In the El Dorado Machine, noted author Douglas Preston outlines the efforts to uncover traces of ancient civilization in the Mosquitia region of Honduras. The Legacies of Resilience Team, including Christopher Fisher and Stephen Leisz, have been involved in this effort. Check out the article here, which mentions the work at Angamuco and has a couple of quotes from Chris Fisher.
Cities form the core of modern society and a deeper understanding of the evolution of the urban form can potentially help to understand the modern world. One place that can make an important archaeological contribution to this debate is the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin, Michoacán, Mexico (LPB), which at the time of European contact was the core of the Late Postclassic (LPC) (A.D. 1350-1520) Purépecha Empire. This National Science Foundation award will fund a program of excavation at the newly discovered city of Angamuco to test models for the development of complex societies in the region. This project develops from over 3 years of NSF sponsored full-coverage survey (2009-2011) as part of the Legacies of Resilience: The Lake Pátzcauro Basin Archaeological Project (LORE-LPB). To test the models developed from this work researchers will excavate architectural complexes within two neighborhoods that, based on surface remains, had unique time and social associations.
Efforts will be focused on addressing three questions concerning the Angamuco occupation. 1) When was the predominate occupation of Angamuco and how does it relate to the development of complex societies in the region? 2) Can initial survey results concerning the function of individual structures and the spatial arrangement of these buildings be confirmed? Do domestic, public, storage, and ceremonial functions that inferred from surface remains conform with excavation data? 3) Can social differentiation be identified through excavation? If so, how does it evolve through time and how is this related to Empire formation.
Testing models that have been developed during the survey of Angamuco will substantially expand and deepen them and pave the way for future research. Results from this work will provide radiocarbon determinations that can help outline the timing, intensity, and location of the Angamuco occupation during the Postclassic. Stratigraphically dated assemblages from the Postclassic period will allow the creation of a more accurate ceramic chronology for this critical time interval. The refined temporal control will allow more accurately determination of the impact of Empire formation on the Angamuco polity.
The Angamuco case study can potentially yield important new insights into the development of complex societies in western Mexico, and in the process make an important contribution to anthropological understanding of the urban process. This is far from a simple academic debate in that global environmental change is increasingly placing urban dwellers at risk of increased poverty, displacement, and health risk.
Long-term consequences of climate change
Satellite imagery from NASA will help CSU Geographer Stephen J. Leisz and colleague Christopher T. Fisher examine the long-term consequences of climate change on ancient societies in Mexico and model long-term human and environment interaction in the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin in Michoacán, Mexico.
The high resolution ALOS PRISM satellite data provided to the team through the NASA grant will be integrated with ongoing archaeological and paleoenvironmental investigations to examine relationships between climatic fluctuation, landscape development, land degradation and the formation of complex societies in the west central highlands of Mexico, as part of the Legacies of Resilience: The Lake Pátzcuaro Basin Archaeological Project.
Remote sensing data
The project uses remote sensing data to better model the ancient landscape in ways not possible with data otherwise available. It is expected that the development of high-resolution, large-area, elevation models from the satellite data will represent an important archaeological tool for the research team.
“This research will allow us to create and test high spatial resolution models of linked human and environmental development and collapse over long periods of time that will in turn help current and future conservation efforts throughout Latin America,” said Leisz.
New and innovative technique
Researchers will examine the impact of the Medieval climatic anomaly (A.D. 950-1250) and the subsequent ‘Little Ice Age’ on Central Mexico.
By integrating ALOS PRISM satellite data into their research, Leisz and Fisher are offering a new and innovative technique, with potential for use by other scientists.
“The Lake Pátzcuaro Basin is an important example of coupled human and environmental change,” said Fisher, director of the Legacies project.
“A key aspect of the Legacies project is to create explanatory models to help explain changes in ancient lake level, distribution of agricultural lands and the location of ancient settlements. We want to see how people in the past responded to climate change as examples that can help modern policy.”
Fisher and Leisz will specifically look at the impact of the Medieval climatic anomaly (A.D. 950-1250) and the subsequent ‘Little Ice Age’ on Central Mexico.
“For the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin, the Medieval climatic anomaly likely lowered lake levels and increased the agrarian potential of the region, while the opposite may have occurred during the Little Ice Age,” said Fisher. “This is the opposite impact expected by many researchers.”
How ancient peoples modified their landscape
“Through the NASA-supported research we hope to better understand how ancient peoples modified their landscape to mitigate the impact of climatic fluctuation,” Leisz said. “As societies become larger, they have access to increasing amounts of labor that they often invest in the landscape to mitigate environmental change.”
One important outcome of the project will be a better understanding of the timing, form, and function of intensive agricultural features such as terraces that are found throughout the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin.
“Ultimately we hope to focus on environmental change as a long-term process rather then a trigger for social complexity,” said Fisher.
Collect ground reference data in conjunction with satellite
CSU graduate student Jason Bush surveying with Trimble equipment in Michoacán, Mexico.
Fisher and Leisz begin field work on the two-year, $155,591 grant in summer 2010. The researchers will use TrimbleRecon rugged handheld computers as well as the GeoXH and GeoXT GPS receivers, to accurately map every cultural feature they encounter as well as collect ground reference data that will be used in conjunction with the satellite imagery to create high-resolution elevation models of the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin.
Fisher and his team recently discovered the ruins of an ancient urban center in the heart of the Purépecha Empire in Lake Pátzcuaro Basin, located in the central Mexican state of Michoacán.
Multidisciplinary research project
The multidisciplinary Legacies of Resilience: The Lake Pátzcuaro Basin Archaeological Project includes archaeologists, geologists and geographers from the United States and Mexico. They explore prehistoric sites to better understand the development of prehistoric societies and relationships between humans and climate change.
Fisher is a fellow with CSU’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability.
Contact: Kimberly Sorensen
Phone: (970) 491-0757