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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

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

Izumi Shimada

Region in La Leche Valley on the north coast of Peru, which contains numerous archaeological sites. The central part of the valley, over 55 sq. km in area, has been designated the Poma National Archaeological and Ecological Reserve because of the concentration of some 30 major Pre-Columbian cemeteries and mounds nested within dense semi-tropical thorny native forest. The most notable period of local cultural development was the Middle Sicán (see Sicán), c. ad 900–1100, when the Sicán funerary–religious precinct (see fig.), the dominant feature of Batán Grande, was built. Delineated by some dozen monumental adobe pyramids, it covers an area extending c. 1.6 km east–west and 1 km north–south.

The long-term funerary and religious importance of the Poma Reserve is underlined by the limited evidence for widespread or intensive agricultural activity there, despite its abundant fertile alluvium. As the beginning and end of various major canals, Batán Grande controlled the vital local water supplies and thus held political control over the adjacent valleys. Although a Late Sicán shift of settlement away from Batán Grande removed much of this political significance, the site clearly retained its eminence as a key burial and metallurgical centre up to the Spanish conquest. The Spanish name for the area in fact derives from the hundreds of large ...

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

David C. Grove

[Chalcacingo]

Pre-Columbian site in the Central Highlands of Mexico, c. 100 km south of modern Mexico City. A major centre, it was occupied during the Early and Middle Pre-Classic periods, between c. 1400 bc and c. 500 bc, and is the only Central Highland site with a large number of Olmec ‘Frontier’-style low-relief monuments. Excavations have been carried out by Roman Piña Chan (1953) and by David Grove (1972–6).

Chalcatzingo was established in the centre of the Amatzinac Valley between two large hills that dominate the valley floor, the Cerro Chalcatzingo and the Cerro Delgado. The slopes, first occupied c. 1400 bc, were terraced c. 1000 bc. During Chalcatzingo’s zenith—c. 700–c. 500 bc—public and élite earthen and stone-faced platform mounds were built on the upper terraces, while residential structures were spread across the lower terraces. Although excavated artefacts show the Chalcatzingans to have been culturally central Mexican, the monuments indicate close associations with the Gulf Coast Olmec culture. Its public architecture and monumental art distinguish Chalcatzingo from most other Pre-Classic Central Highland sites....

Article

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 (...

Article

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. ...

Article

George F. Andrews

Pre-Columbian Lowland Maya site on the broad coastal plain of Tabasco, c. 3 km north-east of the modern town of Comalcalco, Mexico. There were two major periods of occupation: an early period from c. 1200 bc to ad 100 and a late period from c. ad 800 to 1350. The earliest description of the ruins was provided by (Claude-Joseph-)Désiré Charnay, who visited the site in 1880, while a more complete account was provided by Frans Blom and Oliver La Farge in their pioneering study of little-known Maya ruins in Tabasco and Chiapas during the 1920s. During 1956–7, Gordon Eckholm of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, carried out a preliminary exploration and ceramic study at the site, and this was followed in 1960 by a limited programme of excavation and stabilization by a team of archaeologists from the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico. In 1966 an extensive mapping project was conducted by a team from the University of Oregon, and several years later a major programme of excavation and reconstruction was initiated, again by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. Directed by ...

Article

Jeff Karl Kowalski

Site of a Mesoamerican Pre-Columbian Maya city, c. 15 km north of Mérida, Yucatán. Excavation and mapping carried out between 1956 and 1965 revealed that the site covers more than 19 sq. km and contains about 8400 ruined structures, most of which are small platforms that formerly supported perishable pole-and-thatch houses. The majority of some 240 stone-faced, vaulted buildings probably served as élite residences, although the largest pyramidal platforms and vaulted structures, located around the central Cenote Xlacah (cenote: Maya tz’onot, a natural water hole with collapsed limestone sides), probably served for religious and administrative functions. Most of the visible remains lie within this administrative and ceremonial core. North-east of the Cenote Xlacah is the large, open, centralized Main Plaza; another plaza lies to the south-west. Surrounding these are several pyramid-temples and many ranges of vaulted rooms. A central east–west axis is formed by two long sacbeob (raised causeways; sing. ...

Article

Culture area of the Isthmian region of Latin America, which is more broadly classed by archaeologists as part of the Intermediate area (see South America, Pre-Columbian, §II). It comprises the Atlantic watershed and central highlands areas of Costa Rica, from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean and from the Nicaraguan to the Panamanian border. Environments include the low coastal wetlands of the Caribbean and the Pacific drylands, numerous river valleys and plateaus, and an almost continuous chain of mountains and volcanoes running north–south. Despite a diversity of ecological niches, the archaeological remains of the region are similar enough to be considered as a single cultural group. The prehistoric archaeological record begins c. 1000 bc, with radiocarbon dates up to c. ad 1500. Results of excavations in the Reventazon Valley were published in 1893, but the most important late 19th-century works are Carl V. Hartman’s excavations of cemeteries in the Cartago Valley and in the Linea Vieja region of the Atlantic watershed, especially at Las Mercedes. More recent work by ...

Article

Edzná  

George F. Andrews

Site of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican Maya urban centre, occupied from c. 700 bc to c. ad 1000; its ruins lie in the upper part of a shallow basin known as the Edzná Valley, c. 50 km north-east of the city of Campeche, Mexico. On the basis of several mapping projects, the site is known to cover at least 17 sq. km and therefore ranks among the largest known archaeological sites in the Lowland Maya area. The importance of Edzná, for both archaeologists and art historians, lies in its strategic location between southern Campeche and the Petén in Guatemala and Yucatán to the north. Some of its sculpted monuments show influences from the ‘classic’ sculptural style of the Petén, while others show similarities to the Yucatecan style. The same influences can be seen in architecture: the Large Acropolis includes several buildings in the Petén style, while the Cinco Pisos pyramid shows a combination of Chenes and Puuc traits. While much of Edzná’s history is still obscure, it seems clear that the western part of central Campeche formed an important regional variant of Lowland Maya culture, with Edzná as its principal centre....

Article

Warren B. Church

[Abiseo]

Pre-Columbian site in Río Abiseo National Park, Peru, occupied c. 450 bcad 1532. Gran Pajatén sits at 2850 m above sea-level in a highland rain-forest setting often compared to that of Machu Picchu. The site is a complex of stone terraces, stairways, platforms, and circular buildings extending over approximately 1 ha along a crescent-shaped ridgetop above the Montecristo River, a tributary of the Abiseo and Huallaga rivers. Ceramic evidence and radiocarbon dates of c. 420 bc and c. 250 bc (Church, 1994) place Gran Pajatén among the oldest known sites of the Andean highland rain-forest. The architectural style, however, may not pre-date the Late Intermediate period (c. ad 1000–1476).

Stone cornices divide virtually all of the 26 known circular buildings into two levels. Tenoned heads and an unusual variety of stone friezes featuring anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, and geomorphic motifs structurally incorporated into the tabular slate masonry distinguish Gran Pajatén from similar highland rain-forest sites near ...

Article

David M. Jones

Site of Pre-Columbian Maya city within the limits of modern Guatemala City. It was a centre of religious, civic, and political power in the Middle to Late Pre-Classic (c. 1000 bcc. ad 250) and Classic (c. ad 250–c. 900) periods and is the largest known Highland Maya city. Occupation dates from the Middle Pre-Classic period (from c. 800 bc) to c. ad 1520. Alfred Maudslay surveyed the site around 1900, and excavations have been conducted by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC (1930s), directed by A. V. Kidder, J. D. Jennings, and E. M. Shook, and by Pennsylvania State University (1968), directed by W. T. Sanders and J. W. Michels. C. D. Cheek studied the architecture in the 1970s. Pottery and stone sculptures from the site are in the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, Guatemala City.

In the Early Pre-Classic period (...

Article

Kotosh  

Yoshio Onuki

Pre-Columbian Andean site covering c. 1 ha, 5 km to the west of modern Huanuco, Peru, at an elevation of 1950 m above sea level. Its importance was first pointed out by Julio C. Tello in the 1930s. Between 1960 and 1966 Seiichi Izumi led intensive excavations on behalf of the University of Tokyo. A dense accumulation of building debris has been divided into six construction and occupation periods with distinct cultural characteristics: Mito, the Pre-Ceramic occupation, c. 2000 bc; Wairajirca, including the earliest pottery in the upper Huallaga Basin, c. 1800–c. 1200 bc; Kotosh, c. 1200–c. 1000 bc; Chavín, c. 1000–c. 500 bc; Sajarapatac, c. 500–c. end 1st century bc; and Higueras, c. beginning 1st century ad–600.

Among the most remarkable discoveries are the temple complexes constructed on the well-built, stone-faced platforms of the Mito period. The Temple of Crossed Hands, 9 m × 9 m in plan and 2 m high, has an entrance in the south wall, and large and small niches on the interior walls. Two pairs of crossed hands sculpted in mud plaster were found beneath small niches flanking the large central niche on the north interior wall. A round hearth was set into the centre of the floor, beneath which ran its two flues. All the interior surfaces were neatly coated with mud plaster of a creamy white colour. This was the first ceremonial public building of the Peruvian Pre-Ceramic period to have been subjected to large-scale stratigraphic excavation under strictly controlled conditions....

Article

Kimberly L. Jones

Archaeological site located within the Andean highlands near the town of San Pablo in the department of Cajamarca, Peru. Construction and occupation spanned from the Middle through Late Formative Periods (1200–250 bce). During the local Kuntur Wasi and Copa phases (800–250 bce), eight high-status individuals were buried within the site (Onuki 1998). These tombs provide important contexts for the analysis of Formative Period elite society, iconography, and ideology.

The monumental center comprised terraces built atop a highland peak known as La Copa. The terraces featured elevated platforms and sunken plazas, with stone walls, central staircases, and subfloor canals (Inokuchi 2008). Excavations revealed nine construction subphases. Through these phases, local ceramic styles reflected similarities with the Cajamarca basin, the north coast Cupisnique, and highland site of Chavín de Huántar (Onuki 1995; Inokuchi 1998).

Stone sculptures were generally executed in low relief on one or two faces, with a few monuments conveying carving in the round (Onuki ...

Article

Carolyn Tate

The premier Gulf Coast Olmec ritual and pilgrimage center of the Middle Formative period, which flourished from c. 1100–400 BCE. It carried on the artistic traditions established at the earlier site, San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan, such as the carving of colossal heads, cave-niche thrones, and in-the-round seated figures, but also added a new form of monumental sculpture, the stela. However, it differed from San Lorenzo in important ways. Whereas most of the San Lorenzo monuments were carved from basalt from the Tuxtla mountains, La Venta used this basalt but also imported stone from as far away as the Pacific slope of Oaxaca and the El Chichon volcano in Chiapas, indicating a vast interaction sphere. Also, while caches of regalia and stone figurines have not been found at San Lorenzo, dozens of such caches, some large and complex, fill the plazas between Mounds C-1 and A-2 at La Venta. Furthermore, although four or five monuments were grouped in each of several “scenic displays” at San Lorenzo, at La Venta the entire site, measuring 1927 m north–south, was integrated as an artistic composition....

Article

David C. Grove

Site of Pre-Columbian Olmec political and religious centre in the southern Gulf Coast of Mexico, c. 15 km south-west of the Tuxtla Mountains in a region of rolling foothills. It has received less scholarly attention than the other Olmec centres of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, La Venta, and Tres Zapotes. Excavations were carried out by Alfonso Medellín Zenil in 1960, and, though not fully published, the results demonstrate that the site was an important Olmec ceremonial centre. They also show that the Olmec period occupation was merely the earliest of many, and that the site’s nearly 100 mounds cover a timespan of approximately 1500 years. Exactly which mounds are attributable to the Olmec is therefore uncertain.

No major investigations have been carried out since Medellín Zenil’s; however, in 1978 the available data were summarized (see Bove), and, on the basis of Olmec ceramics from the 1960 excavations, it has been suggested that the initial Olmec occupation occurred in the Early Pre-Classic period (...

Article

Muriel Porter-Weaver

Site of Mesoamerican Olmec culture in southern Puebla, Mexico. It flourished from the latter half (c. 1200 bc) of the Early Pre-Classic period (c. 2000–c. 1000 bc) to c. 800 bc in the early part of the Middle Pre-Classic period (c. 1000–c. 300 bc), yielding important grave goods. Las Bocas was strategically situated on the route of early travellers between the Gulf Coast region and the Mesoamerican Central Highlands. Archaeological remains comprise grave offerings. The importance of the site is twofold: it is a highland site relating to Tlatilco and Tlapacoya in the Basin of Mexico, to Chalcatzingo and Gualupita in the state of Morelos, and to the site of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán in the Olmec heartland on the southern Gulf Coast. Artefacts of the highland sites share some features of the Olmec style of the Gulf Coast region; examples from Las Bocas are particularly fine. Las Bocas has been repeatedly pillaged by grave robbers, and consequently most of the material from the site, whether in private collections or museums, has no recorded archaeological context. Excavations in the only remaining undisturbed area, directed by ...

Article

Maya  

Mary Ellen Miller

Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican peoples, whose culture flourished in parts of what are now Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador from 3000 bce to the 16th century ce, where they live today, as well as in diaspora in the United States and Canada. The ancient Maya regions stretched from the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, and served as sources of particular wealth for all of Mesoamerica, especially tropical bird feathers, honey, cotton, felines, and a pigment known as Maya blue; all Mesoamerican jade comes from the Motagua River drainage. The Spanish captured a dugout canoe that held forty Maya individuals, attesting to their seafaring skills; Taino vomit spoons have been recovered from caves in Belize, demonstrating Caribbean connections. Although characterized by over thirty distinct languages, only a handful were spoken by the Maya who dominated the cities they built over two thousand years: Yukatek, Chol, Ch’orti’, K’iche’, Kaqchikel, and Itzáj, and the writing system that they developed, if not invented, represented speech. The Maya also perfected a calendar first used along the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, recording both human events on the small scale and vast cosmic ones, and often likening the former to the latter. Fiercely fought off by the Maya at first contact, Spanish invaders and colonists suppressed Maya elite culture, especially as kept in books, but Maya culture, language, and lifeways have survived into the 21st century. Studies published in ...