Image - Cacao Pod Vessel - K6706 © Justin Kerr FAMSI © 2002:
Robert M. Rosenswig

Soconusco Formative Project
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Figure 10. Solid ceramic figurine recovered from Conchas phase levels of Suboperation 2 and 2b (drawn by Joe McGreevey.)

Research Year:  2002
Culture:  Olmec
Chronology:  Pre-Classic
Location:  Soconusco, Chiapas, México
Site:  Cuauhtémoc

Table of Contents

Soconusco Formative Project 2002
Analysis in Progress
List of Figures
Sources Cited


The Cuauhtémoc site is located within a previously undocumented zone of the Soconusco between the Early Formative Mazatán polities (Clark and Blake 1994), the Middle Formative center of La Blanca (Love 1993) and the Late Formative center of Izapa (Lowe et al. 1982) (see Figure 1). Taking advantage of the refined Soconuscan chronology (Table 1), the fieldwork described below provides data to track developments at Cuauhtémoc over the first 900 years of settled life in Mesoamerica. This time period is divided into seven ceramic phases, and so, allows for changes in all classes of material culture to be tracked on almost a century-by-century basis. These data are being used to document the emergence and development of sociopolitical complexity in the area. In addition to local processes, the goal of this research is to determine the nature of changing relations between elites on the Gulf Coast of México and the Soconusco. The work also aims to be significant cross-culturally as Mesoamerica is one of only a handful of areas in the world where sociopolitical complexity emerged independently and the Soconusco contains some of the earliest societies where this occurred (Clark and Blake 1994; Rosenswig 2000).

The site of Cuauhtémoc provides a unique opportunity to explore cultural developments as work from the 2001 season (Rosenswig 2001), and FAMSI-sponsored excavations in 2002, document that this site was continuously occupied from the first settled villages through the rise of the distant Olmec capitals in the Gulf Coast. The long tradition of work on the Formative periods of the Soconusco (e.g., Blake et al. 1995; Clark and Blake 1994; Ceja 1985; Coe 1961; Coe and Flannery 1967) provides a well-known ceramic sequence. However, no previously documented site was occupied continuously from Barra through Conchas times. La Victoria was occupied during the Locona/Ocos and the Conchas phases (Coe 1961). Salinas la Blanca was occupied during the Cuadros and Jocotal phases (Coe and Flannery 1967). The Middle Formative center of La Blanca was occupied during Conchas times (Love 1989, 1993, 1999). The Early Formative center of Paso de la Amada was occupied during the Barra through Cherla phases and abandoned during the initial San Lorenzo period (Ceja 1985; Clark and Blake 1989, 1994). Cuauhtémoc is the only site in the Soconusco documented to date that was continuously occupied during the Early and Middle Formative from the Barra through Conchas phases (Table 1).

The early Middle Formative Conchas phase represents the most extensive occupation of Cuauhtémoc. During this time the site reached its maximum extents and architectural mounds were constructed. This apogee corresponds to the emergence of the regional center of La Blanca built around a 25 m high central mound. Cuauhtémoc appears to have been a secondary center to this regional capital and was abandoned after nearly a millennium of occupation when La Blanca was abandoned after the Conchas period. Along with the concomitant abandonment of these two centers, ongoing survey conducted by the Soconusco Formative project (and funded by the National Science Foundation) demonstrates that the entire region was virtually abandoned at the end of the Conchas phase. While this is an interesting cultural process it also means that earlier materials are not buried under later period over-burden.

The site of Cuauhtémoc covers 4.8 hectares and contains one preserved 3 m high mound, one recently disturbed 5 m high mound and another recently disturbed linear mound that purportedly measured 100 × 25 m and was 2 m high (Figure 2). The latter two mounds have recently been flattened by heavy machinery. Furthermore, because the site is currently part of a banana plantation it has been cut by 3 m deep trenches that are several kilometers long and spaced 100 m apart. These trenches expose cultural deposits down to sterile clay layers and allow for this early Mesoamerican village to be documented in cross section. Additionally, every 30 m there is a 1 m deep drainage canal running perpendicular to the main trenches. Although the damage to the site is unfortunate, it provides a remarkably extensive sub-surface view of the cultural deposits. During the 2001 season, we systematically surface collected the site and mapped a 220 m section of the profile produced by one of the main trenches (Rosenswig 2001). The trench profile revealed a 100 m long section of early Early Formative habitation flanked by two 30 m long sheet middens containing late San Lorenzo and early La Venta period remains.

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Soconusco Formative Project  (910 KB)

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Submitted 09/16/2002 by:

Department of Anthropology
Yale University

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