Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



The origin of cities is a subject of major interest to geographers, economic historians, and archaeologists. One view of their development stipulates that cities are built on a rural economic base. In other words, the process is from the bottom up, with centers ultimately emerging to provide a variety of goods and services to a population of rural consumers distributed around them. An alternative view is that the development was from the top down. Centers emerged for any number of social and political, but once present nascient craft specialists manipulated the economic environment, making the rural countryside increasingly dependent on their goods. This paper utilizes information from the Tuxtla Mountains in southern Veracruz, Meiico, as a basis for looking at early city development. In particular, evidence on obsidian working from the archaeological site of Ranchoapan is applied to evaluate the "countryside first" and "city first" hypotheses. In the Tuxtlas Region it appears that the specialized obsidian working arose from a substratum involving the generalized manufacture of tools by households situated at small sites. The countryside first hypothesis thus has greater explanatory utility in the Tuxtlas than its conceptual alternative. Other crafts such as ceramics production, however, show a better fit to the city first model.


Latin American and Iberian Institute

Language (ISO)



The Latin American and Iberian Institute of the University of New Mexico


Tuxtla, Veracruz, obsidian