Ancient Mesoamerica

Special Section: Recent Research in the Lake Basins of Highland Jalisco

Political Boundaries and Political Structure: The Limits of the Teuchitlan Tradition

Christopher S. Beekmana1

a1 Department of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37235, USA


Many social scientists have proposed a relationship between the structure of a boundary and that of the system it delimits. Substantial anthropological and historical research has found the same tendency in analyses of traditional political structure. A model based on these findings was applied to the Teuchitlan tradition of Classic-period West Mexico, a region where the degree of political complexity and unification has been a subject of debate. A focused study of the eastern boundary of the Teuchitlan Valley was undertaken to examine the nature of its political structure. Fieldwork located a number of defensive features forming a well-structured boundary system in the La Venta corridor that connects the Teuchitlan and Atemajac Valleys. Other fortifications ringing the Teuchitlan Valley strongly suggest that a defensive network had been established to monitor access into the core of the Teuchitlan area. A unitary, territorial form of administration (following the work of Southall and Luttwak) is proposed as a model for political dynamics in the core region, but a review of the evidence for the more-distant Teuchitlan architecture suggests that, at most, only a hegemonic form of control more akin to that of the segmentary state was exercised outside of the core valley. A connection with long-distance resource acquisition is possible, but highly speculative at present.