Survey found nearly 500 ancient ceremonial sites in southern Mexico

Credit: PIXTA / CC0 public domain

A team of international researchers led by the University of Arizona reported last year that they discovered Aguada Phoenix, the largest and oldest Maya monument. The same team discovered nearly 500 small ceremonial complexes similar in shape and characteristics to Aguada Phoenix. This discovery changes the previous understanding of the origins of Mesoamerican civilization and the relationship between Olmecs and the Mayans.

The team’s findings are detailed in a new paper published in the journal. Natural human behavior.. Takeshi Inomata, a professor of anthropology in Arizona, is the lead author of this paper. His U Arizona co-authors include Daniela Triadan, a professor of anthropology, and Greg Hodgins, director of the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Lab.

Researchers used data collected by an aerial laser mapping technique called lidar to identify 478 complexes in Tabasco and Veracruz, Mexico. Lidar penetrates the canopy and reflects the three-dimensional form of archaeological features hidden under the vegetation. LIDAR data was collected by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, a Mexican government agency, and covered an area of ​​32,800 square miles, about the size of an Irish island.

Published lidar data allows researchers to explore vast areas and explore sites of interest in more detail before following up on high-resolution lidar.

“Until a few years ago, I couldn’t think of studying such a large area,” Inomata said. “Publicly available LIDAR is transforming archeology.”

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There has been a long-standing debate as to whether the Olmec civilization led to the development of the Maya civilization or whether the Maya developed independently.

Newly discovered sites are located in large areas, including the Olmec region and the lowlands of western Maya. The complex was probably built between 1100 BC and 400 BC, and was built by various groups almost a thousand years before the heyday of the Maya civilization between 250 and 950 AD.

Researchers have found that the complex shares similar characteristics to San Lorenzo, the earliest center of the Olmec region, which peaked between 1400 and 1100 BC. The Maya region and other related sites, Aguada Phoenix, adopted the San Lorenzo format around 1100 BC and began to formalize it.

In San Lorenzo, the team also found a previously unrecognized rectangular space.

“The site is large horizontally, but not vertically,” Inomata said. “People are walking on it and you won’t notice the rectangular space, but you can see it really well in lidar.”

Researchers’ studies suggest that San Lorenzo served as a template for later construction, including Aguada Phoenix.

“People have always thought that San Lorenzo was very unique and different from what came later when it came to site placement,” Inomata said. “But now San Lorenzo shows that it is very similar to Aguada Phoenix. There is a rectangular square adjacent to the edge platform. These features became very clear in LIDAR and were built a little later. Also found in Aguada Phoenix. We think San Lorenzo is very important for the beginning of some of these ideas later used by Maya. “

The site was probably a ceremonial space

According to the paper, the site discovered by Inomata and his collaborators is likely to have been used as a ceremonial meeting place. It includes a large central open space where many people can gather and participate in ceremonies.

Researchers also analyzed the orientation of each site and found that, if possible, the site appeared to be tailored to a particular date of sunrise.

“There are a lot of exceptions. For example, not all sites have enough space to put a rectangular form in the desired direction, but it seems that they chose a specific date if possible,” Inomata said. He said.

It’s not clear why a particular date was chosen, but one possibility is associated with the Zenith passing date when the sun passes directly above. This will happen on May 10th in the area where the site was found. This day is the beginning of the rainy season and the planting of corn. Some groups chose to turn the site in the direction of sunrise 40, 60, 80, or 100 days before the zenith passage date. This is important because the later Mesoamerican calendar is based on the number 20.

San Lorenzo, Aguada Phoenix and several other sites have 20 edge platforms along the east and west sides of the rectangular square. An edge platform is a mound placed along the edge of a large rectangular square. They define the shape of the square, each usually not higher than about 3 feet.

“This means that they were expressing cosmological ideas through these ritual venues,” Inomata said. “People gathered in this space according to this ritual calendar.”

Inomata emphasized that this was just the beginning of the team’s work.

“There are a lot of questions that haven’t been answered yet,” he said.

Researchers wonder what the social organization of the people who built the complex was. San Lorenzo probably had a ruler, which is suggested by the sculpture.

“But there is no such thing in Aguada Fénix,” said Inomata. “People are just starting to use pottery and lived in temporary structures on the ground, so I think they’re still somehow moving. People are moving to a more subdued lifestyle and in those areas Many probably didn’t have many hierarchical organizations, but nonetheless, they were able to create a very well-organized center of this kind. “

Inomata’s team and others are looking for more evidence to explain these differences in social organizations.

“It will take much longer to continue excavating the site to find these answers, and it will involve many other scholars,” Inomata said.

The largest and oldest Maya monument suggests the importance of collaboration

For more information:
Takeshi Inomata, the origin and spread of the formal ceremonial complex in the Olmecs and Maya regions revealed by aerial riders, Natural human behavior (2021). DOI: 10.1038 / s41562-021-01218-1..

Quote: According to a survey, in southern Mexico (October 25, 2021), from https: // on October 25, 2021 Nearly 500 ancient ceremonial sites acquired were found.

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Survey found nearly 500 ancient ceremonial sites in southern Mexico

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