Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type



Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Christopher A. Pool


Using archaeological and ethnohistorical data, this dissertation examines the character of the relationship between the Late Postclassic (ca. AD 1250-1520) frontier center of Totogal, located in the western Tuxtla Mountains (Toztlan) of southern Veracruz, Mexico, and the expanding Aztec Empire. Traditional models of imperialism examine frontiers from a core perspective that limits the autonomy and agency of groups in the path of expansion. Recent ethnographic, ethnohistoric, and archaeological studies of other boundaries, however, suggest that considerable room for negotiation exists within the space of interactions, whether asymmetrical amounts of power characterize the home bases of those groups.

I argue that elites at Totogal, using imperial symbols and markers of their own high status, sponsored feasts and rituals for the non-elite public, during which they brokered the potentially conflicting interests of the Aztecs and the tribute paying population of the Tuxtlas. The invitation of the public to feasts and rituals that combined imperial and local elite symbols (and possibly green obsidian), naturalized the relationship between local elites and imperial representatives with non-elite occupants of Totogal and nearby settlements by establishing a reciprocal system of gifting whereby food and drink, served in the context of elaborate religious and commensal rituals, provided a benefit to the Tuxteco public which, along with other exotic highland goods, was viewed as an acceptable exchange for the local tribute items that the empire desired.

This study is an important application of current anthropological perspectives on boundaries, borders, and frontiers to the Aztec Empire. It is also a critical examination of the types of strategies individuals and groups living in boundary regions can enact in situations of contact and change. While studies of modern groups in boundary regions have addressed identity construction and manipulation, and other dynamic social, political, and cultural processes that take place, they do not typically or systematically examine how the negotiations that are enacted in boundary zones are materialized—how changing identities are represented symbolically through the use of particular products or consumption patterns. It is in this area that archaeological perspectives on boundary zone interactions can make important contributions to the modern world.

AppendixB.xls (161 kB)
AppendixC.xls (180 kB)
AppendixD.xls (754 kB)



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