Beyond the Ecofact: Toward a Social Paleoethnobotany in Mesoamerica


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Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

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This essay examines the relationship between social archaeology and paleoethnobotany in Mesoamerica, a region where paleoethnobotanical research has been growing rapidly. We synthesize Mesoamerican paleoethnobotanical studies that have gone beyond descriptions of subsistence economies, reconstructions of ecological systems, or static lists of identified plant remains. These paleoethnobotanical investigations, we argue, transcend the ecofact to shed light on how human–plant interaction was connected to power, agency, societal structures, and normative constraints—fundamental foci of research in social archaeology. Pulling on current trends in Mesoamerican paleoethnobotany, we show how these social archaeological topics have been addressed via studies of political ecology and ritual. Future advances in social paleoethnobotany are contingent upon methodological innovations in data sampling, quantification, analysis, and integration. We end with a consideration of additional pathways toward a social paleoethnobotany, which includes contributions to understanding materiality, past gender relations, environmental knowledge, and the effect of scale on analysis and interpretations.

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