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ChicannáThe masks of Itzamná, the god of the sun and wisdom represented by a face with enormous open jaws and bejewelled ears, appear especially grandiose, in this small ancient city where the ruling class once lived, situated on the route between the Gulf of Mexico and the coast of Quintana Roo.

The pre-Hispanic settlement of Chicanná is small in scale and the constructions in its central area are distributed in small groups. The water supply for its former inhabitants might have been obtained from the nearby springs, or through the use of specially made rainwater collection chambers called “chultunes”. The ridges and terraces on the local hills reveal a specialized form of intensive agriculture. 

Human occupation at the site in question can be traced back to the Middle Preclassic (before 200 BC) and the Late Preclassic (150 BC – c. 250 AD) periods, and continued until around 1100 AD. It flourished in the Late Classic (550-700 AD) and Early Postclassic (700-1100/1200 AD), although there are some traces of residual habitation belonging to the Late Postclassic (after the year 1200).

In the Yucatecan Mayan language, Chicanná means “the house of the serpent’s mouth," referring to the snake-like decorative features on some of the buildings. A few of the main structures stand out for the profusion of their ornamentation, with zoomorphic facades representing Itzamná with open jaws, as found in Buildings II and XX. Meanwhile, stucco masks in profile flank the main entrances of structures such as Buildings X and VI. Another distinctive feature are the towers on each side of a low, elongated building, as in the case of Building 1, which is a hallmark of the Río Bec region’s architecture and pottery. It is important to bear in mind that various buildings on the site are the result of more than one phase of construction.

Pottery found in Chicanná dating from the Middle and Late Preclassic periods provide relatively meager evidence of its occupation at that time. However, by the Early Classic, building activity clearly gathered momentum as seen in the stucco floors on Plaza A and the Structures IIIsub-2 and XISub, associated with the ceramics of the Sabucan complex (450-500 AD).

It was not until the beginning of the Late Classic that Building IIIsub-1 at the center of the settlement, the central part of Building I (without its towers), Structure VI, as well as Buildings VII, X and XI were all erected. Towers were added to Building I toward the end of the Late Classic, and Structure II was built, as well as the west annex of Structure VI and the first level of Structure XX. The building work did not stop in the Late Postclassic, because this is when Structures III and IIIA were built, as well as the east annex of Structure VI and the upper level of Structure XX.

The archeological site of Chicanná is located in the south of the state of Campeche, at kilometer 143 of the federal highway that runs between Escárcega and Chetumal. It was discovered by Jack D. Eaton during the early explorations for the Southeast Campeche project led by Tulane University’s Edward Wyllys Andrews IV, under the auspices of the National Geographic Society, from 1969 to 1971. He also excavated and consolidated large sections of Buildings II and XI.

Research and restoration in the area increased beginning in the 1980s. However, in each case the buildings were only partially excavated. During this period Román Piña Chan and his team focused on Structures I and XX, Ramón Carrasco Vargas on Buildings III, VI, XX and the annex of Building XVII, and Ricardo Bueno Cano cleared and consolidated Structures X, XI and the rear façade of Structure II during the 1992 and 1993 seasons.

Recently, between 2011 and 2015, INAH’s regional office in Campeche carried out work in Chicanná as part of its program of small and large-scale projects at archeological sites open to the public, under the supervision of Vicente Suárez Aguilar. About a dozen pre-Hispanic buildings benefitted through a three-pronged approach: architectural maintenance and conservation to repair damage from human and natural causes; additional work to clear and restore buildings already partially explored some years ago; and, finally, a comprehensive excavation of buildings that complement the building sequence and contribute additional information about human habitation of the site (chronology, cultural relations, and so on).

  • Chicanná is believed to have been a center for the rulers of the Río Bec region during the Classic period.
  • The site’s pre-Hispanic center consists of five monumental building complexes; construction work on them began at the dawn of the Common Era.
  • The most prominent pre-Hispanic structures are richly decorated, with stucco masks on their main façades, reflecting the ideological complexity of the ruling elite.
Chichén ItzáAt the time of the equinoxes, the shadow of Kukulkan, the serpent, descends from its temple to fertilize the earth, while the red jaguar is hidden in the Temple of the Warriors, with its jade spots glowing. This ancient capital city has been declared a World Heritage Site.Chichen Itza has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1988. It was an extensive, powerful city, a warrior capital, and at the same time a city of imposing palaces and temples. Mayan by heritage, it was influenced by the Toltecs and it attracted people locally from the cities of Uxmal, Coba and Chacmultun as much as those from afar away, such as from Tula. It was a member of the League of Mayapan from 987 AD. In its heyday from around 600 to 1200 AD, it had a population of 50,000 farmers, builders, craftspeople, rulers, artists and priests. Its network of paved roads, or sacbeob (singular sacbe), is outstanding.

The worship of Kukulcan, or Quetzalcoatl, came from Tula, as well as the many-columned buildings, which are reminiscent of the shape of a snake. For example in the capital of the Toltecs, the remarkable Temple of a Thousand Columns honors Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, the Lord of the Dawn, who was the embodiment of Quetzalcoatl. The city’s principal structure, El Castillo ("The Castle"), is also known as the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, and it is above all a representation of the solar calendar, and hence a monument to time itself. This and other tall square- or rectangular-based pyramid structures have long stairways edged with robust balustrades. These days this style is known Toltec Maya.

From the east of Yucatán it also received the Puuc-style filigree design in the form of elaborate decoration made from stucco facade masks of the rain god Chaac, and numerous polished stone fret patterns interspersed with small pillars and minor sculptures in low structures. There are also circular-plan buildings with an ancient heritage, such as the surprising observatory known as El Caracol (“The Snail”).

The great works began by levelling out the ground for the various platforms on which the palaces and temples were built including El Castillo, the Great Ball Court, the Temple of the Great Tables, the Temple of the Warriors, the Tzompantli, the Platform of the Eagles and the Jaguars and the Platform of Venus. El Mercado ("The Market”), the Temple of the Sculpted Columns and the Temple of the Small Tables were erected in one great quadrangular plaza.
  • The Castle was built over another identical but smaller structure, which holds the sculpture of a jaguar painted in red and inlaid with jade to simulate the spots of this feline.
  • The tzompantli was a platform where the skulls of victims sacrificed in rituals were placed.
  • Inside the Temple of the Tables there is a room with pilasters that bear representations of warriors.
  • The Temple of the Warriors was built over the Temple of Chac Mool, in which pillars are found with polychrome reliefs that represent warriors and priests.
ChimalhuacánSeven and a half centuries ago, three Chichimeca lords arrived in Chimalhuacán (abandoned since the fall of Tula), and re-founded a city which became a great Acolhua capital. As a testimony they left the Tecpan, the superb palace of their Tlatoani (chief), and a great number of excellent sculptures, which was their main activity.Chimalhuacan has the best-preserved palace in the basin of Mexico. There have been several archeological excavations at this site, which have allowed us to define different aspects of both its architecture and the sequence in which it was constructed, the latter being linked to numerous Chichimeca groups who arrived in the basin after the twelfth century.

It was founded in approximately 1259, in a manner similar to other places in the area at this time, such as Tenayuca, Texcoco, Azcapotzalco, Cuautitlan, Chalco, Xaltocan and Tenochtitlan.

The first excavation was made in 1943 by the archeologist Eduardo Noguera at the site known as El Tepalcate. Later, Ángel García Cook investigated the lake bed on the northern side of the Chimalhuaque hill in the early 1970s. A decade later, Jeffrey Parsons visited a large part of the Texcoco area and located most of its archeological sites. Thanks to Parsons, we now know that Chimalhuacan became the heart of one of the four demographic and political cores that existed in this area.

Archeological explorations have also allowed us to determine the different periods of this ancient pre-Hispanic city: Late Formative (400-1 BC), Early Classic (150-300 AD), Classic (600-800 AD), Early Postclassic (800-1100 AD), Middle Postclassic (1200-1430 AD) and Late Postclassic (1430-1521 AD).

We believe that a residential zone was built during the Late Postclassic, which corresponds to the Toltec hegemony. However, given that this first structure is beneath the current one, we have not been able to determine its shape. It is possible that most of the center of the altepetl (city-state) is beneath the town and surrounding areas. The archeological zone is therefore limited to the tecpan or palace of Chimalhuacan. This magnificent structure consists of a large rectangular platform oriented east-west, on which residential areas were constructed. There is still evidence of these, such as the bases of walls, floors and other architectural elements.

As the rooms were in the highest part of the building, not only could all of the surrounding landscape be observed from them, but they became a symbolic landmark indicating their occupants’ status. It is possible that visitors were received by the ruler of Chimalhuacan and provided with accommodation at the top of the tecpan.

In the wake of the Conquest, the Spanish partially destroyed this building and built a small chapel, found during the explorations performed by Ángel García Cook in 1966. Oral tradition identifies this church as the Chapel of San Andrés Apóstol (Saint Andrew the Apostle), the first site of Christian worship in this town in the sixteenth century. The bases of its entrance columns remain, as do part of the side walls.
  • The name of this archeological zone comes from Nahuatl and is related to the Chimalhuaque hill, which looks like a shield lying on its side from various lakeside viewpoints.
  • The tecpan (palace) was not only the residence of the tlatoani (ruler), but was also a space for administrative and political activities.
ChinkulticThe great city of the lakes of the ancient Maya, near the Guatemala border, with buildings cleverly adapted to the irregular shape of the hills. It has a very large ballcourt and the Plataforma de las Lajas (Platform of the Stone Slabs) was built from the largest cut stones in the whole of Mesoamerica.This Mayan city in the state of Chiapas reached its peak between 750 and 900. It is close to the border with Guatemala, in a mountainous region dotted with lakes and cenotes, very close to the Montebello lakes and the town of La Trinitaria. Its name in Maya could mean “the cave with descending steps,” or the “stepped cenote.” The site was first settled around 50 BC and it was abandoned by 1200 AD. The pottery found at the site indicates that it was a very important trading center. The sun and Chaac, the rain god, were worshiped most extensively.

The site’s monuments are divided into four complexes: El Mirador ("The Lookout") with its Acropolis; Complex B with the Plaza Hundida ("The Sunken Plaza"), Complex C with its ballcourt and Great Platform and Complex D with its great Pyramid and the Plataforma de las Lajas ("Platform of the Slabs"), made from great slabs of stone measuring 16 inches by eight feet 6 inches, the largest in Mesoamerica. The whole site can be viewed from different perspectives from either El Mirador or the Plaza Hundida.

The German Eduard Georg Seler explored the site in the final years of the nineteenth century. In 1923, Frans Blom and Oliver La Farge cleared the way to the ballcourt and recorded its figures and glyphs for the first time. Enrique Juan Palacios provided a general description of the site three years later. In 1928 Frans Blom calculated that Chinkultic was built between 591 and 897. Sixteen years later Sylvanus Morley and Eric S. Thompson visited the site and discovered Stela 10, which also had a figure and glyphs. In 1958, Gareth W. Love visited the site with the support of the New World International Foundation. A new archeological project started in 1966 under the direction of Stephan F. de Borhegyi, sponsored by Milwaukee Public Museum in Wisconsin, and the following year Guillermo Bonfil of the INAH began the systematic excavation of Chinkultic.
  • The site is known as “our little mountain” in Tojolabal, the language spoken by the Mayan group which currently lives in the state of Chiapas.
  • The cenote and lakes were of great religious significance and played an important role in the lives of the people of Chinkultic.
  • The Cenote Azul (Blue Cenote) was partially excavated in 1970 and a series of finds and bones were recovered.
CholulaThis is the most important pre-Hispanic settlement of those explored so far in the state of Puebla, and one of the main sites in Mexico. Its attractions include the Great Pyramid and the plaza known as the “courtyard of altars.”The archeological zone of Cholula lies in the Puebla-Tlaxcala Valley, in the southeast of the Central Mexican Plateau. It is bordered to the north, east and west by mountainous areas, while the south opens up to the extensive Mixtec regions. Several rivers and streams cross the valley as a result of snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada, which makes these lands of outstanding quality for agriculture. Chief among these is the Atoyac, an important tributary of the Balsas River.

The ancient settlement lies between the municipalities of San Andrés and San Pedro Cholula, 73 miles east of Mexico City and just 4 miles from the capital of Puebla via a direct expressway known as the Quetzalcóatl Route.

In November of 1519, when Hernán Cortés and his army entered the city then known as Cholollan, what is now the archeological zone open to the public was a site that had already been abandoned and destroyed eight centuries earlier. The total ruin of the complex gave it the appearance (which it still maintains today) of a small hill covered in trees, soil and weeds. Years later, Fray Toribio de Benavente (Motolinia), discovered that it was the ruins of an ancient teocalli and he described it as such in his History of the Indians of New Spain.

A number of famous scholars such as Alexander von Humbolt and Captain Guillermo Dupaix were interested in this monument and its historical importance. Early explorations were made by archeologists such as Leopoldo Batres, Manuel Gamio and Enrique Juan Palacios, but work formally began in 1931 under the guidance of the architect Ignacio Marquina. His system of exploration based on tunnels to detect substructures was a resounding success and remains an example of technique and tenacity to this day.

The space currently occupied by the archeological zone of Cholula is just a small part of what was once an important pre-Hispanic city, which rivaled places such as Teotihuacan, El Tajín, Monte Albán and Xochicalco. The first signs of occupation in the area date back more than a millennium before the current era, but it was clearly occupied by the sixth century BC, with a growing population on the edges of a now-vanished marsh. The site for the first temple was chosen above a spring in order for the building to be consecrated. This was due to the magical-religious associations of spring water in ancient indigenous conceptions.

By the second century BC, conditions were such that they allowed for the construction of a pyramid base of regular dimensions. This was the first Great Pyramid, which measures approximately 427 feet on each side at its base, with four sloping sections and a stairway on the west side. This structure was built at the same time as the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan.

Unlike other Mesoamerican buildings, large blocks of compacted dirt (adobe) were used here. These were stuck together with mud to form an enormous core. Certain elements were added to this pyramid, such as a series of panels decorated with a mural painting depicting insects with heads similar to human skulls. These are called “los chapulines” (the crickets).

The city’s rapid expansion and its growing role as a religious sanctuary and economic center were perhaps the reasons for planning the construction of a larger base. This led to the raising of the second Great Pyramid, larger than that of the Moon in Teotihuacan. Its square base measures close to 558 feet per side and it is almost 148 feet tall. This pyramidal base echoed the original layout. The shape of each of its nine sloped sections is formed from steps. These are merely symbolic in some parts, and the staircase for use would have been on the west side. In addition, the corners of this pyramid are recessed, lending the whole a distinctive appearance. The building was also covered with a thick coat of stucco that was originally painted with bright colors and symbolic designs.

As with the earlier pyramid, other buildings with their own plinths, stairs and corridors were placed on top. There were so many that it has been said that the “hill” has seven pyramids on top of it. The ruins of ancient buildings have been found on the south side of the pyramid, all with the same characteristics. They have recessed panels and are decorated with diagonal bands painted in vivid colors with depictions of elements such as starfish and snails.

The facade of one of these buildings remains almost completely intact. It is approximately 213 feet long, with a variable height that measures six and a half feet on average. The wall is decorated with an image in very well-preserved colors. It shows a ceremony connected to drinking, depicting a large number of people most of whom are holding vessels large and small for drinking a whitish alcoholic beverage which is most likely pulque. The pictorial motif is presented in two sections. The lower section takes place on a long bench from which hangs a tapestry with extraordinary designs. This has been called the “mural of the drinkers” and it is one of the richest examples of pre-Hispanic mural painting. It dates to approximately the third century AD. At the time, there were several ethnic groups in the population, both from the coast and the rest of the central plateau. Its tianquiztli or market was one of the most famous in Mesoamerica.

A building was added on the west side of the pyramid that had several sections and a long staircase almost fifty feet tall. Its panels were decorated with a characteristic cross-hatching, as can be seen in the current reconstruction.

Once again, the idea of a bigger, taller temple and pyramid inspired the ruling theocracy and the devout people to embark on a truly titanic work. A still-larger pyramid was constructed over the second pyramid and all of its additions. This would be the true Great Pyramid, as it covered an area measuring more than 1,300 feet on each side. The average height of this monumental structure was almost 213 feet, without counting the height of the temple, which would have been very tall. These characteristics made the great teocalli (possibly dedicated to the god of water or rain) the biggest in the pre-Hispanic world. People from other towns called this sanctuary Tlachihualtepetl, which means “artificial hill” or “manmade hill”.

Large open spaces were created on each side of the great pyramid, bordered by elegantly decorated buildings. Such is the case of the southern plaza, which is known as the “courtyard of altars” owing to the altars and stelae found there, which are made of some type of metamorphic rock and decorated with scrolls that seem to be stylized bird feathers reminiscent of designs from the Gulf coast.

At the end of the eighth century, Mesoamerica experienced a profound change. Its greatest cities began to decline and some were abandoned. The holy city of Tlachihualtepetl suffered wars and calamities, and the crisis was accelerated by an eruption from the volcano of Popocatépetl. The great ceremonial center was destroyed, sacked and later abandoned. The buildings began to be covered by the dirt from the adobe as it crumbled. Little by little, grass and trees began to grow, until it all took on the appearance of a desolate hill. Many years later, some small buildings such as altars and tombs were constructed on the abandoned platforms, but these had no connection to the ancient sanctuary.

Not long after the disaster, the survivors (together with the invaders) built a new ceremonial center where the main square of the city of San Pedro Cholula now lies. This was a place that managed to regain its lost grandeur and splendor. It was there that the conqueror Hernán Cortés carried out one of the cruelest slaughters recorded in human history in order to intimidate the Tenochca.
  • The courtyard of the altars is the most spectacular part of the archeological zone, above all for the great harmony and proportions of the buildings around it, which display elegant scapulary work on their respective recessed panels.
  • Besides the archeological zone, Cholula is home to several colonial buildings of great merit, such as the Royal Chapel, the Franciscan convent, the arcade on its central plaza, the San Andrés parish church and the famous churches of Tonanzintla and Acatepec.
ChunhuhubStone carvings like gold filigree adorn the residences of those "who speak to the gods." The elaborate Puuc architectural style makes this ancient city a relic that remains almost entirely intact even after 12 centuries. Its greatest treasure is El Palacio.

The name of this archeological site means “trunk of the huhub trees" (Pinus caribaea) and, in common with many placenames from the peninsula, this refers to a natural element. The age of the toponym is uncertain, although another site with the same name exists in the central region of the state of Quintana Roo. The pre-Hispanic settlement of Chunhuhub was built on a series of low hills and plains of kankab (red earth), and its population began to grow in around the year 500 AD. The best-known remains date from the Late and Terminal Classic, in other words from the years 600-900-1000 AD.

Explorers John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood were the first to report the site in the mid-nineteenth century. They published their observations in 1841, and subsequently in 1843 produced a book, “Incidents of Travel in Yucatan,” with texts by Stephens and illustrations by Catherwood, who also drew many of the buildings visited in the Yucatan peninsula. Later, in 1887, Teobert Maler produced the first architectural and photographic records of Chunhuhub. In the 1930s, Harry Pollock documented the archeological site and several of its sculptures, which had been reused in the facades of houses in Xculoc, a town some three miles from the archeological site.

Luis Millet Cámara undertook the initial work to survey and restore the site of Chunhuhub in the 1980s. This was followed by a detailed study of the settlement’s layout, in a project coordinated by French archeologists Dominique Michelet and Pierre Becquelin. A few years later Renée Zapata worked on a project to restore the buildings now open to the public. In 2007, a protection area measuring just over 111 acres was created around Chunhuhub.

Chunhuhub offers numerous examples of Puuc architecture, particularly with buildings from the Junquillo and Mosaico periods (800-950 AD), noted for their use of small columns either made of single stones or with well-crafted joints, fret patterns and ashlars.

  • Chunhuhub boasts several fine examples of the Puuc architectural style.
  • In pre-Hispanic times, “chultuns” or underground water cisterns were created to capture rainwater in order to ensure supplies of this vital liquid.
  • The sculptures that formerly decorated the Palace frieze are exhibited in Campeche’s archeological museums.
  • Today we see just the bare bones of the structures; in pre-Hispanic times the buildings would have been coated in stucco and painted in various colors, particularly red.
CoatetelcoThis city was a dependency of Tula, attaining an important role through trade and religion. When Tula fell around 1000 AD, Coatetelco took its place in the west of the present-day state of Morelos.Coatetelco was built on the shore of the lake of the same name. The site flourished most notably in the Late Preclassic, and was later linked to Xochicalco. After its period of domination by Xochicalco, Coatetelco became the region’s principal center. In the Postclassic it was involved with Tula, which is evident from the presence of a Chac Mool.

The complex includes pyramidal plinths, platforms and a ballcourt with stone facing over an earth and stone core. Associated with the ballcourt there is a tzompantli with a large quantity of stone “nails” which were used to pierce the skulls of the people who were sacrificed. There are vestiges of stucco in the court as well as in other parts of the site.
  • The settlement was originally called Quahtetelco, according to the archeologist Jorge Angulo. It seems that the place was represented by a glyph of a tree (quahuitl) on top of a pyramid (tetelli).
From Mexico City or Cuernavaca, take federal highway 95, Mexico-Acapulco, as far as the exit for Alpuyeca-Miacatlán. Coatetelco is 2 km from Alpuyeca.
CobáImportant ancient Maya city in an area of lakes, from here the great sacbe’ob (long roads) were built, which helped it survive over many others until it was defeated by Chichen Itza. The round observatory, the great Pyramid of Nohoch Mul and the stunning inscriptions make it unique.Coba, the city surrounded by five lakes, was one of the most important cities of the northern Maya lowlands. It dominated an extensive territory, and its 50 raised roads, known in Maya as sacbes (white roads), served ceremonial, administrative and residential centers. As well as creating alliances, trading and opportunities for interchange, the roads enabled Coba to exercise control over other groups. Two of the roads connected more distant places, such as Ixil, 12.5 miles away and Yaxuná, 62 miles away.

The city of Coba is one of the few pre-Hispanic settlements to keep its original name, as testified by the inscriptions carved on the monuments. Like many Mesoamerican settlements, in its early days, which was from the first century BC to the second AD, it consisted of small villages which lived by farming and hunting. Afterwards, its economy grew and its political organization improved, with power becoming more centralized; marking the start of a long process of consolidation as a city.

Coba grew and expanded between the fifth and tenth centuries. Roads were built and stelae and panels were sculpted. The road network kept expanding, and political and trading relationships began with other Mayan towns to the west and south of the peninsula, in the Guatemalan Peten as well as the Gulf and central Mexico. Between 900 and 1000 it rivaled Chichen Itza, and was ultimately defeated by it, but Coba managed to preserve its status as a religious and commercial center despite being confined to the second tier politically. It even managed to survive longer than its victorious rival. Its architecture has signs of influence from the Peten, but with a strongly local flavor, an indication that its political elite managed to establish political relations far afield.

Coba was completely abandoned by the time the Spanish conquistadors took over the Yucatan peninsula, and it remained that way until the explorer John Lloyd Stephens reported its existence in 1842, yet without ever actually seeing it. Only the odd chicle tapper, in search of the valuable sap of the sapote tree, ever went deep into the forest. Juan Peón Contreras and D. Elizalde arrived at Coba in 1886, sketching just one of the temples. The next to arrive was Teobert Maler in 1891. He provided us with the first photograph of a temple at Coba.

In 1926, the Carnegie Institute in Washington began a series of expeditions sending notable archeologists and epigraphists, who produced valuable work first published in 1932. Other researchers followed until 1972 when the INAH undertook the tasks of excavating, mapping, consolidation and rescue, which culminated in the opening of the site to the public.

Highlights include reliefs and stelae of prisoners and calendar inscriptions of notable events, and there are two particularly important buildings in terms of their size and height. One is the Nohoch Mul, in a group of the same name, and the other is known as “La Iglesia” (The Church), in the Coba Group. The Mayan architects and the mass of laborers—the stone-cutters, water and stone carriers, as well as the lime stucco makers—have left us majestic buildings in beautiful harmony with the luxuriant natural setting.
  • In 1933, Alfonso Villa Rojas (1897-1998) traveled the almost 62-mile-long Sacbe 1 that connects Coba with Yaxuna, a site near Chichen Itza.
ComalcalcoThis port city was the most western settlement of the Mayan culture and was occupied for a little over 1000 years. Its earthen architecture is distinguished by its brick cladding and mortar using lime from oyster shells.This Mayan port city from the Classical period had a lengthy occupation (200 BC - 900 AD). The Nahua traders who found it after it had been abandoned named it Comalcalco, which means “in the house of the griddles.” To date, the only inscription found in the site is written on a brick in the Mayan language ch’olano and says “Joy’Chan,” a word which can be translated as “rolling sky.” The earliest historical record of the site is from August 10 of the year 561, whilst the latest date found is March 7, 814. This is when it began to decline and disappear into the rainforest, which would conceal it for more than a thousand years.

The city was founded on the bank of the Mezcalapa river on the Tabasco alluvial plateau, within a large lagoon system near the sea. This allowed the Joy’Chan Mayans to keep control of the clay deposits from which they made multiple objects, such as bricks, drains, crockery, urns and statuettes, among others. Thanks to fishing and gathering of species from the lowland rainforest floodplains (mangrove swamps), and an intensive agriculture based on the farming of corn, beans and cacao, it became the most important tradng port not only of the region, but also for distant areas. The traders who traversed this valuable river route used to move between the Cuchumatanes mountain range in Guatemala and the present-day states of Chiapas and Tabasco, down to the river mouth in the Gulf of Mexico.

The production of handmade goods in Comalcalco allowed its local inhabitants and traders to obtain obsidian, flint, jade and basalt, among many other raw materials, for the production of tools, spoons, axes, grinding stones and mortars, to mention but a few. A key product made locally were figurines of animals and individuals moulded from clay. Particularly special among these is a representation of a female who holds a fan in her right hand and wears a decorated blouse. She has been called the Lady of Comalcalco and is considered to be the ideal model of a woman from the region.

The farming of the cocoa bean drove the development of the economy. During its time of prosperity, the city established ties with important trading ports on the coastal border of the Gulf of Mexico and sites along the banks of the Mezcalapa river, with which it traded high quality ceramics and figurines, which have now been found in sites such as Jaina, Campeche and Xcambó in Yucatán. It also maintained commercial and political relationships with cities like Jonuta, Palenque and Tortuguero.

Its spectacular architecture is comprised of earth plinths covered in stucco. On top of these were temples with arched roofs, built with thousands of bricks. They were adorned with attractive cresting and had plaster sculptures attached to them, showing figures from the royal family. These characters appeared in scenes which combine gods, animals and aquatic plants associated with the culture’s world view, which were painted with lavish polychrome, endowing them with great vitality and realism.

In Comalcalco, the main architectural sites are the Northern Plaza, the Great Acropolis, the Eastern Acropolis and the Western Group. These were built on domes of earth, which made it easy to orient them towards the cardinal points on an axis which runs in an orderly sequence from east to west. The scale of the Northern Plaza suggests that it served as the tianquiztli (market). It is found near to the river channel and the piers where people and goods disembarked, but at the same time far enough away to avoid floods in the rainy season. As for the Great Acropolis, it is the most outstanding architectural complex of the site. It is in the shape of a horseshoe, is 125 feet high and has an area of 11.8 acres.

Comalcalco was discovered in 1880 by Désiré Charnay. In 1925, it was described and photographed by Frans Blom and Oliver La Farge, and Gordon Eckohlm studied it in 1956-1957. In 1960, Román Piña Chan began the excavation of six buildings in the Great Acropolis, and in 1966 George F. Andrews carried out a topographic and architectural survey of the central area of the site. Between 1972 and 1981 Ponciano Salazar added seven buildings to the areas open to the public, and from 1993 to 2016 Ricardo Armijo excavated, restored and investigated 13 more buildings in the Great Acropolis and the Northern Plaza.

The historical record of the site spans 300 years, and confirms the existence of an emblematic glyph which reveals the settlement’s importance. It also mentions a great war which resulted in the capture and beheading of Kuhul Ajau Ox Balam on December 23 of the year 649. From this time on, the city remained subject to the kingdom of B’aakal (Palenque) and adopted its emblematic glyph from then on.
  • Three of the temples have an vaulted crypt set inside the foundation on which they are built, revealing its double function as tomb and temple.
  • The burial of the Aj Pakal Than was discovered in Comalcalco, a priest who lived at the site at the end of the eighth century AD. The grave offerings included bone earrings and skate tail bones with 280 engraved glyphs, which recount ceremonies of the gods of rain, unique information in Mayan history to date.
  • In the central staircase of Temple VI, there is a sculpture modeled in stucco which represents the god Itzamná, creator of the universe.
  • 5,400 bricks were excavated that had been decorated by the Maya with drawings of people, gods, birds, insects, reptiles, buildings, geometric shapes, numerals and writing.
CuajiloteA Totonaca city whose origins go back three thousand years, in the wet-lands, with buildings that reach a great height, wide plazas and ball courts, and signs of the cult of Tezcatlipoca, the smoking black mirror. Famous for the export of coloured bird feathers.
Cuarenta CasasThis site in Arid-America, where the original farmers constructed their city in the caves, eight centuries ago. The steps, adobe walls, roofs made of woven palm, stylized figures of animals, pinewood beams, everything is beautifully integrated into the landscape.Rocky overhangs and caves deep underground created by rainwater erosion sheltered generations of inhabitants since the dawn of human history on the continent of America. In Mexico’s northwest region one of the most important periods of occupation took place 800 years ago at the archeological site known as Cuarenta Casas. At this time the cultural forms were dictated by the fiefdom of Paquime, which in more recent times has been known by the archeologists as the Casas Grandes culture.

Although Cuarenta Casas remains a site representative of a culture, its salient features have been deservedly recognized. Albar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was the first person to record impressions of Cuarenta Casas in his book “Naufragios” (Shipwrecks), written in 1526. Carl Lumholtz visited the region in 1890 and described the site in his book “Unknown Mexico.” In the second half of the twentieth century, the site was explored by the US archeologist Robert Lister, who sought connections between the peoples of Mesoamerica and those of the Southwestern US.

The Cuarenta Casas archeological site consists of several excavated complexes or units of which the following have been made accessible to the public: Cueva de la Ventana, Cueva del Puente, Cueva del Gato and Cueva de las Ratas. Cueva de las Ventanas has the largest number of constructions and this has been thoroughly excavated and is best adapted for public viewing. 

Cuarenta Casas was officially declared an archeological monument site in January 2002.

The site has 19 caves with dwelling units. Cueva de las Ventanas is notable because of its size, its strategic position and because it incorporates the largest complex of buildings.

The construction technique uses successive earth moldings on top of each other until the desired height of the mud wall is achieved. Some of the upper floors have a reinforced interior structure which includes sticks and straw. The presence of certain clay minerals in the adobe is an indication of local provenance. The adobe was occasionally enriched and strengthened with rough gravel, small stones and plant matter including leaves and various fibers. The doors are “T” shaped and small in size, with an average height of 3 feet 3 inches. Small windows were used for ventilation, both facing outwards and between the different rooms.

Oval and rectangular fireplaces formed from clay and stone can be observed on the ground floor of various units, as well as large granaries or stores shaped like cooking pots, which today are in a poor condition.
  • The archeological remains of Cuarenta Casas can be admired alongside the mountains, the canyon and the caves.
Cuetlajuchitlán (Los Querende)Inhabited for nine centuries from 600 BC by the Olmecas and people from the Mezcala culture. It is constructed with elongated stone blocks forming plazas, places of worship and a water supply system. A modern highway was made to go through a tunnel 50 meters deep to avoid harming the site.
Cueva de la OllaImpressive remains of habitation in the zone which date back to 5500 years BC, the oldest in Arid America and all of Mexico. Remarkable for the enormous communal granary in the shape of a cooking vessel, marvellously preserved, with a structure of twisted dry leaves covered in clay.The Cueva de la Olla ("Cave of the Cooking Pot") archeological monuments are in the Municipality of Casas Grandes, in Chihuahua, Mexico, situated in the basin of the Piedras Verdes River, a tributary of the Casas Grandes River.

Cueva de la Olla forms part of a small complex in the so-called Valley of the Caves. This complex is located about 30 miles to the southwest of Paquime and the modern town of Casas Grandes, in the first range of the Sierra Madre Occidental.

Just like Cuarenta Casas, this is a site with adobe structures inside caves, where a variety of characteristics of Paquime culture can be identified. This is a site which has been described in various publications, and Robert H. Lister found two human burials on the site.

The archeological site is notable for the presence of a granary of very large dimensions, which is in the shape of a cooking pot. Numerous descriptions have been published, the oldest of which was written by Lumholtz who visited the cave at the end of the nineteenth century. 
  • Groups of people lived in this area who used an ancestor of maize, which dates back to 5,500 years before our era.
  • Human skeletons were found in the northern part of the cave. This was a custom of the region’s inhabitants: to bury the dead near or inside their homes.
  • The inhabitants of this area maintained a strict organization which allowed them to set up subsidiary towns.
  • Remains of the Mogollon culture have been found in the area, such as simple ceramic fragments and other sumptuary materials, which are scarcer, belonging to the Paquimé culture.
  • The group who lived in Cueva de la Olla must have comprised at least 30 individuals. They organized themselves to work the flattest areas of land in the vicinity for cultivation.
Cueva GrandeEight centuries old, one of the largest sites of gatherers and the first settled farmers in Arid America. Among the many constructions in the shelter of the cave, it preserves the remains of a watchtower, so the inhabitants could keep a lookout and be in communication with the important enclave of Huapoca.

This area opened to the public under the protection of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in 1994. It belonged to the Huapoca complex, given its proximity, but it has been considered separate for several reasons, one of which is its geographical delimitation, since the two zones are separated by the Papigochic River.

Cueva Grande, like Huapoca and Cuarenta Casas, belongs to the settlements known as “houses on cliffs," an umbrella term coined by twentieth-century archeologists to refer to the housing of Native Americans who lived in rocky caves or shelters at the top of the cliffs.

This site was built by settlers belonging to the Mogollon culture when they migrated from north to south, and it maintained trade links with Paquimé. It is enclosed in a corner of the mountain covered by a waterfall and contains at least nine rooms spread out around a small square, which was possibly used for community activities.

It seems that the inhabitants of this site had a high level of social organization, as two granaries for storing maize are found in the central square. Other important architectural elements are the foundations and the outline of a small watchtower which served as a point of communication with the Huápoca Site.

  • The granaries indicate that the inhabitants were concerned about the administration of their resources, which were protected and distributed among families.
Cuevas de Mitla y YagulSituated in the Valley of Tlacolula, this site encompasses a series of prehistoric caves and rocky shelters with cave paintings that date back 12,000 years. The earliest remains of domesticated plants were also found here. On August 1, 2010 the prehistoric caves of Yagul and Mitla in the central valleys of Oaxaca became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.In an extensive territory which is an example of low deciduous forest, the prehistoric caves of Yagul and Mitla in the central valleys of Oaxaca are of outstanding universal value with a variety of extraordinarily rich sites preserving very ancient evidence of the domestication of plants, especially corn, as well as a veritable compendium of plants useful for human survival.

The cultural landscape of the prehistoric caves of Yagul and Mitla consists of a series of caves and rock shelters with remains of human occupation going back to prehistoric times around 12,000 years ago. The main sites are named Duvil-Yasip, Yagul, Caballito Blanco, Los Compadres, El Fuerte, Corral de Piedra and Fortaleza de Mitla.

With the aim of documenting the archeological evidence, the National Institute of Anthropology and History began a long-term research and conservation project at the prehistoric caves of Yagul and Mitla in 1986, covering the investigation and detailed documentation of all the caves, rock shelters and open sites including workshops, camps and quarries.

To date this project has recorded more than 100 caves and rock shelters with a high percentage of human occupation. The clearest evidence of this occupation can be seen at these sites, such as rock paintings and carvings, as well as the presence of lithic materials on the surface which demonstrate the development of stone artifacts in different cultural periods.

Because of its importance as a most ancient site, in 2010 UNESCO registered the prehistoric caves of Yagul and Mitla as a World Heritage Site, in the category of cultural landscapes of outstanding universal value.
  • The prehistoric occupation of these caves demonstrates a close link between man and nature.
  • The Guila Naquitz cave finds include 10,000-year-old seeds of the gourd family (cucurbitaceae). These are the earliest traces of domesticated plants yet discovered on the American continent.
  • Ears of corn have also been found, providing some of most ancient evidence for the domestication of this plant.


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