Archaeological interpretation and the rewriting of history: deimperializing and decolonizing the past at Xaltocan, Mexico
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Overholtzer, L. (2013), Archaeological Interpretation and the Rewriting of History: Deimperializing and Decolonizing the Past at Xaltocan, Mexico. American Anthropologist, vol. 115:no. 3:pp. 481–495
In this case study of the Aztec imperial transition at Xaltocan, Mexico, I argue that the same rewriting of history and misrepresentation of subjugated peoples that postcolonial scholars attribute to Western colonialism also happened in non-Western imperial contexts. Moreover, I suggest that a focus on historically documented transitions has obscured other more significant social changes; our research questions have been structured by the very exercise of power we wish to counter. Drawing on Trouillot, I explore discrepancies between imperial histories written in the colonial era and archaeological evidence of occupation at Xaltocan, and I reveal the active silencing of commoners in ancient and colonial times. I then contemplate the implications of such revisionist histories for archaeological interpretation and suggest that by failing to critically evaluate historical evidence, we have incorrectly ascribed social change to elite actors and unwittingly perpetuated an imperial and colonial perspective. I also point to archaeological evidence of a dramatic pre-Aztec transition at 1240 C.E. that has remained unexplored, a consequence of the tyranny of text. Finally, I argue that by using postcolonial theory, examining contradictions and tensions in historical and archaeological data sets, and displacing focus from imperial historical narratives, we can deimperialize the pre-Hispanic past.
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