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Keywords:

  • Surplus;
  • Aztec;
  • Mexico;
  • Agriculture;
  • Institutions

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The economy has many surpluses
  4. Surplus and production in pre-Aztec central Mexico: The case of Xaltocan
  5. Calculating surplus at Xaltocan
  6. Why produce a surplus?
  7. Transformation: The unintended consequences of surplus
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

Social scientists define surplus as excess, either excess production beyond a physiologically defined threshold or excess labor that can then be routed to “non-productive” means. Methodologically, this model is advantageous and simplifies analysis. Yet this approach can render social minimums as secondary to biological minimums and economic production as distinctive from social production. Subjectively, meeting biological requirements often are secondary to meeting societal obligations. Many producers in past states, for example, had to pay a set tax even in cases of poor yields. Today, paying one's rent or mortgage can entail sacrificing a healthy diet. Simultaneously, social and economic opportunities also shape surplus production—the ability to enrich relationships, participate in the market, host significant events, and gain prestige. Documenting biological minimums, while allowing us to recognize excess methodologically, sometimes has limited value in understanding surplus subjectively. Surplus represents a potentiality, which can be employed creatively or destructively. Within these extremes lay real people, both the powerful and the powerless, making decisions and inheriting their consequences.


The economy has many surpluses

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The economy has many surpluses
  4. Surplus and production in pre-Aztec central Mexico: The case of Xaltocan
  5. Calculating surplus at Xaltocan
  6. Why produce a surplus?
  7. Transformation: The unintended consequences of surplus
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

About 50 years ago, Pearson (1957) famously asserted that the economy has no surplus. He was criticizing the definition of absolute surplus, or surplus universally defined as production in excess and secondary to basic subsistence. Pearson did not deny the existence of a physiologically required threshold, but he argued that people are neither political nor demographic automatons. To the horror of Harris (1959), he argued for the subjectivity of surplus: “man, living in society, does not produce a surplus unless he names it as such” (Pearson, 1957, p. 326). He suggested that scholars examine surplus as a relative process and recognize the potentiality of surplus: “there are always and everywhere potential surpluses available. What counts is the institutional means for bringing them to life” (Pearson, 1957, p. 334; see also Dalton, 1960).

The implication of Pearson's (1957) view is that analyses of surplus should center on the interactions between human economic decisions and the institutional nexus that enables, constrains, and is created by such decisions. Pearson urged scholars to consider how people produce and mobilize surplus depending on distinctive and potentially overlapping institutional arrangements (cf. Earle, 1977; Saitta & Keene, 1990). Farmers, for example, make one body of surplus-related decisions to meet kin-based obligations and others to pay rent, tribute, tithes, or to participate in the market. Both Wolf (1966) and Brookfield (1972) made similar observations regarding social production and the various funds of peasant agriculture. Farmers diversify not only their economic base, such as the range of subsistence goods, but also their connections to social institutions within their communities and beyond. Such institutions can be separate, competing, or overlapping, but their autonomy often shifts over time.

Despite the problems with the surplus concept (see also Hauser, this volume), one challenge remains, which was central for many of Pearson's critics (e.g., Harris, 1959). If there is no universally defined, absolute surplus, how can it be found and studied in relative terms? If anything can be surplus than everything is surplus, severely limiting the concept's comparative utility and leaving us with an economy with no surplus. From an archeological perspective on agricultural production, this problem is of fundamental concern as we cannot actually observe decisions being made and subjective assessments being formed. The ability to reconstruct population sizes and the productivity of environmental catchments and farming strategies are prerequisites to understanding the archaeology of social production (e.g., Brumfiel, 1976; Flannery, 1976; Hirth, 1984; Parsons, 1976; Wilkinson, 1994; Zarky, 1976). In other words, archaeologists have to estimate minimal requirements to understand surplus as a relative phenomenon.

This problem reveals two dimensions to understanding surplus: analytical and historical. The analytical approach emphasizes excess production over biological needs, what Pearson referred to as absolute surplus. Studying absolute surplus enables surplus to be identified and, thus, is analytically unavoidable. The historical approach to surplus emphasizes what Pearson named relative surplus and requires efforts to elucidate the varied strategies of producers within a given institutional milieu (see also Barrier, 2011). These approaches are separate but not incongruous. Only if we extend the analytical priority of physiological requirements to a position of historical priority—as an actual, universal priority in terms of past decision making—would a potential problem arise. Furthermore, simply documenting excess does not address its mobilization, social utility, or waste. In fact, it is useful to keep these categories entirely separate. The first approach is simply a methodology to quantify excess. The second offers means to understand surplus.

I study these issues by articulating the agricultural and political history of the Postclassic kingdom of Xaltocan. To assess the multiple and overlapping institutional demands on surplus, I first estimate excess by examining the productivity of their farming strategies, namely chinampa agriculture. Second, I consider changes in the heterogeneity of agricultural products across time, namely diversity in maize. Together, these data suggest that as Xaltocan developed in political power, state institutions and non-state institutions became progressively interconnected, if not isomorphic. This process could have occurred as an indirect, unintentional consequence of surplus production and extraction or as a direct, intended means by which the state infiltrated the daily lives of the community.

Surplus and production in pre-Aztec central Mexico: The case of Xaltocan

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The economy has many surpluses
  4. Surplus and production in pre-Aztec central Mexico: The case of Xaltocan
  5. Calculating surplus at Xaltocan
  6. Why produce a surplus?
  7. Transformation: The unintended consequences of surplus
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

Xaltocan was a powerful, pre-Aztec city-state, located on an island in Lake Xaltocan in the northern Basin of Mexico (Figure 1). Settlement of Xaltocan began in the tenth century CE, possibly by Otomí peoples (Brumfiel, 2005a; Carrasco Pizana, 1950). Within two centuries, by the late Middle Postclassic, it controlled or influenced much of the northern Basin of Mexico. At its height, the kingdom had over 5,000 local inhabitants (Brumfiel, 2005a, 2005b, 2005c; Sanders, Parsons, & Santley, 1979, p. 151). Rulers intermarried with nobles from other dynasties, and the economy was based on local production, market trade, and tribute (Brumfiel, 2005a; Nazareo de Xaltocan, 1940).

image

Figure 1. Map of Basin of Mexico showing location of Xaltocan in relation to other key political centers.

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By the 14th century, Xaltocan became embroiled in a lengthy war with several neighboring kingdoms (Alva Ixtlilxochitl, 1891; Veláquez, 1945). The reasons behind the war are not known, but it was embedded within a broader conflict between the expansive states of Texcoco and Azcapotzalco, which would eventually lead to the formation of the Aztec empire (Morehart, 2010). This war lasted almost a century but, around 1395, an alliance of several polities was able to finally conquer Xaltocan. Xaltocan's nobles and followers are said to have fled and that the community remained abandoned for around 30 years until the area was incorporated into the Aztec empire (Alva Ixtlilxochitl, 1891, Vol. 1, p. 295; Brumfiel, 2005a; Hicks, 1994).

During Xaltocan's development as an independent polity, residents built a large, integrated system of elevated fields and canals, a form of agriculture locally known as chinampas (Morehart, 2010) (Figure 2). The system occupied at least 1,500 ha and was dependent on a primary canal that transported freshwater into the brackish environment from distant springs. Archaeological data suggest that the bulk of chinampa farming was contemporaneous with Xaltocan's political independence and that it was largely abandoned following its conquest (Morehart, 2010). Radiocarbon dates and diagnostic pottery suggest an exclusive Middle Postclassic time frame for chinampa agriculture, mainly between 1200 and 1400 CE. Archaeobotanical remains of beans, squash, amaranth, and chenopodium were recovered from excavations in the chinampa system. Maize, however, was by far the most common and is represented by cobs, pollen, and phytoliths (Figure 3). The abundance of maize recovered not only from the chinampas but also from the community itself offers a unique opportunity to consider the production and mobilization of surplus.

image

Figure 2. Remote sensing based, GIS map of Xaltocan's chinampa system.

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Figure 3. Maize (Zea mays) cob specimen from Xaltocan's chinampa system.

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Calculating surplus at Xaltocan

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The economy has many surpluses
  4. Surplus and production in pre-Aztec central Mexico: The case of Xaltocan
  5. Calculating surplus at Xaltocan
  6. Why produce a surplus?
  7. Transformation: The unintended consequences of surplus
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

The creation of chinampas at Xaltocan suggests agricultural intensification either to meet the needs of a growing population or to produce surpluses to finance various institutional demands. Understanding these processes requires a sense of the productivity and carrying capacity of the landscape and the amount of labor necessary for production (Table 1). To estimate these variables, my approach follows the studies Parsons (1976), Sanders (1957), and Armillas (1971) (see also Santamaría, 1912; West & Armillas, 1950) conducted on the productivity of chinampa agriculture in the southern Basin of Mexico (Morehart, 2010). Much of the analysis presented below, however, is influenced specifically by Parsons (1976) reconstruction of Late Postclassic chinampa productivity in relation to the population of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. To establish the productivity and labor requirements of chinampa farming, Parsons relied on Sanders' (1957) ethnographic data. Despite the wealth of research on chinampa ecology by Mexican scientists, Sanders' study remains one of the only ethnographic descriptions of chinampa farming that centers both labor and productivity in quantitative terms (cf. Santamaría, 1912).

Table 1. Productivity, labor, and surplus estimates for Xaltocan's chinampa system. Notice the difference between population requirements and labor.
Chinampa size and productivity estimates
Estimated chinampa area1,500 ha
Total arable land1,000 ha
Maize kg/ha/year3,000
Total chinampa productivity potential3,000,000 kg/year
Estimated population requirements and surplus
Xaltocan population5,000 people
Per capita requirements200 kg/year
Population requirements1,000,000 kg/year
Total yearly surplus2,000,000 kg/year
Estimated labor requirements and surplus
Per capita labor/year0.75 ha/year
Total necessary laborers1,333 Farmers (27% of population)
Total labor requirements266,666,67 kg/year
Laborers' per capita surplus2,050 kg/year
Total laborers' surplus2,733,333 kg/year (91% of population)

Several simplifying assumptions must be made to undertake this work. First, I am assuming the population estimate of 5,000 local inhabitants is correct for Xaltocan at its height.1 Second, I am assuming that the system was in maximum cultivation during Xaltocan's apogee in the Middle Postclassic period, which is supported by chronological data.

Third, the size of the system, approximately 1,500 ha, is actually a conservative figure. The system itself may have been as much as 1,000 ha larger (Morehart, 2010). Using ArcGIS with stratigraphic data on field and canal sizes, I estimated the difference between canals and arable land by subtracting the areas of canals from the overall area. This procedure leaves about 904 ha of arable land. Armillas (1971) tried to estimate the amount of arable chinampa land in the southern Basin of Mexico and settled on a 25% figure to eliminate canals. A 25% reduction for Xaltocan would give a figure of 1,125 ha of arable land. In the end, I decided that about 1,000 ha is an adequate estimate of arable land. This figure is acceptable given that the overall chinampa area estimate is conservative.

To simplify, I follow Parsons in only focusing on maize, which, according to archaeobotanical remains, was one of the dominant crops (Brumfiel, 2005a; McClung de Tapia & Martínez, 2005; Morehart, 2009, 2010) (see Hunt, 2000, p. 266, for an analytical justification for centering on one crop). Sanders (1957) estimated that an individual requires at least 160 kg of maize per year. Parsons (1976, p. 243) increased Sanders's value to 200 kg to accommodate the dietary contribution of other crops that were not considered. Moreover, Sanders (1957) concluded that chinampas in the southern Basin of Mexico can produce 3,000 kg of maize grain per year per hectare, which is close to irrigated maize yields in the northern Basin (Charlton, 1970, p. 228; Morehart, 2010, p. 285; Nichols, 1987, p. 601). Using this figure to estimate the productivity of Xaltocan's chinampas results in 3,000,000 kg of maize per year (3,000 kg × 1,000 ha). Given the 200 kg per capita dietary figure, Xaltocan's chinampas had the potential to support 15,000 individuals—10,000 more than the town's maximum population of 5,000. Stated differently, a population of 5,000 would require 1,000,000 kg of maize annually, leaving 2,000,000 kg of overall excess.

Following Parson's calculations, the system would have required around 1,300 workers to cultivate its maximum extent, or 27% of Xaltocan's local population. A total of 1,300 workers would require cultivating around 267,000 kg of maize annually, leaving a per capita surplus of around 2,000 kg (enough to support about ten additional people per farmer) and an overall surplus of 2,700,000 kg. When farmer's subsistence needs are subtracted, as much as 91% of the total product of the chinampa system constituted a surplus from a primary producer standpoint. Assuming the system was cultivated at its maximum intensity, the chinampa system had the potential to produce far more than was needed by the population of the central community.

Why produce a surplus?

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The economy has many surpluses
  4. Surplus and production in pre-Aztec central Mexico: The case of Xaltocan
  5. Calculating surplus at Xaltocan
  6. Why produce a surplus?
  7. Transformation: The unintended consequences of surplus
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

In his ethnographic treatise on the Nahuatl of the early Colonial period, Sahagún 1961 described what he called the “good farmer,” an individual who is closely “bound to the soil” (p. 41). Although Sahagún clearly was trying to convey the knowledge and skill that Nahuatl farmers maintained and passed on to their children. But this “binding” reveals additional dimensions of agricultural intensification. Contemporary chinamperos, for example, maintain highly complex and intricate temporal and spatial practices. Chinampas are exceptional not only for their productivity but also for their ability to continually absorb labor in highly detailed ways, a technologically and behaviorally ideal example of Geertz's notion of agricultural involution. Geertz (1963) argued that “once the radical intensification of agriculture is accomplished, it is difficult to retreat from it” (p. 100). Over time farmers are less willing or able to abandon their land and became bound to their investments. Many scholars have suggested that this phenomenon of “caging” increases agriculturalists' susceptibility to control in which rulers take advantage of farmers' strategies to finance a political economy (Brumfiel, 1976; Earle, 1997; Erickson, 1993; Gilman, 1981). Netting's (1993) smallholders, that is, can establish the conditions for their own potential exploitation.

This insight sheds light on Xaltocan's chinampa system. At no time does a population growth model entirely explain chinampa farming. Not only was production potentially much higher than the town's maximum population requirements, but the region itself experienced a population decline when Xaltocan was settled and began to grow in political power (Parsons, 2008). Even Boserup (1965, p. 54) recognized that, when not under the pressure of population, agriculturalists will intensify under social hierarchy's compulsion. Chinampa farmers likely were required to pay tribute or tax to underwrite political institutions, especially to local nobility or lords (Morehart & Eisenberg, 2010), or even to work lands formally controlled by the ruling regime. Surplus production was connected to meeting the demands of the Xaltocan state. Although we lack direct evidence, much of this surplus possibly was stored at the household of the local lord, as it was in later Nahua and Otomí polities (Zorita, cited in Carrasco Pizana, 1950, p. 103). Similar to political economic conditions during the Late Postclassic, Aztec imperial period (albeit on a lesser scale), Xaltocan's rulers could have mobilized this surplus to pay non-agricultural officials (cf. Brumfiel, 1980; Calnek, 1978). They also probably encouraged surplus production to finance events that created or cemented internal and external alliances.

Maintaining political alliances also could have cross-cut or reinforced ethnic identities (e.g., Brumfiel, 1994). Xaltocan developed alliances with other kingdoms in central Mexico, particularly polities in the southern Basin (Brumfiel, 2005b). Carrasco Pizana (1950, pp. 137–138) argued that both Xaltocan and the Otomí town Metztitlan participated in a moon goddess cult as well as in the worship of Otonteuctli, a deity associated with fire, warfare, and death (see also Sahagún, 1997). Metztitlan was the birthplace of Xaltocan's final, independent ruler, Tzompantzin, and was where he would flee when Xaltocan was conquered (Alva Ixtlilxochitl, 1891, Vol. 1, p. 137). Marshaling surplus for large-scale rituals to reaffirm political and ethnic ties possibly was a political tactic, particularly as Tzompantzin's regime was embroiled in the regional conflict that would eventually lead to conquest.

With war, the productive burdens on farmers possibly intensified as increased food was needed to support local warriors and distant allies (Morehart & Eisenberg, 2010). In fact, political isolation and circumscription possibly fostered the growth of chinampa agriculture itself. The Anales de Cuauhtitlan, which provides one perspective on this conflagration, describes a risk of attack if Xaltocan residents strayed too far from home (Bierhorst, 1992, p. 57). The estimates presented above on dietary needs are baseline requirements and do not take into consideration the additional energy requirements of people engaged in war. The productive burden on farmers, thus, may have been heavier than just maintaining stable political institutions.

Transformation: The unintended consequences of surplus

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The economy has many surpluses
  4. Surplus and production in pre-Aztec central Mexico: The case of Xaltocan
  5. Calculating surplus at Xaltocan
  6. Why produce a surplus?
  7. Transformation: The unintended consequences of surplus
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

This interpretation only focuses on how surplus production was mobilized for political ends and only examines its distribution from the perspective of the state. Thus, it minimizes farmers' agency and does not explain how agricultural production was geared toward meeting multiple (not singular) institutions. The ways in which production was connected to overlapping institutional spheres also can encourage greater dependency on land. That is, agriculturalists are not only chained to their land via techno-behavioral involution and political obligation but can become tethered to the institutional structure of social relationships that emerges from and is sustained by their economic decisions (Morehart, 2010, pp. 90–91).

Several institutions fundamental to social existence had to be supported. These institutional spheres include not only basic household and agricultural reproduction but also community and household rituals as well as market activities (Brookfield, 1972; De Lucia, 2013; Monaghan, 1995; Morehart, 2010; Renfrew, 2001; Spielman, 2002; Wells, 2006; Wolf, 1966). From a producer standpoint, the decisions on how to mobilize surplus may have emanated from the household (De Lucia, 2013; Morehart & Eisenberg, 2010, p. 95). As with centrally stored maize, farmers would have had to store grain in their households. At the very least, stored seed was necessary to maintain ongoing production, what Wolf (1966) called a replacement fund. But, as with the other funds Wolf discusses, farmers had to produce a surplus to participate in many different institutional spheres as well as to avoid risks (e.g., Nichols, 1987; Scott, 1976). The knowledge of chinampa agriculture also captures the potentiality of surplus—farmers likely had knowledge that a potential surplus was bound up in the land, only requiring it to be tapped via human labor.

The need to meet several overlapping demands can cause a degree of heterogeneity in production and resource acquisition. Diversity in maize in central Mexico, for instance, was related both to genetic and to ecological factors (Morehart & Eisenberg, 2010). Farmers often cultivated several kinds of maize to meet the requirements of dissimilar institutional spheres. Different maize varieties and plant parts were necessary depending on the institutional context of consumption or exchange (Sahagún, 1963, pp. 279–280). Feasts called for specific kinds of maize for recipes of gruel, tamales, and tortillas. Deities had different tastes, and maize was offered to them as complete ears and in various processed states (Durán, 1971; Ruiz de Alarcón, 1984; Sahagún, 1951). What was not produced locally could be obtained via exchange on the market, allowing people to acquire variable kinds of grain and flour depending on specific institutional demands (Sahagún, 1961, pp. 65–71).

This diversity of strategies should be observable in the diversity of crops in the community. Elsewhere, Eisenberg and I documented the changes in the diversity of maize over time (Morehart & Eisenberg, 2010). Maize diversity from the chinampas was low. Maize diversity in the community, moreover, declined as Xaltocan attained its maximum political power (during Phases 2 and 3) (Figure 4). In fact, the range of variation in chinampa maize and the community maize from Phase 3 deposits from the community occupies the same dimensional space, suggesting exclusive reliance on chinampa maize during the kingdoms apogee.

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Figure 4. Figure conveying the reduced diversity of maize over time at Xaltocan in relation to maize remains recovered from the chinampa system. Diversity index is based on the Shannon Index using K means analysis with a six cluster solution. Original data and method reported in Morehart and Eisenberg (2010).

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As maize diversity at Xaltocan decreased, the consumption of maize actually increased. First, Brumfiel (2005a, p. 353) calculated an increase in maize ubiquity in the town (from 45% to 68%) as Xaltocan developed in political power. The overall range of crops present (in deposits from test pits throughout the community) mirrors this pattern: the overall diversity of crops in the community diminishes with the reduction in maize variability (Morehart, 2010, p. 300). De Lucia (2013) recently reported a similar finding at the household level.

These trends in maize standardization and dependence could indicate systemic transformations in the nature of local institutions. Farmers became reliant on similar kinds of maize to finance political institutions and the core institutions necessary for everyday life. Previously autonomous institutions could become progressively isomorphic, leading both to highly politicized relationships and patterns of behavior. This interpretation suggests not direct state control over non-state institutions but, instead, unintended consequences stemming from how people met the overlapping nature of social, economic, and political institutions.

Other data from Xaltocan also indicate a political transformation in community institutions. Brumfiel (2005c) argued that the iconography of Middle Postclassic vessels associated with community and household feasting depicts motifs associated with the sun, sacrifice, and cosmic warfare. Long-term conflict possible led to a community-wide ideology that celebrated war and sacrifice (Brumfiel, 2005c, p. 234). Similarly, Overholtzer (2009) documented an increase in figurines of warriors from household deposits at the site during the same time frame. In light of the increased maize homogeneity, these data shed light on how residents progressively participated in an ideology of warfare as well as on the possible integration of institutions necessary for both the state and social life. The way in which surplus production and flow met overlapping institutional requirements likely contributed to this process.

When Xaltocan was conquered, the integration of institutions and patterns of land use became unsustainable (Morehart, 2010). With a collapse in the institutional means to bring surplus to life (Pearson, 1957, p. 334), the potentiality of surplus declined. Nobles fled to Otomí communities in Hidalgo and Puebla (Alva Ixtlilxochitl, 1891, Vol. 1, p. 295; Hicks, 1994). Farmers abandoned their chinampas (Morehart, 2010). Local residents' productive strategies were fundamentally altered, especially as the Aztec Empire incorporated the region—a period that witnessed new, overlapping political, social, and economic institutions requiring the active production and mobilization of surplus (Brumfiel, 2005a; Overholtzer, 2013).

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The economy has many surpluses
  4. Surplus and production in pre-Aztec central Mexico: The case of Xaltocan
  5. Calculating surplus at Xaltocan
  6. Why produce a surplus?
  7. Transformation: The unintended consequences of surplus
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

Historian and poet Bataille (1985) wrote that “surplus is the cause…of the structural changes and of the entire history of society” (p. 106). Bataille suggested that societies are driven toward thresholds via excessive production, changing structurally only when orgiastic forms of waste allow these thresholds to be surpassed. Bataille's writings are no doubt going to increase in popularity in the coming years given progressive interest in excess combined with a fixation on consumption in all its phantasmic dimensions. Where I part with Bataille, however, is precisely where I find Pearson's (1957) work is useful. Society is neither monolithic nor a caricature of the most conspicuous or romantic forms of consumption. History does not change unidirectionally or teleologically. Expenditures have ends beyond the superficiality of waste (cf. Bataille, 1985, p. 118). In contrast to these aspects of Bataille's conceptions of excess and surplus, that is, Pearson points scholars toward production, distribution, and consumption and stresses the shifting relationships between active decision makers and institutional contexts.

Studying surplus is not just a way to understand the macro-level structure of complex polities, to create a broad dichotomy between producers and consumers, or to provide a connecting thread for a unilinear narrative of progressive change. Micro-level and macro-level processes are intrinsically connected, and local decisions have cumulative effects. Surplus represents a potentiality to be employed strategically, and this employment has both intended and unintended consequence that lead to change. At Xaltocan, the production, distribution, and consumption of surplus contributed to societal integration and transformation but also were components in the kingdom's social disintegration and political collapse.

Surplus does involve thresholds, but not simply a threshold between organic needs and superfluous excess. In this light, this article addresses both the methodological and interpretive dimensions of surplus, which are basic to archaeological research. Methodologically, it is necessary to document excess or absolute surplus. However, such an approach is incomplete without considering the historical and subjective aspects of surplus as it is connected to differing and overlapping institutional spheres, or relative surplus. From a subjective perspective, what constitutes surplus depends on individuals' positions within an institutional milieu. Subjectively, meeting biological requirements often is secondary to meeting societal obligations. That is, resources necessary for maintaining physiological minimums can become the surplus depending on one's place in a political economy. Simultaneously, however, social and economic opportunities shape surplus production—the ability to enrich relationships and gain prestige or power. The potentiality of surplus suggests a movement, a transition, or transfer that has yet to occur but, once taken, can lead to structural transformations in a social fabric. Considering surplus's potentiality is important because it elucidates people at the thresholds between many possible, yet socially finite, decisions. At this threshold, lay real, different people making decisions and inheriting their consequences—both the intended and the unintended.

Acknowledgments

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The economy has many surpluses
  4. Surplus and production in pre-Aztec central Mexico: The case of Xaltocan
  5. Calculating surplus at Xaltocan
  6. Why produce a surplus?
  7. Transformation: The unintended consequences of surplus
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

I would like to thank the editors and the SEA organizers, Rahul Oka and Ian Kuijt, for the opportunity to participate in this volume. The research discussed was supported by grants from Northwestern University, the National Science Foundation, Wenner Gren, and Fulbright Hays. Permission was provided by Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia as well as the organization of common lands of Xaltocan, Mexico. I would like to acknowledge my former and late adviser, Liz Brumfiel, for careful guidance over this project. Moreover, SEA members present during the 2010 annual meetings offered constructive and useful comments and criticisms that improved my framing of this article and the issues addressed.

Note
  1. 1

    The actual population of Xaltocan is not known. Estimates of the site population at its maximum occupation have ranged from approximately 1,700 to around 3,400, using the original population estimation procedure of the Basin of Mexico archaeological surveys (Parsons, Kintigh, & Gregg, 1983), to up to 5,000 (Sanders et al., 1979). Chimonas (2005) studied proportional changes in Xaltocan's population over time using the distribution and density of surface artifacts but did not provide any absolute estimates. Brumfiel provides an estimate of 4,200 for Phase 1 at Xaltocan, the period associated with its initial settlement and growth, but it is unclear how this figure was determined and estimates were not provided for any other period. Clearly, the Postclassic demography of the town needs to be restudied, which is essential to any analysis of surplus. Given the available estimates, however, I have selected to employ the largest of these figures.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The economy has many surpluses
  4. Surplus and production in pre-Aztec central Mexico: The case of Xaltocan
  5. Calculating surplus at Xaltocan
  6. Why produce a surplus?
  7. Transformation: The unintended consequences of surplus
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References
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