaro Basin to have been between60,750 and 105,000 with a mean estimated population of 80,000.At that time, more than 36% of the population lived in theprimary center, Tzintzuntzan, and more than 80% lived in commu-nities with more than 1,000 people. Thus, the Patzcuaro Basin wascharacterized by highly urbanized populations distributed in a variety of functionally differentiated communities. Tzintzuntzanencompassed slightly more than 6 km  2 . The city shows no overallplan, yet some individual structures and sectors can be interpretedas religious / political zones. Its growth as an urban center appearsto have been initiated by political, not economic, factors (Pollard1993).The Tarascan empire emerged when Tzintzuntzan gained controlover five other polities in the Patzcuaro Basin as a result of intensecompetition between local elites for access to basic resources(Gorenstein and Pollard 1983; Pollard 1993). According to colonialdocuments, between  a.d.  1250 and 1350, an elite lineage known asthe  uacusecha  (eagles) solidified the political control of  283 E-mail correspondence to:   Ancient Mesoamerica ,  19  (2008), 283–297Copyright  # 2008 Cambridge University Press. Printed in the U.S.A.doi:10.1017/S0956536108000400  Tzintzuntzan over the Patzcuaro Basin (Gorenstein and Pollard1983; Pollard 1993, 1997). Three additional administrative centerswere created, resulting in a highly centralized and hierarchicallyorganized administrative system under the rule of Tzintzuntzan.These administrative centers, however, were patronized by resident,non-royal elites (Gorenstein and Pollard 1983; Pollard 1993).Political control was held and maintained by a hereditary dynastywith a vast and complex system of tribute (Pollard 1993).Gorenstein and Pollard (1983) applied a model of site stratifica-tion to basin settlement patterns and interpreted the upper-rank cities as corresponding to administrative units. They placeTzintzuntzan in two different ranks: in rank 1 as the administrativecenterfortheterritory,andtheonlysettlementinrank2astheadmini-strativecenterforthebasin.ThenextadministrativelevelusedbytheTarascans is identified as the settlements governed by lords, or  sen˜ ores . Such  sen˜ ores  were members of the rank 2 social class andhad administrative responsibilities for the population of their own settlements and for the populations of dependent settlements.Rank 3 settlements were Eronguariquaro, Pechataro, Urichu,Pareo, Pacandan-Xaracuaro, Itziparamucu, Uyameo, and Patzcuaro(Figure 2). Seven of these eight settlements are considered to be of the same rank, with the exception of Patzcuaro, which played what appears to have been a representative role at conclaves for territorialrepresentatives (Gorenstein and Pollard 1983:69).According to the  Relacio´ n de Michoaca´ n  (Alcala ´ 2000 [1541];Pollard 1993:123), in Tzinztzuntzan the  cazonci  (the paramount ruler of the Tarascan state) held court, administered justice, andreceived emissaries from within and outside his territory. The court includedmembersoftheTarascannobilityinaseriesofhierarchicallyorganizedoffices.Below thecourt was alargebureaucracycomposedof members of the nobility and commoners. The village leaders rep-resented the link between the Tarascan dynasty and the commoners,stressing that authority came from the central government and not from the local nobility. This flow of authority was supported by thebasic system of land and resource ownership. All land titles and userights within the Tarascan domain came from the king. This includedagricultural lands, fishing rights, mineral resources, and hunting terri-tories within the Patzcuaro Basin itself. In contrast with the Aztecs,Tarascan leaders as well as agricultural workers could be grantedland in private ownership. There were also communal lands that were cultivated for the ruler and communal lands cultivated for thelower leaders and for the temples (Beltra ´n 1986:46; Carrasco 1986:68; Garcı´a Alcara ´z 1976:222; Van Zantwijk 1967:41).The organization of occupational groups was extremely import-ant in Tarascan society. The Tarascan wards were endogamous, andoccupations were hereditary, descending from father to son. So anoccupational group was at the same time one lineage orcombinationof lineages, and the members of one occupational group lived in thesame ward. The heads of the occupational groups may have beenward chiefs at the same time, which may account for the fact that ward chiefs are not mentioned separately. The  Relacio´ n de Michoaca´ n  (Alcala ´ 2000 [1541]; Van Zantwijk 1967:42–48)gives the following list of heads of occupational groups at thecourt of the Cazonci: Kwahta-uri  or   Wekskuti , head of the house and temple builders. Kakari , head of the  kakacha , the masons. Figure 1.  Approximate extent of the Tarascan empire during the LatePostclassic period, represented by the vertical lines (from Haskell2003:Figure 2-1, adapted from Pollard 1993:5). Table 1.  Established chronology for the Patzcuaro Basin (Pollard 2005:9). Period Local PhasesLate Postclassic Tariacuri ( a.d.  1350–1525)Middle Postclassic Urichu Tardı´o ( a.d.  1000 / 1100–1350)Early Postclassic Urichu Temprano ( a.d.  900–1000 / 1100)Epiclassic Lupe-La Joya ( a.d.  600 / 700–900)Middle Classic Jara ´cuaro ( a.d.  500–600 / 700)Early Classic Loma Alta 3 ( a.d.  350–500)Middle Preclassic Loma Alta 2 (100 / 50  b.c. – a.d.  350) Figure 2.  The Lake Patzcuaro Basin and vicinity (not to scale; from Haskell2003:Figure 6-1). Maldonado284  Kwanikoti , head of the  kwanikocha , the hunters and makers of bows andarrows. Kuru-hapindi , head of the bird-hunters. Waruri , head of the fishermen. Tarama , head of the anglers.  Ehpuspati  or   kwapuakuri , head of the honey collectors and beekeepers.  Atari , head of the makers of pulque. Kutusuri , head of the tanners ( kutsucha ). Uskwarekuri , head of the feather-mosaic workers ( uskwarekucha ). Pukurikwari , head of the foresters and gamekeepers (  pukurikwacha ). Kwiringuri , head of the drum-makers. Tekari , head of the carpenters ( tekacha ). Cherenguekwa-uri , head of the makers of cotton war shirts.  Icharuta-wandari , head of the boat-builders.  Xurihkakaheri  or   Tzinahpeti , head of the healers of curers. Urani-atari , head of the painters of cups.  Xunicha , deputy head of the painters.  Hukatsikwa-uri , head of the makers of vessels of food. Tsitsikikanakwa-uri ,, head of the weavers of flower chains.  Mayapeti , head of the merchants ( mayapecha ), particularly traders in gold,feathers and precious stones. Kwatas-uri , head of the makers of trunks and  tule-weavers .  Akawekwa-uri , head of the sandal makers. Kwinguingata-uri  or   tayakata punitati , head of the smiths. Tsinahpu-uri , head of the makers of obsidian knives. The  Relacio´ n de Michoaca´ n  (Alcala ´ 2000 [1541]) refers toearlier ethnic heterogeneity in central Michoacan. At the time of the Spanish contact, however, there was no indication of politicaland ethnic borders within the state (Pollard 1993:128). As theimperial territory enlarged, the economic and political success of the Protohistoric period Tarascans required that increasingly distinct communities be integrated (Figure 3). In this way they ensured theeconomic exploitation of populations and resources and protectedthe integrity of the states’ frontiers. This integration was designedto serve the interests of the political core, the Lake PatzcuaroBasin, and it particularly had to serve the interests of the sociopoli-tical elite residing in Tzintzuntzan (Pollard 1993).Pollard (1993) believes that two processes, assimilation and seg-regation, were part of deliberate administrative policy during thestate’s development period. She identifies a zone of active assimila-tion as the place of srcin of many resources basic to elite identifi-cation, including tropical fruit, cacao, cotton, copal, jaguar skins,tropical feathers, gold, silver, copper, and tin. This zone wasabsorbed into the expanding state only after   a.d.  1440 andbecame increasingly important to the maintenance of Tarascanelite society. Population density in the assimilation zone was low,so revolts and insurrection were unlikely in this region. However,the core elite assured the loyalty of the groups in this region byapplying a policy of gradual incorporation into the mainstream of the Tarascan social system and by the adoption of Tarascan ethnicidentity.In contrast, along the military borders, loyalty to the Tarascanelite was assured in exchange for the security provided by thestate military structure (Pollard 1993). Administrators were sent from the political core to interact with the local population andensure this loyalty. Nevertheless, the populations were regarded assubject allies rather than as subjects, and tribute included war cap-tives and slaves. This ethnic strategy differed from that of theAztecs. There was not an ethnic Aztec heartland but a zone of cul-turally similar populations inhabiting the Basin of Mexico, oftensharing individual communities for their mutual benefit (Gorenstein 1985).Within the Tarascan cultural system, goods and services flowedthrough several institutions that are divisible into two classes: (1)local and regional markets; and (2) government-controlled agencies.According to the definition provided by Hirth (1998:454), market exchanges involve balanced and actively negotiated terms occurringin contexts that range from highly centralized to isolated. Tarascangovernment agencies controlled the tribute network, official long-distance trade, agricultural lands, forest lands, mines, and officialgift exchange (Pollard 1987, 1993). Through these channels,goods and services flowed in and out of the Lake PatzcuaroBasin, incorporating it into regional and territorial economic net-works. There is, however, no evidence that markets were controlledor regulated by the government (Pollard 1993). The exchange strat-egy in the Tarascan territory seems to correspond to a basicallydecentralized market system and therefore is characterized by anunequal distribution of resources throughout the society.The Tarascan tribute network was vast, centralized, and hier-archically organized. It was fundamentally a political institution,with the bulk of goods passing through various levels from various regions of the territory and ultimately to the capital at Tzintzuntzan. In Tzintzuntzan, the goods were placed in centralstorehouses and distributed within the basin to the royal family,the administrative bureaucracy, the religious functionaries of thegovernment temples, to foreign emissaries in the form of gifts,and to the local population in emergencies (Gorenstein andPollard 1983). In the initial period of war against the Aztecs, thestores were also used to supply the army (Gorenstein 1985).To the extent that these goods were consumed by the basin’spopulation, they represented a significant portion of the localeconomy.Thereisanimportantdifferencebetweengoodsusedbythecom-moners and those used by the elite in the Tarascan territory.Commoners obtained goods through subsistence activities or local markets, while the elite obtained them primarily throughstate-controlled means, especially state lands (Pollard 1993).Apparently, local tribute was a main source of household servicesand some manufactured goods for the elite. This means that basinsettlements with immediate access to valued resources such asprime agricultural land, marshland, and fishing zones couldexchange local surpluses for non-local items in the marketplace.However, according to colonial sources (e.g.,  Relacio´ n de Michoaca´ n ), the local elite and possibly their retainers (such as arti-sans and other specialists) participated only minimally in suchmarket exchange, obtaining similar products by outright ownershipof production or by tribute (Pollard 1993:120). Figure 3.  Areas of ethnic assimilation and segregation in the Tarascanempire (from Haskell 2003:Figure 2-2, following Pollard 1994:84). The organization of copper production in the Tarascan state 285  According to D’Altroy and Earle (1985), explaining the evol-ution of complex societies requires an understanding of howresources are mobilized to support the activities of new institutions.In ancient states, creating systems of taxation was basic to insti-tutional development and maintenance. The Tarascan empire illus-trates how the political economy underlies institutional expansion.Institutions of domination and integration formed the basis of theempire and created mechanisms to exert and legitimize force over a territory that had been composed of separate polities, economies,and ethnic identities. Support of these new imperial institutionsnecessitated the development of an elaborate political economy. METAL AND THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THETARASCAN STATE Archaeological and ethnohistorical evidence indicate that duringthe Late Postclassic period ( a.d.  1350–1520) the Tarascan empirewas the primary center for metallurgy and metalworking inMesoamerica. Such technology was largely based on copper andits alloys. Although some utilitarian implements were made, most Tarascan metal objects were considered sacred, to be used foradorn-ment in religious ceremonies and to enhance the social and politicalstatus of the elites (Hosler 1988a, 1994; Pollard 1987, 1993), thusbecoming an integral part of the political economy of the state.The presence of craft producers with a considerable degree of specialization in the production of metal goods can be assumed from the relatively restricted spatial distribution of such products, thespecific social and political context of their production and distri-bution, and the technological complexity of the industry behind their manufacture.Scatteredreferencestothesecraftspecialistsindocumen-tary sources support this assumption. For the purposes of this paper,  political economy  is defined broadlyasthe relations between politicalstructures and systems and the economic realms of production, con-sumption,andexchange(Stein2001:359).Theconceptof  specialized craftproduction isunderstoodhereastheinvestmentoflaborby(moreorless)skilledworkersintheproductionofgoodsthatinturnarecon-sumed by non-producers (Sinopoli 2003:1).Pollard (1987, 1993, 1997) has suggested that in the process of defining Tarascan elite culture, the central dynasty encouraged thedevelopment of metal as a distinctly Tarascan product. The rapidexpansion ofthe Tarascan statebetween a.d.  1350and 1450providedadirectmeansofincreasingtheemergingelite’saccesstometalgoods,primarilyintheformofconquestbootyandtribute.Metaladornmentsused as insignias of social status and public ritual became even moreassociated with political control (Pollard 1987). It is important tokeep in mind, however, that, although on a minor scale, copper implements such as hoes and axes were also being manufactured.This point is discussed further later in this paper.As part of a largercentralization of political and economic power by the royal dynasty, mining and metallurgy appears to some extent to have become a state industry by the sixteenth century. Pollard(1987) points out that the most active zone of cultural assimilationof non-Tarascans to Tarascan ethnicity in the empire was thecentral Balsas region which, coincidentally, was also an area where major mining operations were being carried out. She pro-poses that by the sixteenth century, metal goods and the controlof access to metal was no longer a reflection of individual socialor ritual power. Instead, it was a reflection of royal and state politicalpower. Hence, metal products were not just luxury goods used bythe elitebut basic material expressionsof political ideologyessentialto the maintenance of the prevailing social and political order. Patterns of Distribution and Consumption The use of fine metal goods within Tarascan territory appears tohave been restricted to the social and political elite. Implementsused for subsistence activities, such as hoes and axes, were pro-duced, but not in quantity, and may even have been tradedthrough local market networks within the Balsas Basin (Barrett 1987; Pollard 1987; Warren 1968). Other copper tools, includingneedles, awls, punches, and fishhooks, appear to have beenwidely distributed, but their procurement and use was probablylimited to craft or occupational specialists (Hosler 1994; Pollard1987). Presumably, all other metal goods were limited to thecentral dynasty and the nobility (Figure 4). Excavations at Tzintzuntzan (Grinberg 1989; Pollard 1987; Rubı´n de la Borbolla 1944), Urichu (Hosler and Macfarlane 1996; Pollard 1995) andHuandacareo (Macı´as Goytia 1990), among other sites, have pro-duced large numbers of metal objects from elite burials. This infor-mation is consistent with accounts in the  Relacio´ n de Michoaca´ n (Alcala ´ 2000 [1541]), probably one of the best known ethnohistori-cal sources on the Tarascans, which also refer to the existence of treasuries located at Tzintzuntzan and at six other centers in theLake Patzcuaro Basin. The metal stored in these treasuries wasexclusively for use in state religious ceremonies and under thecustody of a head treasurer and other noblemen (Alcala ´ 2000[1541]; Pollard 1987).The state government, according to Pollard (1987, 1993),acquired finished metal goods and / or smelted ingots through differ-ent mechanisms, including: (1) as gifts presented by foreign visitorsand regional elite to the king; (2) from government long-distancemerchants at the border of the empire’s territory; (3) as tributepaid to regional elites who in turn contributed part (or all) of thereceived goods to state storehouses in Tzintzuntzan; and (4)through the direct movement of copper ingots from state-controlledmines to the state storehouses. While the consumption of finishedmetal goods was highly concentrated within a limited social andspatial territory, the production of metal from ore was dispersedthroughout the Tarascan territory (Hosler 1994; Pollard 1982,1987). Ethnohistorical evidence suggests that production took place at a number of locations within the domain of the Tarascanempire (Pollard 1987). Figure 4.  Scene from the  Chronicles of Michoaca ´ n   (Craine and Reindorp1970:Plate 19). The main figure, a Tarascan priest, is wearing a metal tweezer. Maldonado286
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