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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

Joan K. Lingen

Site in Panama, in the Volcan Baru district of Chiriquí Province near the Costa Rican border. It is one of the best known and most elaborate Pre-Columbian Panamanian sites; it flourished c. ad 400–c. 800. Barriles was first excavated in 1949 by Matthew Stirling under the auspices of the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian Institution. Alejandro Mendez, Director of the Museo Nacional de Panamá, Panama City, had previously visited the site and removed the large figural sculptures for display at the museum. Other objects from the excavations are also at the Museo Nacional. In 1972 Olga Linares, Payson Sheets, and Jane Rosenthal excavated at Barriles to help clarify its chronological and cultural relationship with the rest of western Panama. Ceramic analysis and radiocarbon dating place the major occupation of Barriles and its artistic output before c. ad 800. Most of the pottery consists of simple, unpainted, and incised vessels, much like the Aguas Buenas pottery of Panama and some from central Costa Rica. Rare examples contain designs painted in red or black. The most common forms are small globular vessels with short tripod supports and bowls with flat bottoms. Somewhat crudely modelled animal forms are attached to the rims or bodies of some examples. Others feature negative-painted designs on the vessel interiors. Stirling also excavated tombs containing large, lidded urns 920 mm high, with human and animal imagery painted in red and bright yellow on the necks of the vessels....

Article

Mary Ellen Miller

Site of a Maya ceremonial center in the tropical rainforest of the Chiapas, Mexico, that flourished around the end of the 8th century ce. Bonampak is best known for its colorful and complex wall paintings, which are the most complete indigenous examples in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. The paintings, brought to modern attention by Giles Healey in 1946, are preserved in situ on the walls of a fragile three-room building known as Structure 1. A full-scale replica building holds color copies of the paintings in the Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City. The rest of the site is still largely unexcavated, but several fine sculptures have also been found.

The paintings in Structure 1 were commissioned in 791 ce to celebrate various events in the reign of the last known Bonampak king, Yajaw Chaan Muwan (reg. 775–? ce), and after his death, when young lords competed to be successor. In ...

Article

Cahokia  

David M. Jones

Site in the USA in East St Louis, IL, of a huge Pre-Columbian city. Founded c. ad 700, it was the largest prehistoric city ever built north of Mexico and was probably influenced by political and civic ideas from Mesoamerica, Pre-Columbian. At its height, between c. ad 1050 and c. 1250, Cahokia encompassed c. 13 sq. km and had a population of c. 10–15,000. Although located in the north-west part of the middle Mississippi Southern Cult area, it was the political, economic and religious centre for more than 50 towns (see Native North American art, §I, 4, (v)). The exact nature of its power or rule, however, is uncertain. A potential rival in the south-east of the cult area was Moundville, AL, nearly as large. Cahokia began to decline after c. 1250, although some of its satellite towns, at such sites as Angel, Aztatlan, Dickson and Kinkaid, continued to flourish as local centres. A drastic population decline ...

Article

David M. Jones

Site of the Pre-Columbian Maya culture in Campeche, Mexico. It was the largest and most populous Maya city ever built and is notable for the number of stelae and monoliths erected by its ancient inhabitants. It was occupied from the Middle Pre-Classic period (c. 1000–c. 300 bc) onwards and flourished in the Late Classic period (c. ad 600–c. 900) as one of several powerful Maya states. Some of its carved stelae, columns and figures are in the Museo Arqueológico, Etnográfico e Histórico del Estado, Campeche.

Calakmul was rediscovered in 1931 by C. L. Lundell and studied by various scholars, including Sylvanus Morley and Karl Ruppert in the 1930s and 1940s. Since the late 1970s, William Folan and numerous Mexican scholars have mapped some 6500 structures at the site and determined that the ancient city covered c. 30 sq. km. Regional analysis shows that Calakmul was the centre of an independent political sphere, possibly with a certain deference paid to the Maya city of ...

Article

David M. Jones and Jaime Litvak King

Site in the Toluca Valley, Mexico. It was the capital and principal ceremonial centre of the Matlazinca people. The name derives from calli (Náhuatl: house) and ixtlahuaca (field or plain), thus ‘Place of houses on the plain’. Calixtlahuaca is one of the few Matlazinca sites known with substantial remains, and its architectural ruins, scattered on the hillside between the modern villages of Calixtlahuaca and Tecaxic, combine elements from central and northern Mesoamerica. Most of the site lies beneath the villages or the fields between the villages. Surface survey and excavations were carried out between 1930 and 1938 by José García Payón.

Calixtlahuaca was occupied between c. 1700 bc and ad 1510, when it was destroyed by Aztec forces. After the Spanish Conquest, Matlazinca survivors returned and established the two villages. Occupation has been divided by archaeologists into five periods: from c. 1700 bcc. 200 bc, Pre-Classic remains represented by figurines and traces of terrace walls; from ...

Article

Caracol  

Arlen F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase

Site of one of the largest Pre-Columbian Maya cities, on the eastern edge of the Maya mountains in the Vaca Plateau, Belize. It was occupied from c. 300 bc to ad 1250 and remained active during the Maya hiatus of c. ad 550–650. Although some distance from water, it had easy access to resources in the Maya mountains. Caracol was discovered in 1938 and first explored by Linton Satterthwaite (University of Pennsylvania) and A. Hamilton Anderson (first archaeological commissioner of Belize) in the 1950s. The central part of the site was mapped, several buildings and tombs were excavated, and a series of carved stone monuments was discovered. The iconography of the monuments indicates that Caracol developed a distinct regional style during the Early Classic period (c. ad 250–c. 600); this style was subsequently adopted in much of the Maya region. A. F. Chase and D. Z. Chase have documented the dominance of Caracol during the so-called Maya hiatus of ...