Date of Award

Spring 4-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Arthur A. Joyce

Second Advisor

John Pohl

Third Advisor

Payson Sheets

Fourth Advisor

Gerardo Gutiérrez

Fifth Advisor

Elspeth Dusinberre


This dissertation combines archaeological, ethnohistorical, and iconographic data to examine how indigenous peoples of Mexico negotiated Spanish colonial rule during the early decades of contact with Europeans, by means of a focused case study. Specifically, this research is based at the site of Achiutla, located in Mixtec region of the state of Oaxaca, where I carried out archaeological excavations of indigenous households dating to the Late Postclassic (AD 1100-1523) Early Colonial (AD 1523-1650) periods. Pre-Hispanic codices and colonial chronicles indicate Achiutla was an important native religious center at the time of the Conquest, and legal records document numerous instances of conflict between indigenous residents and Spanish authorities during the ensuing decades. In focusing on households and material evidence, I explore how this rather traumatic historical rupture affected daily life in ways not accounted for in the historical record.

Results of the excavations paint a more complex picture than traditional models of colonial encounters in showing neither wholesale adoption of Spanish customs, nor dogged resistance. For example, native traditions of decorated ceramics flourished after the arrival of the Spanish, while at the same time European-influenced glazed and wheel-thrown pottery was adopted in more limited fashion. Carved stones with Catholic religious imagery were kept within households, yet in ways that were consistent with pre-Hispanic logics concerning the treatment of images. Pre-Hispanic networks of economic exchange were maintained while native peoples simultaneously adopted new technologies such as European forms of metallurgy.

The discussion of the data examines how domestic material culture practices were embroiled in social discourses surrounding identity and social negotiation. In focusing on native elites, these dynamics were likely especially complex, as elites relied on both Spanish authorities and their native subjects for their positions of power, and had to strike a delicate balance in negotiating the demands of both of these constituencies simultaneously. In sum, I argue that on the margins of New Spain, where colonial hegemony was more limited than scholars often assume, native peoples were more active participants in processes driving social change and continuity.