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Archaeologist uses satellite imagery to explore ancient Mexico
Date:5/13/2008

Satellite imagery obtained from NASA will help archeologist Bill Middleton peer into the ancient Mexican past. In a novel archeological application, multi- and hyperspectral data will help build the most accurate and most detailed landscape map that exists of the southern state of Oaxaca, where the Zapotec people formed the first state-level and urban society in Mexico.

If you ask someone off the street about Mexican archeology, theyll say Aztec, Maya. Sometimes theyll also say Inca, which is the wrong continent, but youll almost never hear anyone talk about the Zapotecs, says Middleton, acting chair of the Department of Material Culture Sciences and professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Rochester Institute of Technology. They had the first writing system, the first state society, the first cities. And they controlled a fairly large territory at their Zenith250 B.C. to 750 A.D.

The process of state formation varied across the Zapotec realm. Sometimes it involved conquest, and other times it was more economically driven. Archeologists like Middleton are interested in different aspects of society that emerged in the process, such as social stratification and the development and intensification of agriculture and economic specialization.

Middletons study will explore how the Oaxacan economy and environment changed as the Zapotec state grew and then collapsed into smaller city-states. Funding from NASA and National Geographic will also help Middleton build a picture of how climate and vegetation patterns have changed over time.

For the past 4,000 years, human activities have been a factor in environmental change, Middleton says. And there are some parts of Mesoamerica that we have pretty good evidence that the environment we see today is the catastrophic result of ancient agricultural practices. Middleton will focus on two sites in the Chichicapam Valley located in between two of the major arms of th
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Contact: Susan Gawlowicz
smguns@rit.edu
585-475-5061
Rochester Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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