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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 ...

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

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

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

Claudia Brittenham

Pre-Columbian site in Tlaxcala, central Mexico. It flourished c. 250 bcec. 950 ce and is notable for its wall paintings (in situ).

The ruins of Cacaxtla lie in the hilly uplands between Tlaxcala and Puebla, c. 100 km east of Mexico City, on ancient routes of communication between the Central Highlands and both the Gulf Coast region and the Southern Highlands of the Mixteca. Only portions of the site have been excavated, and its history is not yet fully understood. Archaeological evidence indicates human occupation since the Late Pre-Classic period (c. 300 bcec. 250 ce), with intense occupation during the Classic period (c. 250–c. 900 ce). The site had a longstanding relationship with the neighboring hill of Xochitecatl. Pottery, traces of talud–tablero architecture, and residential structures suggest that Cacaxtla may have had ties to Teotihuacan during the early part of the Classic period (...

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

Helaine Silverman

[Kawachi]

Major site of the Pre-Columbian early Nazca culture in the Nazca Valley on the south coast of Peru. It was the capital of a brilliant civilization that flourished c. ad 1–c. 400. The site covers 150 ha and comprises some 40 artificial and semi-artificial mounds of various sizes, the largest of which measure some 20 m high and 140 m per side at the base. There are also walled and open plaza areas and Nazca and post-Nazca burial grounds.

William Strong’s fieldwork of 1952–3 determined that Cahuachi was first settled in the early 1st century ad, when the inhabitants lived in wattle and daub houses. Approximately a century later temple mounds began to be built. Cahuachi did not, however, grow into a great city: Helaine Silverman’s excavations of 1984–5 indicate that even at its height Cahuachi had only a small permanent population, perhaps consisting of the Nazca élite and their retainers, although frequent pilgrimage activity meant that the site could fill up with thousands of transient inhabitants....

Article

W. Iain Mackay

Peruvian city and capital of the department of Cajamarca in northern Peru. It is also notable for being the site of a Pre-Columbian culture represented primarily by a localized pottery style dated c. ad 400–c. 1000. It is situated at an altitude of c. 2750 m in a fertile Andean valley and has a population of c. 70,000. Settlements dating back to the Early Horizon or Chavín period (c. 900–c. 200 bc), such as Huaca Loma and Layzón, have been discovered on the outskirts of the town. In the hills above the town, 14 km to the south-west, the Cumbe Mayo aqueduct, which is 7.8 km long and probably contemporary with Chavín culture, feeds the fertile Cajamarca valley. Also in the vicinity is the site of Otuzco, with its Middle Horizon cemetery, comprising mainly niches carved into the stone and an associated fortress. The modern city is a popular holiday destination for Peruvians....

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

Joan K. Lingen

Pre-Columbian site, sometimes referred to as the Temple Site, near Penonomé on the Río Caño, Coclé Province, central Panama. Major excavation was undertaken in 1925 by Hyatt Verrill, who referred to El Caño as a large ceremonial precinct with rows of stone columns, of which at least 100 had carved human or animal figures up to 2.1 m tall. The ceramics from El Caño are so similar to the elaborate polychrome ware from Sitio Conte, c. 5 km to the south, that the two sites must have been contemporaneous. Olga Linares interpreted El Caño as a funerary or ceremonial centre or both, used from c. ad 500 until c. 900 and then abandoned. Nevertheless, the site was occupied at the time of the Spanish Conquest in the mid-16th century. The sculptures and associated ceramics have been acquired by numerous collections, including the Museo Nacional de Panamá, Panama City; the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, New York; and the Museum Rietberg, Zurich....