Not long ago, the phrase “Formative Period Urbanism” would have struck most Mesoamerican archaeologists as an oxymoron. Yet, research over the past 20 years has demonstrated that the Formative Period was not a mere prelude to the Classic Period (300-900 CE), but that in many regions it exceeded the Classic; not only were there true cities in the Formative period, but they were as large or larger than those in the Classic. The latter part of the Formative period saw the climax of a 1500 year-long trend of increasing complexity and cities were widespread throughout Mesoamerica, supported by systems of intensive agriculture, with elites who shared a pan-Mesoamerican tradition of high culture that included art, writing, religion, and engineering. The key issues to be addressed include: What was the nature of Formative period urbanism in Mesoamerica? How do the processes of initial urbanization in Mesoamerica compare to those elsewhere in the world? How did Formative Period urbanism differ from that of later times in Mesoamerica? What role did the emergence of an elite intelligentsia play in the development of Formative Period urbanism?
Michael Love is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at California State University-Northridge. He earned his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California-Berkeley and has led numerous excavations in the Southern Region of Mesoamerica, most recently directing the La Blanca/Ujuxte Archaeological Project in Guatemala (2003 - present). Love's research focuses on Formative era Mesoamerica and, in particular, the material indices of urbanization and statehood in early complex societies.