Cloth, Gender, Continuity, and Change: Fabricating Unity in Anthropology

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In this article, I compare backstrap-loom weaving in three cultural contexts: the ancient Maya, the ancient Aztecs, and 20th century Mesoamerica. Although continuities are present, important differences exist in ways that weaving was situated historically. Among the Classic Maya, weaving defined class; in Aztec Mexico, weaving defined gender, and in 20th century Mesoamerica, weaving defined ethnicity. A comparison of theses cases suggests that historical study is a useful tool for both archaeologists and ethnographers. It promotes recognition of the diversity of practice and belief in ancient societies. It helps to define the scope of contemporary ethnographic study. It combats cultural essentialism and injets agency into our accounts. It enables us to acknowledge both the rich heritage of indigenous peoples and the fact of cultural change. Cmparative historical study provides a strong rationale for the continued association of archeology and cultural anthropology as parts of a wider anthopological whole.

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