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[Navajo: ‘the ancient ones’]

Term applied to the prehistoric ‘Basketmakers’ (fl to c. ad 750) of the south-western United States and their successors, the Pueblo tribes, who still live in the region. The Anasazi are famous for their communal buildings, many now ruined, which were known as ‘pueblos’ by the first Spanish explorers (see Native North American art, §II, 2). The most celebrated of these stone and adobe structures were multi-room, multi-family dwellings built atop mesas and in natural caves found at the base of canyons (see fig.). Built c. 1100–c. 1300, they are located at various sites, including Mesa Verde in south-west Colorado and Chaco Canyon in north-west New Mexico. The Anasazi also produced painted pottery, basketry, and weaving.


Paul Gendrop

[Sp.: “peg-and-socket joint”]

Construction method that enables an exact joint to be made between two pieces of wood, stone, or other material by means of a tenon or peg (espiga) on one piece fitted into a corresponding mortice or socket (caja) in the other. In Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica the caja-espiga joint was used particularly in sculpture, both freestanding and architectural. Its origins probably lie in Olmec sculpture, as represented in Monument 34 from San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan, the figure of a kneeling man carved in andesite (h. 790 mm, c. 1200–750 bce; Mexico City, Mus. N. Antropol.). A cavity in the left shoulder shows where a tenon in the arm, either fixed or articulated, would have been inserted.

At Teotihuacan (fl. c. 250 bce–800 ce) in the Basin of Mexico this type of joint was used for assembling blocks of carved stone, strengthening the vertical elements and resisting lateral movement. It was commonly used for fixing the stone ring markers to the walls of ...


Paul Gendrop

Term applied to a type of roadway, avenue or processional path characteristic of urban sites and groupings of structures within sites in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. At Classic period (c. ad 250–c. 900) Teotihuacán, for example, the East and West avenues appear to be arteries that acted as outlets for smaller streets and alleyways, the urban function of which was to subdivide the city and channel the flux of pedestrians. At the same time, the function of the northern section of the Avenue of the Dead, which runs north–south, was more complex; it appears also to have been a sacred pathway or processional path. The stretch of the Avenue of the Dead that runs between the San Juan River and the Pyramid of the Sun is divided into sections by transverse footbridges, and each section is bordered by ceremonial structures, sometimes including an altar or small pyramid. The footbridges appear to subdivide this part of the causeway into a sequence of ceremonial squares or plazas of a processional character. After passing the Pyramid of the Sun, the Avenue of the Dead reverts to a sacred pathway leading up to the Plaza of the Moon, which appears to have been the logical terminus for processions....


Robert J. Sharer

Pre-Columbian Maya site in the south-western Maya Highlands of El Salvador, c. 120 km south-east of Kaminaljuyú. Set at an altitude of c. 700 m, Chalchuapa comprises four main architectural groups—El Trapiche, Casa Blanca, Pampe, and Tazumal—in addition to other areas of ancient remains covering a total area of c. 3 sq. km. Initial excavation and restoration of the Tazumal group was conducted by S. H. Boggs in 1950, and the entire site was investigated by Robert Sharer on behalf of the Chalchuapa Project of the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, in 1966–70. The latter project documented sedentary occupation at Chalchuapa from c. 1200 bc to the Spanish Conquest of 1521, with a severe decline following the Ilopango volcanic eruption of c. ad 200. Major architectural and sculptural development began in the Middle Pre-Classic period (c. 1000–c. 300 bc) and culminated by the end of the Late Pre-Classic period (...


Henning Bischof

Modern town, partially overlying a Pre-Columbian site in Ancash Department, Peru. Ancient Chavín de Huántar flourished between c. 1000 bc and c. 300 bc, and the ceremonial architecture and more than 200 stone sculptures of this period were used to define the Chavín culture and art style. Subsequent research has shown that they were the culmination of Chavín culture rather than its origins. The site was reoccupied, after a short break, in the Huarás and Callejón periods, from c. 200 bc to c. ad 1000.

The importance of Chavín de Huántar was never entirely forgotten during the Spanish colonial period, and the ruins attracted 19th-century travellers, including Charles Wiener and Ernst W. Middendorf. The first systematic study of the ruins (from 1919) was carried out by the Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello, who by the early 1930s had conceptualized the Chavín culture as the fountainhead of central Andean civilization. ...


Richard A. Diehl

[Nahuatl: “snake wall”]

Wall decorated with serpent motifs built adjacent to temple pyramids in the Postclassic Period (c. 900–1521 ce) in cultures of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Three coatepantlis are known: the courtyard wall in front of the Great Temple, the most important Aztec temple in the imperial capital at Tenochtitlan (c. 1500; see Mexico City, §I); a line of serpents depicted in the round at the Aztec religious center, Tenayuca (c. 1500); and a free-standing vertical wall at Tula, the earlier Toltec capital (c. 950–c. 1200 ce).

Although he did not actually see it, Fray Diego Durán (1537–1588) seems to have described the Great Temple coatepantli from eye-witness accounts: “Its own private courtyard was surrounded by a great wall, built of large carved stones in the manner of serpents joined one to another … This wall was called Coatepantli, Snake Wall” (...



Beatriz de la Fuente

Region and culture of Mesoamerica that produced distinctive Pre-Columbian architecture, sculpture, pottery, and shell ornaments. From the Middle Preclassic Period (c. 1000–c. 300 bce) to the Late Postclassic Period (c. 1200–1521 ce) the Huastec people occupied the Gulf Coast of Mexico; today they inhabit southern Tamaulipas, northern Veracruz, eastern San Luis Potosí, and parts of Querétaro, Hidalgo, and Puebla.

Few Huastec buildings survive, and these only partially. Their most common characteristic is a circular floor plan. One of the oldest is in El Ebano in Tamaulipas; it may date from the Middle Preclassic Period and has a circular floor plan (diam. 57 m), on top of which is a sort of hemispherical cap, 3 m high. The area of the Tamuín River was the most densely populated, and among the best-known sites are Tamtok and Tamuín, both Late Classic (c. 600–c. 900 ce...


Phil C. Weigand

Site in Narayit state, Mexico. The term is also used for an associated regional style of pottery and figurines. The site has an architectural complex that dates largely from the Early Post-Classic period (c. ad 900–c. 1200), while the Narayit style is an earlier phenomenon, spanning the Middle and Late Pre-Classic periods (c. 1000 bcc. ad 250). Quantities of chemical turquoise found at Ixtlán del Río and in its vicinity indicate that the region played an important role in long-distance trade. The site is now a national park.

The Pre-Classic period ceramics, and group and architectural figurines, are found over a wide area of Nayarit and adjacent sections of the state of Jalisco, but the main production centre may have been in the vicinity of Ixtlán del Río. The figurines are truly ethnographic documents, nearly always polychrome and almost ‘baroque’ in the amount of detail used. This attention to detail provides a wealth of information on costume, ornamentation, personal artefacts, economic activities, and architecture. Some are clearly portraits, and again great attention is paid to such details as facial expressions and hand gestures. Warriors and group activity scenes are the best-known types. The group scenes often have architectural settings, ranging from individual houses on platforms to entire villages. One spectacular group scene in a modified Ixtlán style represents a ball-game in progress (Mexico City, Museo Diego Rivera de Anahuacalli); other scenes include festivals, processions, dances, and combat....


Richard F. Townsend

Site of a 16th-century rock-cut Aztec temple, c. 60 km south-east of Mexico City. The temple at Malinalco is an example of a widespread type of ritual building described in 16th-century ethno-historical texts and associated with the cult of the earth. Its monolithic inner chamber is the only excavated example to have survived intact. The temple forms part of a ritual and administrative centre built at the hilltop Matlazinca town of Malinalco after it had been incorporated into the Aztec empire. The buildings were begun in 1501, under the Aztec ruler Ahuizotl (reg 1486–1502), as extensions of the symbolic architectural system developed in Tenochtitlán; they are compactly arranged along an artificial terrace partly carved from the steeply sloping mountainside. The façade comprises two sections. Sculptured guardian figures flank the foot of a flight of 13 steps ascending the lower platform. Similar figures flank the front of the upper temple chamber; another figure forms part of the centre of the 3rd to 6th steps, in which the most important sculpture is a large relief carving of a serpent-like mask framing the chamber doorway. The carved mask functions as a hieroglyph for ...


Andrea Stone

Pre-Columbian Maya cave shrine in the Lowland Maya area, c. 30 km east of Poptún in Petén, Guatemala. Naj Tunich (Maya: ‘stone house’) lies at an elevation of 650 m along part of a spectacular upland karst zone (limestone terrain characterized by water-formed caverns) containing some of the longest caves in Central America. It was rediscovered in 1980, and archaeological work began in 1981. The 3 km of broad passages yielded a wealth of ancient remains including rock-cut architecture and artefacts of pottery, jade, shell, obsidian, and other materials. The major find, however, was a remarkable collection of Late Classic period (c. ad 600–c. 900) cave paintings, which distinguished Naj Tunich as one of the most important cave-painting sites of the New World. Unfortunately, many of these have since been damaged or erased by vandals. The ritual use of Naj Tunich was greatest between c. 50 bc...


Paul Gendrop and John F. López

revised by Joseph R. Givens

For more than a thousand years in Mesomerica, during the Early Preclassic period (c. 2000–c. 1000 BCE) and later, simple huts served for domestic, communal, and religious purposes. During the Middle Preclassic period (c. 1000–c. 300 BCE) more lasting and elaborate structures began to be built, and in the Late Preclassic period (c. 300 BCE–c. 250 CE) most of the basic components of Mesoamerican monumental architecture were developed.

See also Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

Large-scale Mesoamerican buildings can be analyzed in terms of primary and complementary architectural elements, layout, and variation in form and function, although it is not always possible to determine the purposes for which specific buildings were used. While particular traits make some structures easy to identify, for example ballcourts, steam baths, monumental platforms, or tombs, determining the function of most other buildings is difficult. Thus the residential functions of range-type buildings, usually termed “palaces,” can be deduced, though only in a few regions, by the presence of large integrated masonry benches in the interiors of many rooms. Few other features, however, provide a clear distinction between the residential buildings of elites or of priestly orders, houses of a “monastic” nature or used for spiritual retreat, or houses for the education of the young, for servants, or other members of society. Sometimes a clear distinction cannot be made between a temple and a palace (e.g. the Hall of Columns at ...


America’s interest in Pre-Columbian culture began to take tangible form in the 19th century. American explorer John Lloyd Stephens (1805–52) and artist Frederick Catherwood journeyed to Chiapas and the Yucatán peninsula in 1839 to describe and document Mayan ruins. Their research was published in 1841 as Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and the Yucatan. An expanded two-volume version, Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, was published in 1843 and contained over 120 woodcut illustrations, and provided the first pictorial views of ancient Mesoamerica.

The ancient sites of Mitla, Palenque, Izamal, Chichén Itzá and Uxmal were first photographed by French photographer and explorer (Claude-Joseph-)Désiré Charnay between 1858 and 1860. The resulting images were collected into a book published in 1863 entitled Cités et ruines américaines, which later included an essay by the influential French architect and theorist Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc. Charnay made a second trip to the region from ...


Paul Gendrop

Name applied variously to an area in the lowlands of Campeche, Mexico, a Pre-Columbian Maya site and a Maya architectural style of the Late Classic period (c. ad 600–c. 900). Count Maurice de Périgny explored the region in 1906–7 and discovered several groups of palaces, temples and platforms. Building I of Group B typifies the style. It comprises a low palace-like building with large interior spaces with integrated benches and a main façade flanked at each end by a solid tower with rounded corners. The towers are simulated, slightly squat versions of Maya pyramids crowned by temples, each with a stairway framed by alfardas (flat ramps), simulated sanctuary entrance and roof-comb.

The Río Bec style flourished between c. ad 600 and 800 in the northern Maya lowlands just north of the Greater Petén region. Stylistic traits include the aforementioned tower complexes, vertical chequerboard (damero) panels, panels with cross patterns derived from ...


J. C. Langley

Spanish term for a form of wall profile found throughout Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, comprising a vertical panel (tablero) resting on a slanting talus (talud). It is particularly associated with the type of pyramidal structure developed at Teotihuacan in the Basin of Mexico and characteristic of its culture (see fig.). Its origins are uncertain, but it occurs between 400 and 300 bce in the Puebla–Tlaxcala region together with other cultural traits later found at Teotihuacan. The talud–tablero was introduced at Teotihuacan c. 200 ce and during the next 500 years became almost ubiquitous on the stepped pyramids, which are typical of the city’s religious architecture. Each step of the pyramid comprised a vertical riser set in a frame or molding, either extended the full width of the pyramid or intersected by a stairway. This tablero is cantilevered and rests on a talud that slopes inwards at an angle of about 45°. The ratio of ...


Warwick Bray

Pre-Columbian archaeological zone in the region of the headwaters of the River Magdalena, Cauca Department, Colombia. Dating evidence for the sites and artefacts is imprecise, although some of the burial architecture probably dates to c. ad 600–850. Scattered throughout the area are cists and graves, stone statues, carved boulders, house sites, and painted underground sepulchral chambers grouped in ridge-top cemeteries; these were apparently unknown to the inhabitants of the region when the Spaniards arrived in 1539.

There are approximately 200 underground tombs, which served as family or community vaults, cut into the soft granodiorite rock. Each tomb is entered by either a straight or spiral stairway, sealed at the top by an earth-covered slab, leading to a circular or oval chamber with inset niches and a roof supported on free-standing square columns chiselled out of rock. Walls and ceilings were covered with a layer of white paint on which geometric patterns and stylized representations of lizards, frogs, serpents, large shield-shaped human faces, and full-length human figures were depicted in red, black, and yellow paint. Shaft tombs, often with side chambers, were also used. A painted underground chamber at ...


Elizabeth Baquedano

[Nahuatl: “skull rack”]

Structure used in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica to display the heads of sacrificed human victims or a stone platform carved with human skulls. Skull racks were usually placed near temples or ballcourts (see Ballcourt §1). Those displaying real skulls comprised a wooden framework supporting skulls skewered on horizontal poles run through holes drilled through the temples. Skull racks were described by Spanish conquistadors and missionary friars. Tzompantlis took a variety of forms and seem to have served several functions: altars and venues for ritual; displays of Aztec prowess; and structures to terrorize subjugated populations. Attempts to calculate the numbers of skulls on them include Diego Durán’s report of 80,000 and Andres de Tapía’s (a soldier with Cortés) 136,000.

The earliest known tzompantli was excavated by Charles Spencer at La Coyotera in Oaxaca, a Late Classic Period (c. 600–c. 900 ce) site. Some of the skulls had been drilled through, presumably in order to be skewered on a pole. Several Postclassic Period (...