Quijos Settlement Dataset
Andrea M. Cuéllar

Archaeology Database
University of Pittsburgh
Email: cadb@pitt.edu

Ceramic Chronology and Stratigraphic Testing

No different from practically any other part of the world, the bulk of archaeology in Ecuador has been dedicated to the description of ceramics, excavation of monumental sites, and attempts to track the dispersion of ceramic horizons. Within this orientation, attempts to create new ceramic chronologies to fit the variations seen at particular sites within regions are very common. Breaking down known types into more types is a frequent outcome of this approach. No doubt a refined ceramic chronology is not only desirable but also necessary to answer most research questions in archaeology, but it would seem that there is not always agreement about what a useful ceramic chronology is and how far one needs to go before feeling satisfied with one in particular. The most general assumption though, is that there must always be more types, and that more types is de facto better than fewer types. This has been the main factor behind the temptation to incessantly refine (or incessantly criticize) existing ceramic chronologies. There are a number of things that archaeologists can do better with refined chronologies, yet the urge to work towards chronological refinement should be commensurate with the time scales in which the social processes to be studied function, which should in turn indicate the temporal resolution at which specific research problems can possibly be dealt with. Awareness of the pace at which different kinds of social change operate and are expected to be reflected as transformations in material culture, ceramics specifically, should be the main factor at the time of deciding how much effort to invest in chronological refinement (Bailey 1983).

The study of chiefdom emergence in the Valle de Quijos, as a long-term process of socio-political change, deals with a time scale that most would associate with the bottommost layer of Braudelís time scales layer cake, a scale related to broad and gradual social changes whose effects are fully recognizable in long spans of time. Therefore, using a chronological scheme whose periods are long, generally a number of centuries long, should not, in principle, be seen as an impediment to accomplishing this task. Although justifying this aspect of the research would seem at first unnecessary, it anticipates questions that commonly emerge, such as how does one control for possible changes within a long temporal span, or how does one know that the time scales defined by archaeologists on the basis of material culture changes are meaningful for the analysis of social change. The answer to the first question is simple: changes within a period defined by the uniformity of traits of material culture cannot be tracked, but it is assumed that--and in response to the second question--major social and political changes must have an obvious material correlate. Thus, changes that are not accompanied by a transformation of material culture must not have been drastic or as meaningful as those that led to such transformations. This resonates with recent theories of materiality, which propose that anthropologists recognize the mutual constitution of the material and the social. That is, it is erroneous to relegate material culture as incidental to social change, instead, it is woven into the unfolding of social transformatisons (e.g. Meskell 2005, Miller 1987, Thomas 2005). Returning to the question of temporal scales, it is pertinent to discuss how, in virtually any long term social pattern, change, even if directional (instead of cyclical, for example), occurs in an oscillating fashion, sometimes leaning towards what will be later identified as a trend, sometimes retreating from it, yet the overall effect is distinguishable and unequivocal when enough of the fluctuation is observed at once. Detailed consideration of peaks, valleys, retreats or advances at fine grained time scales is intrinsically interesting to witness as an expression of the oscillating nature of many processes of change, but does not necessarily speak better of patterns that are instead defined by reference to long spans of time. In a similar fashion, periods of time defined on the basis of limited change in material culture can also be seen as intrinsically stable periods, during which, despite oscillations, the lack of direction is the exception rather than the norm. Adhering to this notion of change and material culture does not call for control of oscillations within a given time span, and should not pose doubts with regard to the appropriateness of tracking broad patterns of social change by looking at changes in material culture that occur in the span of many years or centuries (Bailey 2006).

Springing from this theoretical framework, the following sections describe in detail the procedures and methodology employed for ceramic classification and the reconstruction of the local chronology:

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