Champotón 7 - The Postclassic Period
The Early Postclassic???Recent reevaluations of ceramic chronologies for the Northern Lowlands have radically altered our understanding of the Terminal Classic and Postclassic periods, with a significant amount of continuing debate about the dating of different types and complexes and the degree of overlap between them. This is particularly relevant for the relationship between Cehpech, Sotuta, and Hocaba complexes identified by Smith (1971) in his seminal research on ceramic assemblages from the Northern Lowlands. While initially presented as sequent complexes pertaining to the Terminal Classic, Early Postclassic, and Late Postclassic, respectively, new research has shown that there is at least some temporal overlap between Cehpech and Sotuta, while many Hocaba diagnostics have either been pushed into the later Tases complex or shifted forward into the Terminal Classic (a small sample of recent literature on this subject includes Anderson 1998; Andrews, et al. 2003; Ball 1979; Bey, et al. 1998; Cobos 2004; Lincoln 1985; Ochoa Rodríguez 1999; Pérez de Heredia Puente 1998; Robles Castellanos 1990; Robles Castellanos 2006; Suhler, et al. 1998; Volta and Braswell 2014). The emerging picture suggests that Cehpech and Sotuta are two regional variants on the same slateware tradition that developed in the late ninth century, and (at least in the case of Sotuta) continued into use through 1100 AD. The latter part of this era, corresponding to the Sotuta-Sotuta phase at Chichen Itza (Volta and Braswell 2014), corresponds to the late period of fluorescence (or ‘International Period’) of the polity. Braswell and Volta (2014) place these developments between AD 950-1100. This newly redefined “Early Postclassic” corresponds to the expansion of the power of Chichen Itza across much of the Yucatan Peninsula, particularly along coastal trade routes.
As noted above, research at Uaymil and Isla Cerritos documented Canbalam sphere ceramics with Sotuta pottery, suggesting there could have been some overlap. However, research in the Río Champotón drainage encountered extremely few diagnostic Sotuta sphere ceramics, nor local analogs with modal similarities. The lone exception to this pattern is Silho Fine Orange, a fine paste ceramic that has traditionally been associated with the Sotuta Sphere (Figure 7.46, Table 7.17). However, the small quantities of Silho fine orange were typically associated with Postclassic assemblages, and were very difficult to differentiate from Matillas Fine Orange (a well-documented fine paste group dating to the Postclassic Period). Thus, there is no evidence of influence of Chichen Itza influence or presence – at least as it is typically associated with the distribution of Sotuta sphere ceramics (historical reconstructions based on this correlation include Andrews, et al. 2003; Andrews and Robles Castellanos 1985; Ball 1986; Cobos 2004; Robles Castellanos 2006; Stanton and Negrón 2001; Suhler, et al. 1998) – in the Río Champotón drainage. In fact, no evidence of Sotuta ceramics have been found south of Uaymil on the Campeche Coast. Evidence of militarism and expansion by Chichén Itzá, reflected in other parts of the Maya Lowlands by site destruction and the introduction of Sotuta sphere ceramics (Anderson 1998; Andrews and Robles Castellanos 1985; Carmean, et al. 2004; Cobos 2004; Robles Castellanos and Andrews 1986; Suhler, et al. 2004), is almost entirely lacking along the western coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.
As a great deal of literature on the political history of Chichen Itza has focused on the ability of that polity to dominate coastal trade, particularly toward the latter part of the city’s apogee during the ‘International Period,’ the utter lack of any evidence of Itza influence in the region was surprising. The lack of Sotuta sphere ceramics along the Gulf Coast littoral indicates two possibilities: that direct control of coastal trade by Chichen Itzá did not extend beyond the northwestern Yucatan Coast; or sites along the Camepche coast (including Champotón) were did not overlap chonogically with the era of Chichen expansion. If the latter scenario is correct, then the lack of Sotuta sphere ceramics at Champotón could indicate a brief hiatus at the site between AD 900 and 1100. This issue will only be resolved by improved dating (incorporating a series of radiometric dates) of the Champotón 5, Champotón 6, and early facet of the Champotón 7 complexes. However, the utter lack of any evidence of continuity between Champotón 6 and Champotón 7 lends credence to the latter model. In contrast to Sotuta sphere ceramics, which have clear links with pre-existing Cehpech and Copo sphere slateware traditions, Champotón 7 is radically different from earlier complexes. There are no notable modal similarities between these two contexts, and their distributions are spatially segregated, suggesting a lack of continuity. Although the length of this possible hiatus are still in question, there is clear evidence for discontinuity between Champotón 6 and Champotón 7.
The Postclassic Period is one of the best represented in the history of the Río Champotón drainage, with particularly extensive evidence of occupation surrounding the modern city of Champotón and at the inland center of El Zapote as well as smaller communities at Niop, Kaymuch, and Rancho Potrero Grande (Figure 7.45). In contrast with the preceding periods, the Postclassic ceramic assemblage is relatively homogenous at the intraregional level and highly distinctive in terms of typology and stratigraphic relationships with earlier materials. While the entire temporal range of the Champotón 7 clearly pertains the Postclassic Period, it is currently difficult to distinguish early and late facets. The problems inherent in distinguishing early and late facets for this period are in part due to reconsiderations of specific types previously believed to be markers of the Early Postclassic, particularly groups associated with the Sotuta and Hocaba ceramic spheres (Smith 1971). The type designations for the Imi, Moquel, and Almendros groups listed below were created by Forsyth (in prep) during his analysis of ceramic assemblages form the Proyecto Champotón, which are currently in process of publication.
Champotón 7 assemblages differ quite radically from other defined Postclassic ceramic phases, although it does share many modal similarities with Postclassic materials from the Yucatán peninsula. The most distinguishable attribute of Champotón 7 materials is a distinctive white paste ware that was used in the production of unslipped, red slipped, and cream slipped groups, including serving vessels, cooking and storage vessels, and even censers and ritual wares. Forsyth (in prep) defined several new types from his analysis of Postclassic assemblages from the Proyecto Champotón research in the modern city of Champotón, including the unslipped Imi and Almendros groups and the red slipped Moquel group (Figure 7.42 and 7.43). Notable horizon markers associated with this paste group include: molcajetes (Cherna Incised); applique (Couoh Applique), ladle (Imi Unslipped: Kaymuch variety), and effigy (Chento Painted and Pozo Monte Composite) censers; and thin walled jars (Almendros Mottled and Arrocero Brushed). Useful markers for defining facets for the Postclassic Period include Peto Cream ware (and local analogs) for the early facet and modelled effigy censers (Chen Pec Modeled) for the later facet. However, the chronological placement of these wares is currently somewhat preliminary (see discussion below).
The very high quantities of imported Matillas Fine Orange serving dishes likely comprised most of the serving vessel subassemblage in the Rio Champotón drainage, and help explain the lack of locally produced red slipped bowls noted above. The ubiquity of Matillas group ceramics has led Forsyth (2004) to argue that Champotón played a central role in the distribution of these wares between Tabasco and the Yucatan Peninsula. This supposition supports Folan and colleagues’ argument that Champotón played a similar role in obsidian exchange spheres in the Postclassic Period (Folan, et al. 2003:69). Interestingly, the distribution of Matillas Fine Orange is not limited to the expanding city of Champotón. Similarly high quantities of Matillas Fine Orange – and correspondingly low frequencies of red slipped serving vessels – have also been documented at Kaymuch and El Zapote (Table 7.16), reflecting open access to these materials by smaller inland communities. The frequency of Matillas Fine Orange at Kaymuch is particularly interesting given the extremely humble nature of this agricultural community. The high quantities of fine orange vessels within the Champotón 7 complex is a continuation and amplification of patterns originating in the Champotón 5 complex, in which communities in the Río Champotón drainage procured a substantial quantity of serving vessels from foreign sources.
Compared to the Late and Terminal Classic Periods, the Champotón 7 complex has a general lack of diversity in wares, form, and surface decoration. There is very little diversity in ceramic groups within the Champotón 7 complex, with a large percentage of types pertaining to a single white to grey paste ware and imported Matillas Fine Orange serving vessels. As noted above, the lack of red slipped ceramics are aberrant. Furthermore, the multitude of fine paste wares entering the region via trade in Champotón 5/6 contrasts markedly with the Postclassic assemblage. Although the frequency of fine paste wares in many sites was between 15 and 20% of the total ceramic assemblage during both periods (compare Table 7.16 and 7.17), the diversity of fine paste wares and types in Champotón 5/6 contrasts radically with Champtoón 7, where nearly all identifiable fine paste ceramics pertained to a single group: Matillas Fine Orange. Silho Fine Orange also appears in limited quantities, but identification of this ware was difficult due to strong similarities with Matillas Fine Orange. Thus, some of the materials identified as Silho could represent late versions of the latter or early or transitional versions of Matillas group ceramics. This contrasts dramatically with Champotón 5/6, when a diversity of fine paste wares entered the region from multiple source areas (see above). These data indicate that although the quantity of ceramic trade goods entering the region remained relatively constant, these materials were much more standardized and probably originated from fewer source regions. This could reflect the development of more regularized trade relationships with producer communities to the west compared with the relatively free access to diverse goods that existed previously. While this trade ware has been identified at Mayapan (Smith 1971) and as far east as Coba and the Caribbean Coast (Ball 1978:92), the much higher frequencies of Matillas Fine Orange at Champotón could reflect a central role in the distribution of this ware.
One significant issue with the Champotón ceramic chronology is the difficulty in consistently separating early and late facets of the Postclassic Period. In general, Postclassic assemblages from across the project study area are incredibly homogenous and typically lack well-stratified deposits. This could reflect a relatively short occupational period for many Postclassic communities or a general pattern of conservatism in ceramic repertoires. However, the problems inherent in distinguishing early and late facets for this period are in large part due to reconsiderations of specific types previously believed to be markers of the Early Postclassic, particularly groups associated with the Sotuta and Hocaba ceramic spheres (Smith 1971). The general trend in recent ceramic syntheses has been movement of many ostensible Early Postclassic horizon markers – including Silho Fine Orange, Peto Cream, and Tohil Plumbate – into the Terminal Classic (see discussion above, Anderson 1998; Ball 1979; Bey, et al. 1998; Cobos 2004; Lincoln 1985; Ochoa Rodríguez 1999; Pérez de Heredia Puente 1998). However, Braswell and Volta (2014) have convincingly argued that the late apogee of Chichen Itza as an international power post-dates the fall of Terminal Classic centers such as Uxmal and Coba. They favor an Early Postclassic (AD 950-1100) date for this late fluorescence at Chichen. This earlier placement of the Early Postclassic Period has created something of a ‘dark age’ between the decline of Chichen Itza as a major geopolitical power (now dated by most as occurring sometime around AD 1100) and the later rise of Mayapan (which likely occurred sometime around AD 1250-1300). If the new chronological placements of Sotuta and Tases ceramics proves to be accurate, it raises important questions about political, social, and economic dynamics during the intervening ‘Middle Postclassic Period.’
As noted above, there is very little evidence of Sotuta sphere ceramics – or local analogs – in the Champotón region, perhaps reflecting a regional hiatus during the apogee of Chichen Itza. Champotón 7 demonstrates far more modal and typological links with Postclassic ceramics from Mayapan, suggesting that this complex pertains to the latter part of the Postclassic Period (the Middle and Late Postclassic as defined above). There are two specific types that appear in highly variable concentrations within the Champotón ceramic assemblage useful for differentiating early and late facets of the Postclassic.
The best ceramic diagnostic pertaining to the earlier facet of this complex is Peto Cream. Although there is compelling evidence that Peto Cream ware initially appeared while Sotuta slatewares were still being produced (see discussion above), this ware continued into the Middle Postclassic ‘dark age’ following the decline of Chichen Itza as a regional power (Volta and Braswell 2014). Ochoa’s (1999) synthesis of the distribution of Peto Cream suggests that this ware dates as early as the Terminal Classic Period, while Braswell and Volta (Volta and Braswell 2014:390) argue that it first appears during the late tenth or early eleventh centuries alongside the similar yet technologically superior Dzitas Slate, and continued in use after the fall of Chichen Itza after 1100 AD during the Middle Postclassic. This latter period matches well with findings at Champotón, as the two varieties of Xcanchakan Black-on-Cream described above are limited to Postclassic contexts with modal links to the Hocaba/Tases spheres. As noted above, the distribution of Peto Cream was highly variable, contrasting with the very homogenous frequencies of other Postclassic types found within the region. Contexts with high frequencies of Xcanchakan Black-on-Cream were thus provisionally attributed to the early facet of the Postclassic: Champotón 7a. This chronological placement was reinforced by the lack of stratigraphic association between Peto Cream ware and “Mayapan style” modelled effigy censers that are chronological markers of the Late Postclassic. Likewise, Xcanchakan Black-on-Cream was never noted in contexts with mixed Champotón 7/Champotón 8 contexts pertaining to the Protohistoric Period. Diagnostic Protohistoric and early Colonial types such as a Sacpocana Red, Trapeche Pink, and Yuncu Unslipped were often found in association with Champotón 7 types, indicating continuity between Late Postclassic and Protohistoric ceramic production spheres (see below). However, these late ceramic groups were never found in association with Xcanchakan Black-on-Cream.
The late facet of the Postclassic period was more difficult to define. As noted above, modeled effigy censers are one of the oft-cited horizon markers for the Tases complex at Mayapan (Smith 1971:135), and the Late Postclassic period more generally (Ball 1978:92-94). The local analog of Chen Mul Modeled censers from Mayapan – Chen Pec Modelled – consists of elaborate anthropomorphic effigy censers similar to the well-documented examples from Mayapan, but executed in the same paste as Imi Unslipped (Forsyth, n.d., Bishop, et al. 2006:139; Forsyth 2004). First established as a type by Forsyth (n.d.), Chen Pec Modeled censers were encountered in highly variable quantities across the Río Champotón drainage. In the Proyecto Champotón excavations, Chen Pec Modeled censers were found in a highly concentrated deposit off the side of the large platform in the Barrio Pozo del Monte excavated by Folan and colleagues (Folan, et al. 2003; Folan, et al. 2002; Folan, et al. 2004; Forsyth 2004). A similar deposition of censer fragments (yet somewhat less impressive in density) was encountered on a hilltop shrine at Rancho Potrero Grande (Chapter 6). Other Postclassic contexts had less notable concentrations, and the total frequency of these censers was low overall. In contrast with the distribution of Xcanchakan Black-on-Cream, the highly variable frequencies of Chen Pec Modeled censers very likely relates both to the chronological placement as well as the highly specialized usage of these vessels. As functionally specific ritual vessels, these censers could be useful as a marker of the Late Postclassic, but their absence cannot be used as a priori evidence of earlier occupation.
The Champotón 7 complex is well represented in the Río Champotón drainage, particularly at the sites of Champotón, El Zapote, and Kayumch (Figure 7.48). The area immediately adjacent to the mouth of the Río Champotón – in the northern parts of the modern city as well as adjacent areas of Paraiso on the northern banks of the river – have substantial evidence of occupation during this period. This clearly correlates with the late apogee of the prehispanic polity of Chakanputun/Chanpeten that was well described in Spanish sources shortly after contact. Both the early and late facets of Champotón 7 are represented in this area.
Other sites with notable Postclassic occuaptions include Kaymuch, Niop, Rancho Potrero Grande, and El Zapote. The Postclassic occupations of Kaymuch and Rancho Potrero Grande have several similarities, including concentration of modest populations near heavily terraced hilltops (Chapter 6). Both of these areas functioned as hinterland agricultural communities that likely produced food surpluses for the expanding urban population at Champotón.
The only other notable Postclassic center outside of Champotón is El Zapote. This small nucleated settlement pertains almost entirely to the Postclassic Period, with high quantities of Peto Cream ware indicating a peak in populations during Champotón 7a. Data from surface collections and excavations in the site epicenter, the hilltop groups, and surrounding settlement all reflect a short period of fluorescence at El Zapote dating to the Postclassic Period, particularly in the early facet (Champotón 7a). Given the archaeological evidence for political instability at El Zapote – including high densities of projectile points, evidence of site abandonment prior to the completion of the two largest hilltop complexes, and the construction of a defensive wall surrounding the settlement – it is possible that the growth of Champotón had negative repercussions for the political history of El Zapote. The extensive evidence of column drums and Postclassic material culture throughout modern Champotón and Paraiso provide an indication of the size and political importance of the city. During Champotón 7, it is clear that Champotón emerged as one of the most powerful polities in the Maya Lowlands.
Continuing a pattern that emerged during the Champotón 5/6 complex, the Champotón 7 complex reflects participation in the highly integrated and international interaction networks of Postclassic Mesoamerica. The ubiquity of Matillas Fine Orange clearly indicates links between Champotón and coastal Tabasco. The unslipped ceramics of the Imi group and red-slipped ceramics of the Moquel group display strong similarities with contemporary Postclassic wares from Mayapan (Smith 1971), Lamanai (Aimers 2009; Graham 2001; Graham 2004), and Santa Rita (Chase 1986; Chase and Chase 1988). Aimers (2009) has argued that broad modal similarities among typologically distinct groups during the Postclassic Period were part of shared Navula and Matillas Ceramic Systems that were perpetuated by long-distance trade networks, with the inspiration for these stylistic links to ceramic traditions from the Gulf Coast. Within the highly integrated and international pan-Mesoamerican cultural mileau of the Postclassic Period, Champotón would have been strategically situated within this emergent world system.
The end of the Champotón 7 complex is marked by Spanish Contact. However, this seminal historical moment did not initiate abrupt change in the ceramic assemblage. As alluded to above, Protohistoric and early Colonial ceramics pertaining to the Champotón 8 complex exclusively appear in mixed contexts with Champotón 7 materials. Diagnostic types associated with the Champotón 8 complex - Sacpocana Red, Trapeche Pink, Yuncu Unslipped, Olive Jars, Mayolica, and Colonial Whitewares – appear in small quantities intermixed with Champotón 7 types. The continuity of pre-Hispanic ceramic traditions into the Protohistoric and Colonial periods has also been noted by (Ball 1978:92). Interestingly, Matillas Fine Orange also seems to continue to be consumed in Champotón during this era, indicating that Spanish conquest did not interrupt trade of ceramic wares between Champotón and Tabasco. Nevertheless, Champotón 8 ceramics were exceedingly rare in the Champotón ceramic assemblage. As the topics of this research deals exclusively with pre-Hispanic dynamics, contexts with evidence of Protohistoric materials were excluded from this study.