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Article

Elizabeth P. Benson

Pre-Columbian Maya site in Retalhuleu, in the Highland Maya region, near the Pacific coast of Guatemala. It is best known for its monumental stone sculptures, some of which were recorded in the 19th century. The site lies partly on the Finca San Isidro Piedra Parada, and it was known by this name when Eric Thompson published a description of some of the sculpture in 1943. ‘Abaj Takalik’ (‘standing stone’) is a translation of ‘Piedra Parada’ into Quiché Maya. It was occupied during the Pre-Classic (c. 2000 bcc. ad 250) and Classic (c. ad 250–c. 900) periods. The site lies on a fertile slope between the mountains and the sea; there are remains of steep, manmade earthen terraces on which its structures were built. The earth removed to create the terraces may have been used to construct the various mounds at Abaj Takalik, a number of which were faced with stone cobbles. Adobe bricks were also used, and local volcanic material provided flooring. The site was covered in ...

Article

Colin McEwan

[anc. Salangome]

Pre-Columbian site in Manabí Province, Ecuador, 8 km inland in the Buenavista River Valley. It was a principal town, controlled by a lord, of the powerful indigenous polity of Salangome, recorded in 1528 by the navigator of the Spanish explorer and conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Human occupation at Agua Blanca spanned at least 5000 years and included components of all the principal ceramic-using cultures identified along Ecuador’s coasts. The ceramic sequence began with Valdivia wares in the early 3rd millennium bc, and continued uninterrupted during the Manteño culture (c. ad 800–c. 1500) encountered by the Europeans in the 16th century.

The visible archaeological remains at Agua Blanca are of Manteño date. They comprise the wall foundations of several hundred domestic structures, storehouses, temples, and other public buildings, which together make the site the largest and best-preserved of all surviving Manteño towns. The orientations of some buildings were clearly governed by astronomical considerations. The long axis of the principal temple, for example, is directed towards the point of sunrise on the December solstice, and this alignment determined the east–west axis of many buildings at the site. A secondary or derived axis, at right angles to the first, determined the layout of other structures. In still other areas, buildings were arranged radially around a central mound, a practice resembling the principles of spatial organization expressed in the earlier dated ...

Article

Phil C. Weigand

Site of Pre-Columbian culture near Chalchihuites, Zacatecas, northern Mexico. It was explored by Gamio in 1910 and by Kelly in 1971 and 1976. Its chronology is still uncertain, but the most important occupation was during the Classic period (c. ad 250–c. 900). Alta Vista was a small, highly developed ceremonial centre that exploited a massive mining complex for malachite, azurite, haematite, limonite, coloured chert, galena, cinnabar, rock crystal, and other semi-precious materials. More than 800 mines, some of them over 1 km in extent, have been surveyed (Weigand); they are made up of chambers, adits, shafts, tunnels, internal spoil heaps, and external spoil heaps comprising millions of tons of residue. Because far more material was produced than could possibly have been used regionally, there is a strong argument for central Mexican sponsorship, possibly even control, of the mines by Teotihuacán.

The ceremonial centre comprises a complex series of interrelated buildings whose overall effect is monumental. The main compound is a square plaza surrounded by a banquette topped by platforms. On the north side there is a small pyramid covering a crypt, which contained three high-status burials. Adjacent to the plaza is a structure, once roofed, known as the Hall of Columns, which also contained prestige burials. At an angle to the Hall of Columns is an ‘observatory’ structure, which, because of its placement on the Tropic of Cancer, clearly had special meaning for Mesoamericans. It may have been coordinated with the pecked, double calendar circle at Cerro de Chapín, a nearby site to the south. Other architectural features include a colonnaded entrance fronting a road to the mines, a palace-like court with a skull rack (...

Article

Elizabeth P. Benson

Site of Pre-Columbian Maya ceremonial centre in the Río Pasión drainage, near the source of the Usumacinta River, El Petén, Guatemala. It was occupied nearly continuously from the Middle Pre-Classic period (c. 1000–c. 300 bc) into the Early Post-Classic period (c. ad 900–c. 1200). Known since 1883, the site was explored early in the 20th century and excavated by Harvard University of Cambridge, MA, during 1958–63, particularly because it was hoped that it would shed some light on problems of the Classic ‘Maya collapse’ of c. ad 900. The site is strategically located on a major river system, between highlands and low country on the southernmost edge of the Lowland Maya region, and the ceremonial centre consists of three architecturally independent groups. The North Plaza has the largest mounds and most of the stelae.

The corpus of stone sculpture includes: 26 circular altars, most of them plain, although 7 are carved with hieroglyphs; 21 stelae carved with glyphic panels and rulers holding symbols of office; 3 ‘censer’ altars (basins behind deity masks); and various panels and obelisks. The earliest known monument is Stele 10, with a date of ...

Article

Jeremy A. Sabloff

Site of Pre-Columbian Maya culture in the southern Lowland Maya region of Belize, c. 56 km north of Belize City. The site flourished c. 200 bcc. ad 900, although it was occupied both before and after these dates. Large-scale, intensive excavations carried out between the 1960s and the 1980s under the direction of David Pendergast and his associates from the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada, have revealed much important information about Altun Ha. Finds are in Belize Government collections and in the Royal Ontario Museum.

The central part of the site is organized around two plazas. Plaza A, the earlier, is bordered by four temples and several platforms. Two of these structures investigated by Pendergast are known as A-1 and A-6. Structure A-1, the ‘Temple of the Green Tomb’, is named after the tomb found inside it, dated ad 550–600, which contained several hundred pieces of jade and numerous other burial goods, including large ceremonial flints, pottery bowls, shell necklaces, and pearls. It also yielded the vestiges of an ancient Maya manuscript or codex, the pages of which had disintegrated. Structure A-6, the largest structure in terms of mass, underwent three building stages. During the second phase, the building had 13 doorways in the front and an elaborate stucco frieze on the upper wall. Plaza B consists of six structures, including several residences and the tallest ceremonial building at Altun Ha, Structure B-4, the ‘...

Article

Amapa  

Phil C. Weigand

Site of Pre-Columbian culture on the coastal plain of Nayarit, Mexico. It was probably an important regional ceremonial centre for the western Mesoamerican cultures. Although it had been extensively studied, notably by Clement Meighan, by the late 1990s an absolute chronology for the site had yet to be established. Some researchers, using obsidian hydration dates, believe that the critical Cerritos phase began c. 600 ad, while others, relying on radiocarbon dates and comparative materials from other sites, date this phase several centuries later (Meighan). Early occupation of Amapa may have been more sporadic than in later periods; nonetheless, large quantities of Pre-Classic period (c. 2000 bcc. ad 250) material have been found at the site and in its immediate vicinity. Amapa apparently reached its greatest extent during the Post-Classic period (c. ad 900–1521), but it had been abandoned by the time of the Spanish conquest of the area by Guzmán’s expedition of the 1530s. The boundaries of the site have not been absolutely determined, but a ballcourt formed an important component of the plan. Although ...

Article

Group of Caribbean Islands comprising Cuba, Republic of, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, the last divided into Haiti, Republic of and the Dominican Republic. Prior to contact with the Spanish colonists, the art of the Greater Antilles was relatively unified. However, after colonization traditions soon separated.

Antilles, Lesser, §I: Introduction...

Article

Eduardo Williams

Pre-Columbian culture of north-west Mexico. It belongs to the area between the Sinaloa River in the north and the Río Grande de Santiago in the south, probably extending as far south-east of this area as the Chapala Basin of Jalisco–Michoacán, and it flourished c. ad 880–c. 1400. Major sites are Culiacán, Chametla, Guasave (all in Sinaloa) and Amapa (Nayarit). Aztatlán sites have been explored by Carl Sauer and Donald Brand (1932), Gordon Ekholm (1942), Clement W. Meighan (1976) and more recently by Joseph B. Mountjoy (1990), although in general the archaeology of this vast area is still little known.

By c. ad 500 the area was occupied by many complex sites with elaborate architecture and large populations. The Aztatlán archaeological complex is characterized by some of the most elaborate prehistoric pottery in the New World, including four-, five- and six-colour polychrome wares, engraved wares, negative painting and some moulded ceramics, as well as abundant metal artefacts, primarily copper, but also bronze, silver and gold (...

Article

Aztec  

Emily Umberger

Term applied to the Nahuatl-speaking peoples of late Pre-Columbian central Mexico (1350–1521) and to the Triple Alliance Empire which arose in the Basin of Mexico (1431) less than 100 years before the Spanish Conquest.

When the Spanish arrived in 1519 most central Mexican city-states were tributaries of the Aztec Empire, an alliance of cities of the lake area of the Basin. Founded in 1431 after the defeat of the Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco, by the 1470s it had expanded well outside the Basin, and the dominant city of the alliance, Tenochtitlan, was transformed into its imperial capital. In the 19th century the term Aztec was popularized as a generic label for the late pre-conquest inhabitants of central Mexico. Some scholars use the term more narrowly for the inhabitants of the Basin (the definition used here), and others for just Tenochtitlan, whose inhabitants called themselves Mexica. Whatever their individual tribal names, the Nahuas of central Mexico shared a common culture resulting from a mix through intermarriage of ancestral barbarians (generically called Chichimecs) who had migrated into the area from the north, and civilized ancestors (...

Article

Bahía  

Jorge G. Marcos

Pre-Columbian regional culture of coastal Ecuador that flourished c. 500 bcc. ad 500. Archaeological field research by Emilio Estrada and Matthew and Marion Stirling at Manta, Manabí, identified a platform-mounded Bahía urban and ceremonial centre. Since no extensive excavation of the area was conducted, the only evidence for Bahía houses is a number of terracotta models, similar in form to examples from China; some archaeologists, such as Meggers, consider them as evidence of transpacific influence. Excavation of a few test pits produced a relative ceramic sequence and some radiocarbon assays. In the Guayas Basin, to the south, Bahía-like Tejar and Guayaquil phases have been described by Meggers and Parducci. Bahía pottery appears to have evolved from the earlier Chorrera style developed by intensive farming communities in the rich alluvial valleys of central Manabí and the Guayas Basin. Bahía potters practised a highly developed craft, having mastered not only traditional coiled construction but also slip-casting, a technique introduced during the Chorrera period. They were proficient in controlled smudging and resist decoration, and excelled in the use of polychrome slips, employing a wide spectrum of mineral and organic pigments. Another characteristic was decoration encrusted after firing in brilliant yellows, reds, greens and blues. Flutes, ocarinas and flamboyantly decorated whistling bottles with spouts and strap handles imitated human and animal forms. At ...