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Farming, Hunting, and Fishing in the Olmec World

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Farming, Hunting, and Fishing in the Olmec World
By Amber M. VanDerwarker. (University of Texas Press, Austin: 2006. Pg. xi, 244. Illustrations, Tables.) ISBN: 0-292-70980-3.

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - May 2, 2006

An interdisciplinary study of Olmec farming, hunting, and fishing practices can be found in Amber M. VanDerwarker's compelling book, Farming, Hunting, and Fishing in the Olmec World. In this important volume, VanDerwarker explores the economic basis of Olmec society and how, as their society developed, so did the complexity of their political system.

In this book, VanDerwarker focuses on a detailed study of the subsistence patterns found in two representative settlements of the formative period (1400 BC - AD 300) of Olmec development - La Joya and Bezuapan. These two settlements, located in the Sierra de los Tuxtlas were inhabited throughout this period, providing an opportunity to study subsistence practices over this extended period.

Her study was based primarily upon subsistence data, and she explores not only the subsistence patterns of the region as a whole, but also how they differed in large Olmec centers as well as in smaller communities. This exciting study delves into such topics as what foods people ate, how they farmed and gathered food, how food supplies were distributed, and how environmental and geological disturbances altered the subsistence system. She also examines what wild foods and animals were incorporated into the diet, and which wild foods and animals were domesticated. The formative periods of Olmec development were broad, and VanDerwarker takes pains to examine how the subsistence patterns changed over time, and how they impacted the political and economic spheres of Olmec development.

In Farming, Hunting, and Fishing in the Olmec World VanDerwarker not only provides a survey of current Olmec research, but she also provides a brief overview of Olmec history, the origins of agriculture, and other data that is essential for understanding the Olmec subsistence system. She also explains how this study was conducted, such as the processes used in the laboratory analysis of archaeobotanical and zooarchaeological samples, the methods of quantitative analysis used, ecological considerations, and field recovery procedures.

Interspersed among the details of the data used and the analysis done, VanDerwarker has included cognate 'discussions' that explore the importance of the material finds and the archaeological interpretations offered in regard to these sites. These discussions are also used to introduce valuable background information. Farming, Hunting, and Fishing in the Olmec World is a fascinating and important book that provides a much needed study on the subsistence practices of the Olmec who once lived along the southern Gulf Coast of Mexico. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in Olmec and pre-Columbian studies. It is also another valuable addition to the Linda Schele Series in Maya and Pre-Columbian Studies.

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