RECONSTRUCTING MOBILITY PATTERNS OF LATE HUNTER-GATHERERS IN COASTAL CHIAPAS, MEXICO: THE VIEW FROM THE SHELLMOUNDS

Barbara Voorhies
University of Colorado, Boulder

In this paper I argue that the five shellmounds that today are prominent archaeological features in the Acapetahua Estuary of coastal Chiapas, Mexico, are the surviving remains of specialized processing stations used by the Chantuto people during the last 1500 years of their occupation (the Chantuto B Phase, from ca. 3000 to 1500 B.C.). That is, my analysis suggests to me that these sites represent only a single facet of an ancient settlement system, and that other coeval sites with different original functions, but pertaining to the same system, have either not yet been found or they are imperfectly known.

Specifically, I argue that the settlement pattern of the Chantuto people most likely approximates that of collectors, as defined by Lewis Binford (1980). In Binford's model, the collector settlement pattern consists of at least one residential base site, with satellite sites used by work groups that undertake mass procurement and processing activities at strategic locations where the targeted resources are available. This collector pattern is contrasted analytically with the forager pattern, in which the group moves as a unit across the landscape in order to be strategically located close to economic resources, while they last.

However, the merits of this interpretation for my study area were not immediately clear to me because the known archaeological record for that region is flawed when compared with some more favored areas. Ideally when an archaeologist endeavors to reconstruct ancient settlement systems a regional survey is undertaken in order to identify sites across a landscape that can be shown to have been occupied coevally by the same group of people. The researcher then makes inferences about site functions by analyzing: 1) the environmental settings of the discovered sites; 2) the ecology of the people when using each site as deduced from ecofacts and artifacts; 3) the temporal duration of site use; and 4) any other clues from the archaeological features that aid in the interpretation. Ultimately, a settlement system is reconstructed from these data. A classic example of this research strategy is that conducted by Richard S. MacNeish and his colleagues (MacNeish et al. 1972) in the Tehuacan Valley, Puebla, Mexico.

Archaeologists confront particularly challenging obstacles to reconstructing settlement systems in those field situations where components of an ancient settlement system has become obscured, either because of site loss or because the sites are buried and difficult to recover. I suspect that this type of situation may be frequently encountered in field studies where large shellmounds are found. This is because many shellmounds are found on low-lying soft coasts, exactly the situation where sedimentation is expected to have been heavy during the Holocene. Whether or not this is a valid generalization has not been examined by me, but in any case this is almost certainly the case for the shellmounds of the Acapetahua Estuary, the focus of the present study. In coastal Chiapas, my research has shown that the alluvial plain that lies inland of the littoral zone (intertidal zone) in which the shellmounds are located, has been blanketed during the Holocene by sediments that have effectively buried ancient sites (Voorhies and Kennett 1994). Most difficult to detect are the oldest sites, which are those that have been abandoned for the longest time, as well as sites that lack prominent features, such as platform constructions or shell piles. These are precisely the kind of sites that may be part of the settlement system of the Chantuto people but are presently poorly known.

BACKGROUND

The shellmounds that are the focus of this study first came to the attention of archaeologists with the publication by Philip Drucker (1948) that described the shellmound Islona Chantuto. Drucker's hurried excavations at the site convinced him that it was probably preceramic in age and very deserving of further research. This recommendation was taken up by José Luis Lorenzo (1955) who also dug at the Chantuto mound and discovered another nearby shellmound that he called Campón. Navarrete (n.d.), who visited the area in the 1960s, discovered the El Chorro and Tlacuachero shellmounds. Later, I (Voorhies 1976) discovered the fifth (Zapotillo) of the group of shellmounds present in the estuary. All of the investigations that have been carried out to date suggest that the five shellmounds were formed by the same people, during the same 1500 year occupational phase, and under the same depositional conditions.

The sites vary somewhat in size and shape as may be seen in Figure 1, which shows topographic maps of the five sites, along with an older shellmound site, Cerro de las Conchas, that will not be discussed in the present paper. The Cerro de las Conchas site is a thousand years older than the mounds in the Acapetahua Estuary (Blake et al. 1995), and it appears to have formed under somewhat different depositional conditions. Moreover, the research at the site has not yet been fully published so it is difficult to say for certain how it compares with the five later sites.

The five sites that are the subject of this study are situated within an estuary system that consists of a chain of five coastal lagoons, linked to each other by a canal system (Fig. 2). This waterway is bordered by a mangrove forest formation and toward the edges of the estuary system there are large patches of cattail marsh. On the seaward side of the lagoons there are the remnants of inactive barrier beaches upon which other, younger archaeological sites are located. The shellmounds, in contrast, are located on the mainland side of the lagoons. All of the shell mounds are round or oval in outline (Fig. 1). Following the logic explained by Waselkov (1987), these shapes suggest that the piles of shell were formed as islands, rather than along an ancient beach, in which case they would have been linear in outline. I suspect that the shell mounds at the time of their formation were situated at the edge of lagoons, but now only Islona de Chantuto, the youngest site in the group, is so situated.

The question to be pursued here is what conditions caused the accumulation of these shell piles and how might they fit into a greater settlement system of the past? To pursue this line of thinking I will review several characteristics of the shellmounds and their contents. These are the sediment contents of the sites and their stratigraphy, the faunal contents, and the artifactual remains. The combination of these independent lines of evidence lead me to interpret the shellmounds as special activity locations, where task groups once processed a suite of key faunal resources in bulk quantities before they were moved inland to consumption locations.


SITE SEDIMENTS AND STRATIGRAPHIC EVIDENCE

The most well studied of the five Chantuto B Phase shellmounds is that of Tlacuachero. I have worked on that site on four different occasions: during field seasons in 1973, 1978, 1988 and 1994. Basic site contents at Tlacuachero, to be described below, match what is known about the other four sites in the estuary. The sites of Campón and Zapotillo were excavated by me in 1973, and the Chantuto site was excavated by both Drucker (1948) and Lorenzo (1955). In addition, I have been able to make some observations about the Chantuto mound from looking at the sidewalls of water wells dug in the site by local people. This leaves only the relatively small site of El Chorro for which there are no subsurface data. The uniformity in the sediments and stratigraphy of the other four shellmounds is one powerful reason for arguing that they were formed by the same depositional processes and by the same depositional agents. Therefore, in the description below I will discuss the data from Tlacuachero but I believe that it is representative of the five shellmounds being discussed.

The Archaic Period deposits of the Tlacuachero consist of sediments of shell from the marsh clam Polymesoda radiata. This mollusc lives in shallow water tidal lagoons but I have found live populations only in the Los Cerritos Lagoon (Fig. 2). Shells of this species are present in the bottom mud of the Teculapa, Panzacola and Chantuto lagoons, which suggests to me that in the not very distant past these lagoons were favorable for the clam populations as well. I suspect that these clams are very sensitive to changes in salinity; local watermen who live within the Acapetahua Estuary remember a time when changes in water flow caused a clam die off and such die offs are relatively common for littoral shellfish populations.

In an analysis of sediments from the Tlacuachero mound, 17 samples taken from a vertical column within the Archaic Period deposits were passed through a stack of geologic sieves and each size fraction was hand sorted into categories of sediment such as shell, rock fragments, clay nodules, ceramics, and bone. The different constitutents were weighed separately and ultimately the data were combined to give a average of the various constituents of the shellmound matrix. The result is that clam shell makes up a total of 99.55% by weight of the matrix, with all other categories, including shell from other species of molluscs, making up the remaining 0.45%. It is important to underscore the fact that the samples were not washed or processed in any way before this sediment analysis. Thus, the overwhelming constituent of the shellmounds are the remains of a single species of mollusc.

This finding at Tlacuachero is unusual but by no means unique. For example, the shellmounds within the Marismas Nacionales of West Mexico have a tendency to be made up of one species only (Shenkel 1969, 1974; personal observation). The fact that virtually only one molluscan species occurs in the Acapetahua Estuarine sites suggests a very highly focused activity at the site that involved the mass processing of clams there. In fact, Erlandson (1994:138) reports one shell mound on the California coast where shellfish (in this case of several different species) provided 96% of the animal meat represented by surviving remains at the site (SBS-2061) and at least 90% of the protein yield was from estuarine clams.

The shell deposits at Tlacuachero have an additional striking aspect: they are bedded. The bedding generally consists of flat-lying layers of alternating beds of whole clam valves and layers of broken shell which is scorched (Fig. 3). The layers of unbroken clams tend to be thicker than the intervening layers of broken shell. Also it may be inferred that the thermal action that caused the shell breakage clearly occurred post depositionally, an inference based on the observation that the lower contact of these layers is gradual rather than abrupt. The gradation involves both particle size and also color: particle size increases and the dark shell discoloration gradually becomes yellow with depth.

Another characteristic of the bedding at the Tlacuachero and other sites is that the beds are horizontally extensive. In one instance I was able to easily trace superimposed beds for a horizontal distance of 12 meters, the longest horizontal exposure in the excavations. Initially the extent of these beds gave me the idea that the burned layers were caused by periodic burning of the whole site, in order to clear vegetation or for sanitation purposes. Both of these burning activities are carried out today by the local watermen of the region. Local people burn the shellmounds in order to remove the herbaceous layer when hunting turtles. I also observed that the people camping temporarily on the Islona Chantuto mound intentionally burned the part of their site that was used as a bathroom area in order to improve sanitation at the site. According to my reasoning these burning activities, if practiced in ancient times, could have caused thermal breakage of the shell nearest the site surface.

Although the burning activity postulated above, if repeated on a regular basis could have produced the type of bedding that I observed at the sites, I now favor a different explanation for the origin of the shell layers. That is, I think that the beds are themselves the remains of ancient clam bakes. In this interpretation the Chantuto people prepared to cook a mass of clams by first laying out a layer of inflamable material, consisting of palm fronds, grass, twigs and small branches, judging from the burned organic material remaining at the site. After igniting this kindling, a layer of raw clams would have been spread upon the fire, and then covered with fresh vegetable material in order to seal in the heat. The clams, which are small, would have steamed open quickly, and when that was accomplished and the heat had subsided, the gatherers could pick through the opened clams and extract the clam meat, leaving the shells more or less where the cooking had taken place. This explanation for the particular bedding observed at the shellmounds has the advantage of explaining how the clams were opened for extraction of the clam meat, as well as explaining the activity responsible for the stratigraphic characteristics at the sites.

Several other characteristics of the site sediments need mentioning here. One is that the thickness and extent of each layer of unbroken clam shells indicates that each time clam shells were deposited, the amount of shells was very great. This is one of the lines of evidence that in my opinion points toward the interpretation of the shellmound sites as bulk processing locations. The distribution system posited for collectors, which involves small groups of people processing items for much larger groups of consumers, fits nicely with the stratigraphic evidence.

Another characteristic of the matrix of the shell mounds that I need to mention here involves what did not occur at the shellmounds. That is, I want to consider the negative as well as the positive archaeological evidence at the site.

In this regard it seems to me significant that the parallel, flat-lying strata at the site show very little evidence of postdepositional disturbance, such as would be expected if large groups of people were in residence at the site. Only rarely were stake shadows visible in the excavated bedded deposits, and there was no other evidence of digging or churning the deposits by foot traffic or by other means, as would be expected if people were spending considerable time at the site. At Tlacuachero where the stratigraphy has been most well studied, I found that the flat-lying beds are present at all excavation locations, except near the edges of the site. Near the site periphery, the strata are not sharply defined and they dip away from the summit toward the mound base.

The negative evidence for an intensive occupation at the sites, suggests to me that they could not have been used by large numbers of people in residence for any appreciable length of time, an inference that is supported also by ecofactual and artifactual evidence.


FAUNAL EVIDENCE

Faunal remains that make up the site deposits and Tlacuachero and the other studied sites consist of enormous quantities of marsh clam shells, miniscule amounts of shell from other molluscan species, and some bones from fish and game. I have assumed that all of these faunal remains, with a very a few exceptions, were economic species whose principal value to the Chantuto people was for food. The exceptions to this general assumption are the very small molluscs (barnacle, Neritina sp., etc.) that were evidently brought to the site inadvertantly with the marsh clams, and gopher bones that could easily have become incorporated in the deposits because of this animal's burrowing habits.

Although I make the assumption that the other shell and bone are the leavings of food-getting activities, I shall argue here that it would be most unreasonable to assume that the on-site remains at the shellmounds are an accurate and direct reflection of the total meat diet of the Chantuto people. Rather I shall argue that the food remains at the shell mounds derive from two analytically separate processes. According to this view, the clam shells are the remains of food processed at the site for large groups of distant consumers, whereas the vertebrate faunal remains are, I believe, the leavings of food consumed on-site by the people who worked there. Moreover, I shall argue that some additional foods that I suspect were processed at the shellmound sites for distant consumers have left no surviving archaeological evidence as testament to this activity.

The abundance of clam shells at the shellmound sites is an incontrovertible witness to the massive collection and processing of these marsh clams as I discussed previously. Coastal archaeologists are generally aware of the fact that the bulk and durability of shell, in comparison to vertebrate remains, often can lead to an over estimate of the original role of shellfish in a prehistoric diet. However, in the shell mound sites of the Acapetahua Estuary when biomass reconstruction of meat represented by deposited clam shell is compared with meat represented by surviving bone averaged for three studied sites, clams are found to contribute a staggering 99.4 % of the total meat (Fig. 4). As Osborn (1977) pointed out, if this finding were to be interpreted as an exact reflection of the meat component of a prehistoric human population's diet, it would be unmatched by any ethnographically known group and quite likely would be nutritionally detrimental to human health (see also Noli and Avery 1988). I argue here that the role of clams in the diet was considerably less than would appear on the basis of the food remains at the shellmound sites because the sites were special purpose locations for the processing of clams, thus resulting in the superabundance of detritus derived from that activity.

In contrast, I interpret the vertebrate remains that were deposited at the shellmound sites as food remains of the people who were occupying the sites in order to carry out the processing of clams. The bones come from a relatively wide diversity of species of fish and game, especially when compared with the low species diversity of molluscs. Meat biomass reconstructions for the vertebrate fauna only (Fig. 4) yield the following results, expressed as percentages of total meat weight: fish contributed 75%; mammal contributed 17%; reptile contributed 9%; and turtle and bird each less than 1% of total meat weight. Given the assumption expressed above, this means that fish was by far the most important contributor of meat to the diet of the people who used the shellmound sites.

I suspect, but cannot prove, however, that the ancient Chantuto People procured and processed a much larger amount of fish than is represented by the bone remaining today in the shellmounds. This is because it seems to me entirely likely that the Huave pattern known from Colonial to modern times of exporting dried fish to inland populations (see Zeitlin 1989:34) was practiced in Archaic times as well. If this were the case, it is probable that there would be no surviving archaeological record as testament to this activity. Today, the fish that are dried at littoral zone locations always are exported with bones attached, rather than the bones being removed and discarded at the processing site. Small fish are dried whole with no processing other than sun drying, whereas large fish are eviscerated, split and spread open, but the bones are not removed. The archaeological implications of these modern processing techniques are that the bones of fish moved inland from littoral sites would be deposited at inland consumption sites, rather than at the processing locations. In order to test the validity of the posited prehistoric movement of dried fish, archaeologists should look for fish bone at inland sites. However, sites on the coastal plain of the study area generally lack preserved bone (Ekholm 1969), so it is not possible to make the required archaeological test.

Finally, there is one other resource that logically should have been significant in the diet of the Chantuto People, but which has not left archaeological remains. I am referring here to shrimp, the mainstay of the economy of modern inhabitants of the Acapetahua Estuary.

Today shrimp are abundant in the coastal lagoons of the Acapetahua Estuary during the part of their annual cycle when juveniles are growing to adulthood. When maturity is reached, the shrimp migrate to the open ocean where reproduction takes place and the larvae are produced. From the perspective of human predation, shrimp are an abundant seasonal resource of potential economic importance.

When juvenile shrimp are present in the coastal lagoons they are readily procurable with simple technology. Observers (e.g., Coe and Diehl 1980:120 ff) report native peoples' procuring shrimp with a hand held dip net, although the present day occupants of the estuary use cast nets, a relatively modern technology. Such a dip net or basket containing a fish is pictured on Stela 1 at the coastal Chiapas site of Izapa (Norman 1973) and they were in use in the 16th century in the Basin of Mexico (e.g, Rojas Rabiela 1985), but there are no surviving nets in my study area going back to Archaic times, however.

Despite the lack of direct archaeological evidence for the presence of nets, it is fairly certain that the Chantuto People were employing either nets, baskets or traps for fishing. This is because my analysis of fish bone shows that these ancient people procured large quantities of small schooling fish, as documented by the small sized fish vertebrae in the deposits. Other fishing technologies, such as hook and line, which are used for larger, carnivorous species, cannot have been employed for these small fish.

One characteristic of net fishing is that it is impossible to target a specific species to the exclusion of other species. This dilemma became widely recognized in the latter part of this century when the environmentally conscious public became aware that tuna fishermen were inadvertently catching dolphins in their nets. The same situation pertains as well to artisanal fishing, even when fishing is done with small nets (Randolph Widner personal communication; personal observation). Because of this I am confident that the net-, basket- or trap-using Chantuto People were catching shrimp along with the small fish, assuming that shrimp were seasonally present in the estuary as they are today.

However, it must be noted that I have been unsuccessful in identifying shrimp remains in the archaeological deposits of the shell mounds, despite efforts to find them. Shrimp remains have been found at archaeological sites in the American Southeast, but in my study area they are even absent from features known to have been used for drying shrimp as recently as a decade before the sample was taken. Therefore, it seems to be very likely that the postdepositional conditions are such that shrimp remains do not survive in this situation and that their absence should not be used as evidence to argue against their prehistoric use as an economic resource.

In summary, I cannot prove that shrimp and fish were processed in bulk quantities at the shellmound sites and transported to distant consumers but this seems to me to be entirely likely. Clams, in comparison, were clearly processed in large quantities but because their hard parts were left in the littoral sites, there is no smoking bullet to show that their consumption took place elsewhere. Other game resources of the wetlands, for example, deer or sea mammals, might have been processed in bulk and exported as well, but I am unconvinced that this was the case, since processing should have produced abundant hard parts at least of some portions of animals and these are not present in the archaeological deposits. I have argued that the vertebrate remains found at these littoral sites are likely to be from food eaten by the people while they were processing the bulk quantities of targeted food items.

ARTIFACTUAL EVIDENCE

There are two general characteristics about the artifacts that are present in the archaeological deposits of the shellmound sites: the low frequency of artifacts and the low diversity of artifact types.

The low frequency frequency of artifacts in some shellmound sites has been noted by other archaeologists. This must be in part due to the fact that molluscan shells have the potential to accumulate at a relatively rapid rate, due to their bulk and durability. That is, compared with other archaeological sediments the rapid accumulation rate possible for shells would have the effect of making artifacts appear scarce even when their rate of deposition is constant. In the present situation, however, I think that there is an additional factor to be considered. This is that the deposits are not middens in the usual sense of being generalized refuse accumulations. Rather, I think that the shell deposits are predominately superimposed features--that is, the remains of clambakes. These locations would not logically be a favored location for discarding unusable tools.

A second observation about the stone artifacts found at the shellmound sites is their low diversity of types. They consist of remains from the bipolar chipping technology of small obsidian nodules and waterworn cobbles that had been used expediently as generalized handstones, metates, and anvils. Accordingly, the diversity of stone tools is low as is consistent with a specialized function of the sites.

The chipped stone industry of the Chantuto People involved procuring obsidian nodules that had derived from two obsidian sources in Guatemala. These nodules are waterworn, which indicates that they were gathered from streambeds located on the slopes of the Tajumulco and El Chayal obsidian sources. The small, walnut sized nodules were processed by bipolar percussion, a fancy way of saying that they were cracked open by the hammer and anvil technique. The cores and obsidian flakes are the testaments to this activity that are found on the shell mound sites.

In addition to the chipped stone industry of obsidian, a microcrystalline rock, the Chantuto People used crystalline stones gathered from stream beds that they put to various uses. Small, hand-sized cobbles were apparently used for several different purposes including grinding and pounding. The grinding is evidenced by the striations transverse to the long axis of the ovoid stones and batter scars at the ends of the tools indicate their use as hammers. Fragments of flat stone slabs, also waterworn, have striations on their ventral surfaces suggesting their use as metates. Finally, similar flat, tabular stones have depressions, suggesting their use as anvils. Such anvils could have been used in the bipolar obsidian industry as well as to open palm nuts.

The diversity of tool types is very low, which is consistent with the interpretation that the sites were used primarily for special purpose activities that did not require a highly varied tool kit. Erlandson (1994:140) argues that the low density and diversity of artifacts at SBA-2061 were among the key criteria that he used to infer that the site had been formed by use for special purposes.

If the shell mounds in the Acapetahua Estuary were actually special purpose sites as I have argued, then where are the other sites that belong to the settlement system of the Chantuto People? Logically, archaeologists should find residential base sites and other special purpose sites in distinctly different environmental zones, if the collecting pattern was actually pursued by Late Archaic peoples on the Chiapas coast. I have argued above that these sites are difficult to discover in this environment because of a combination of low archaeological profiles and the liklihood of post depositional burial. Despite these obstacles there is one site that could be an example of a residential base formed by the Chantuto People.


VUELTA LIMON: A POSSIBLE RESIDENTIAL BASE

Vuelta Limón is a Late Archaic Period site, situated alongside the Rio Cacaluta (Fig. 2), where it was discovered in the northwest river bank. This river empties into the Chantuto Lagoon, at the mouth of which the Islona de Chantuto shellmound is located. This relationship is significant because the two sites were occupied at the same time, raising the possibility that they were part of the same settlement system.

The excavated part of the Vuelta Limón site consists solely of a lithic scatter made up of abundant waterworn cobbles, about half of which are fire-cracked, and various kinds of stone tools. These tools include all of the artifact types (i.e., microcrystalline and crystalline) found in the shell mounds, as well as additional artifact types, that were not found in the wetland sites. These latter tools include heavy choppers, scrapers, hammerstones, and bifacial implements made on crystalline rocks. The tools suggest that a wider range of activities were carried out at this site compared to the shellmound sites, which have a much lower diversity of tool types.

An additional line of evidence pertaining to the function of the Vuelta Limón site is derived from an analysis of soil samples for microbotanical remains. John G. Jones, who examined the samples for phytoliths, found that at the time the archaeological deposits were accumulating, the vicinity of the site had been forested, as indicated by abundant phytoliths from forest taxa. However, the presence of disturbance taxa in the same deposits suggests that the forest was being cleared to some extent, presumably for agricultural activities. This interpretation is substantiated by the presence of Zea mays phytoliths in many of the soil samples taken from the stone scatter.

The deposit that was exposed during excavation is best interpreted as a trash deposit, where rocks used in cooking activities and other inorganic and organic trash had been concentrated. The phytolith analysis indicated that initially the trash may have included a high concentration of palm fronds, since palm phytoliths were especially abundant. It is possible that this is actually the in situ remains of a cooking facility itself but the lack of charcoal throughout the deposit would argue against that interpretation.

It is likely that the site of Vuelta Limón was used by the Chantuto People as a residential base. Although this interpretation is not as firm as it would be if tangible remains of structures had been found, it is based upon the clear evidence of farming activities as documented in the phytolith record, the diversity of tool types indicating a wide range of activities at the site, and by the presence of what appears to be an area of the site where trash was relegated. Further work at the site some time in the future may allow a test of this proposition.

CONCLUSIONS



The archaeological record left by the Chantuto People is almost certainly skewed in favor of the shell mounds, which have a high archaeological profile. Other sites belonging to the same settlement system would be expected to be open air sites on the flat-lying coastal plain. Logically, these sites would be difficult for archaeologists to find because they would have had a low archaeological profile, since they predate the time that prehistoric Mesoamericans routinely built raised platforms. Moreover, the high rate of sedimentation on this alluvial coastal plain practically guarantees that such early, open air sites would now be buried under an overburden of soil. This is the case at Vuelta Limón, a late preceramic site that is currently under two to three meters of overburden. Vuelta Limón is the only known site of the Late Archaic Period which is situated on the upper gradient of the coastal plain.

The five shell mounds in the Acapetahua Estuary, however, are prominent features of the landscape. Their internal constituents suggest to me that they were formed over relatively long periods of time by the repeated processing of very large batches of clams, which were cooked in layers over fast burning and hot fires. Since food spoils very rapidly in this hot tropical environment, the only way that such large quantities of clam meat could have been used is either by prompt consumption on the spot or by preserving the meat for export. There is no evidence to suggest that large numbers of people were ever using these shell mound sites so I favor the explanation that clam meat was sundried and taken to consumers at distant locations. Logically, the same type of processing would have allowed shrimp and fish to have been moved inland as well but there are no surviving archaeological remains to testify to this practice.

Taken together, the lines of evidence available to archaeologists in my opinion point to a settlement pattern that approximates that of the collecting pattern as originally defined by Binford (1980). In this working model, Vuelta Limón would be an example of a residential base camp, and the shell mound sites would be examples of one type of specialized activity location (Fig. 5), although logically other specialized activity locations are probably also part of the system but they have yet to be discovered.



Acknowledgements. The field research upon which this article is based was funded by several different agencies over the years including: the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the Heinz Foundation, the University of California, and the University of Colorado. Permits for archaeological field work were issued by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico. I am indebted also to many individuals too numerous to acknowledge here. Special thanks are extended to John G. Jones, Texas A & M University, for his microbotanical studies and to Elizabeth S. Wing, Kathie Johnson, and Natalie Anikouchine for their faunal studies. I am very grateful to Maria Cristina Tenorío, for extending an invitation to participate in the IX Congresso da Sociedade de Arqueologia Brasileira, September, 1997, Rio de Janeiro. An earlier version of this paper was presented by me at that congress.



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1976 The Chantuto People: An Archaic Period Society of the Chiapas Littoral, Mexico. Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation, Vol. 41. Brigham Young University. Provo, Utah.

Voorhies, Barbara and Douglas J. Kennett
1994 Buried Sites on the Soconusco Coastal Plain. Journal of Field Archaeology 22:65-79.

Waselkov, Gregory A.
1987 Shellfish Gathering and Shell Midden Archaeology. In Advances in Archeological Method and Theory, edited by Michael B. Schiffer, Vol. 10, pp. 93-210. Academic Press, New York.

Zeitlin, Judith F.
1989 Ranchers and Indians on the Southern Isthmus of Tehuantepec: Economic Change and Indigenous Survival in Colonial Mexico. Hispanic American Historical Review 69:23-60.

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Figure Captions

Figure 1. Topographic maps of six shell mounds on the Chiapas, Mexico coast that date to the late Archaic Period. These sites, with the exception of Cerro de las Conchas, are located within the Acapethaua Estuary.

Figure 2. Study area showing late Archaic Period sites discussed in the text (from Kennett and Voorhies 1996).

Figure 3. Profiles from north and west sidewalls of test trench 1 in the central part of the Tlacuachero shell mound.

Figure 4. Comparisons of the amount of meat biomass represented by molluscs, fish and game averaged for Archaic Period sediment samples from Tlacuachero, Zapotillo and Campón. The pie chart on the left shows the relationship of clam meat to all other meat, whereas the pie chart on the right shows the relative proportions of fish and game to each other.

Figure 5. Proposed model of the late Archaic settlement pattern of the Chantuto People.


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