From collective government to communal inebriation

This week I will be giving a talk at the 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, which will take place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 10-14.

From collective government to communal inebriation in ancient Teotihuacan, Central Mexico

Tom Froese

A simulation model of Teotihuacan’s hypothetical collective government has shown that a highly distributed network of leaders could have been effective at ensuring social coordination in the city by means of consensus formation. The model makes a strong prediction: it indicates that this collective mode of government would have been most effective in combination with large-scale communal rituals, especially rituals involving strong alterations of normal mental functioning. These communal rituals could have allowed the sociopolitical network as a whole to escape from the suboptimal behavioral configurations that otherwise tend to result from the interactions between self-interested individuals. In line with this prediction, recently there has been a growing recognition of the existence of communal rituals involving inebriation, even to the point of vomiting and loss of motor control. The current consensus holds that these rituals are based on a mildly alcoholic beverage made from maguey, today known as pulque. However, in accordance with the model’s strong prediction and based on iconographic and ethnographic evidence, I propose that in some cases the beverage was made more potent with the addition of powerful mind-altering substances, in particular delirium-inducing plants from the genus Datura, today known as toloache.

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