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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

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

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

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

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

David M. Jones

Archaeological zone in north-west Arizona. Pre-Columbian sites in Canyon de Chelly are attributed to the Anasazi culture (c. 200 bcc. ad 1350) and were built between the 12th and 14th centuries ad when the Anasazi began to abandon their scattered small hamlets on cliff tops for fewer but larger settlements of cliff dwellings. These were constructed in the steep-sided, stream-cut main and subsidiary canyons with numerous overhanging cliffs; on the shelves of such overhangs the Anasazi built blocks of apartment-like structures constructed of adobe bricks or stone blocks (e.g. White House ruins). The removal of the Anasazi from plateau dwellings to cliff dwellings may have been for defence as aggression increased between groups (see also Mesa Verde). The earliest rooms often became storage rooms as later dwellings were built above and in front of them. The blocks were multi-storey and terraced, with access between terraces by wooden ladders. Inter-storey floors–ceilings were made with log rafters. Walls had key-hole and trapezoidal doorways and in some cases square windows. Open spaces in front of the blocks were excavated and filled to create level ceremonial areas, and circular, semi-subterranean ...

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 ...

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

Cholula  

David M. Jones and Jaime Litvak King

Pre-Columbian site in Mexico, about 10 km south-west of the city of Puebla in north-central Puebla State. A huge Mesoamerican city and place of religious pilgrimage, it flourished throughout the Classic and Post-Classic periods (c. ad 250–1521). Its period of continuous occupation was one of the longest among sites in central Mexico, although there may have been a short hiatus in the Early Post-Classic period (c. ad 900–c. 1200). Pre-Columbian occupation in the vicinity began c. 600 bc and continued to the Spanish Conquest, after which Cholula became an important colonial city. The major period of monumental construction was between the 1st century ad and the 8th century. The city described and conquered by Cortés in 1519 was to the north-east of the Great Pyramid.

The Great Pyramid appears today as a large hill. It was surveyed in 1847 by the American Robert E. Lee and excavated by ...

Article

Muriel Porter-Weaver

Pre-Columbian site in Mexico, formerly on the Lerma River in southern Guanajuato, c. 129 km north-west of Mexico City. It gives its name to a distinctive ceramic style that flourished in the region during the Late Pre-Classic period (c. 300 bcc. ad 250). For many years large quantities of brightly coloured ceramics and human figurines were found in the region by pot-hunters and sold commercially. In 1946–7 the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia conducted excavations near Chupícuaro village at the confluence of the Lerma River and a small tributary. When the Solís Dam was completed in 1949, the village and excavated hilltop were flooded by the newly formed lake. Archaeological remains are still reported occasionally from the general area.

Chupícuaro was a farming community with a ceramic industry. Its art style spread to central and western Mexico along the Lerma River and to the north, perhaps as far as the south-western USA. Fragments of burnt adobe floors, fire-pits (Náhuatl ...

Article

Cobá  

George E. Stuart

Pre-Columbian Maya site at Lake Cobá and Lake Macanxoc, 40 km inland from the coastal site of Tulum in the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico. The area is also the location of the modern town of Cobá, founded in the 1940s. At the height of its power Maya Cobá was apparently an important regional centre and perhaps acted as a commercial hub in the distribution and redistribution of goods between the interior of the northern lowlands and the ports of the East Coast. It also served as the seat of powerful rulers, and as such doubtless played a key role in rivalries with neighbouring states, such as Chichén Itzá, to the west and north. Along with Tikal and Calakmul, Cobá is among the largest sites of the Maya Lowlands, and its system of elevated roadways is not matched at any other known Maya site. Although the discovery of Cobá is attributed to ...

Article

Coclé  

Joan K. Lingen

Pre-Columbian culture of central Panama. It flourished in Coclé Province on the Gulf of Panama, and together with the Pre-Columbian culture of Veraguas Province (see Veraguas) it comprises the central Panamanian culture area. This is classed more broadly by archaeologists as part of the Intermediate area (see South America, Pre-Columbian, §II). The nature of Coclé culture has been variously interpreted: according to Richard Cooke, Coclé and Veraguas cultures are homogeneous, with local differences of degree, not kind. The earlier view held by Samuel K. Lothrop considered Coclé to be a distinct archaeological or cultural region comprising Coclé Province and the eastern Azuero Peninsula provinces of Herrera and Los Santos. Lothrop based his interpretation on the presence of Coclé artefacts throughout this area, inland from the lowlands of the Pacific watershed to the mountainous areas, from sea level to over 4000 m, culminating at the continental divide in northern Coclé Province. The eastern portion comprises a narrow, desolate coastal strip and a wide savanna grassland plain, cut by numerous rivers, and the western and northern parts the high peaks of the continental divide. The annual rainfall in this tropical forest region varies from marked wet and dry seasons in the flat eastern coastal area to year-round rains in the western and northern sections....

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 ...