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Outside the Hacienda Walls

The Archaeology of Plantation Peonage in 19th Century Yucatán

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Outside the Hacienda Walls book cover

Outside the Hacienda Walls book cover

© University of Arizona press

Meyers AD. 2012. Outside the Hacienda Walls: The Archaeology of Plantation Peonage in 19th Century Yucatán. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 978-0–8165-2995. 176 pages in nine chapters, notes, index and bibliography

Allan Meyers' new book, Outside the Hacienda Walls: the Archaeology of Plantation Peonage in 19th Century Yucatán, is a fine example of an archaeological study that reports on and explains in plain English a wide variety of methods including oral history, survey, excavation, Historical documentation, and ethnography. As such, I believe it might very well be an ideal companion text to a introductory course in historical archaeology.

Historical Context of Hacienda Tabi

The book is focused on the site of Hacienda Tabi, a colonial plantation located in the Puuc region of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. The ruins of the site reflect Mexico's past class struggles, between powerful landowners and the indigenous people and new immigrants the landowners exploited between the 17th and 20th centuries. In addition, the research investigating and compiling the plantation and the experiences of the people who lived and worked there reflect some of the most important historical events in Mexico's history, including the Caste War, the encomienda and peonage labor systems, Mexico's independence from Spain, the rule of Porfirio Diaz, and the revolution of 1914-1915.

Meyers places the results of the site investigations within the context of these events, using historical documentation to illuminate and illustrate these cultural changes as they impacted the people of the Yucatán.

In addition, Meyers and his colleagues employed a wide range of archaeological techniques available to historical archaeologists, including extensive census data, newspaper reports, ethnography and history from researchers such as Robert Wauchope and Wolfgang Gabbert, and oral history from the descendants of the people who worked at Hacienda Tabi, as well as survey, excavation, chemical studies, and faunal analysis.

Chapter Summary

Hacienda Tabi Plantation House in 2005

Hacienda Tabi Plantation House in 2005

© Allan Meyers

In Chapter 1, "The Death of Pablo Chan," Meyers uses an historical report from 1890 concerning an event that occurred at Hacienda Tabi to introduce the reader to what life was like for the workers on the hacienda. Providing a map of the grounds, this chapter also describes the various events and types of archaeological, economic and anthropological studies that have occurred at and in the vicinity of Hacienda Tabi. Chapter 2, "The Birth of an Expedition", describes how the investigations at the excavations at Hacienda Tabi came about. This chapter also gives a an introduction to the demographic and geographic location of the site.

In Chapter 3, "Chronicle of an Estate", Meyers provides an overview of what is known about the history of the Yucatán Peninsula, beginning with the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1500s, and ending with the Mexican Revolution of 1915. In this chapter is also a discussion of how the peonage system worked, how it became injurious to the workers, and how the information about conditions in Yucatán, leaked out to the rest of the world.

Chapter 4, "Life and Debt beyond the Walls", begins the discussion of what historians have discovered about the village outside of Hacienda Tabi's walls. Data sets include the plantation hierarchy and demography as defined by Census data, and ethnographic studies by Robert Wauchope in the Yucatán region in the 1930s, and reports by historians such as Wolfgang Gabbert, investigating Campeche district relationships during the Porfirio Diaz regime. Chapter 5, "a Village Rediscovered", traces the collection of archaeological information supporting and filling in the gaps from the historical record; and chapter 6, "The Social Order in Clay and Stone", connects the two.

Chapter 7, "Where the Garbage Went", discusses artifacts from the midden; chapter 8, "If Floors Could Talk", describes household studies in the Yucatán and related areas, and geochemical analysis of house floors identified at Hacienda Tabi. Together these two chapters put a human face on the results of the excavations at historical research.

Finally, chapter 9, "Return to the Light", summarizes the results, and discusses the future plans for Hacienda Tabi.

Bottom Line

Allan Meyers' book provides abundant background information concerning the site of Hacienda Tabi, the history of the Yucatán over the past five centuries, and the growth and change of the Mexico from Spanish colony to independent state. In addition, Outside the Hacienda Walls unites archaeological, ethnographic, historical data together and defines and describes the ethical and mechanical considerations of each of these techniques. These considerations are described in a way that undergraduate students will find enormously helpful in learning how the disparate pieces of information generated by archaeological research can do much to illuminate political change in a region.

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