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Lorenza López Mestas Camberos

Green Stones in Central Jalisco
Translation of the Spanish by Eduardo Williams
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Research Year:  2004
Culture:  Teuchitlán Tradition and El Grillo complex
Chronology:  Late Preclassic to Late Classic
Location:  Magdalena and Tala municipalities, Jalisco, Mexico
Sites:  Huitzilapa and La Higuerita

Table of Contents

Early use of green stones in western Mesoamerica
The site of Huitzilapa during the Late Formative
Green stones in Huitzilapa
The site of La Higuerita during the Late Classic
Green stones in La Higuerita
List of Figures
Sources Cited

Early use of green stones in western Mesoamerica

Objects made out of a wide variety of green stones were greatly valued by Mesoamerican cultures since early times. The oldest dates for the use of these kinds of materials pertain to the Early Formative, in the Barra complex of the Pacific coast of Chiapas (Garber et al. 1993: 211). A little later their presence was more widespread, above all in funerary contexts of the San José phase of the Oaxaca Valley (1150-850 B.C.), as well as in Tlatilco, in the Basin of Mexico (ca. 900 B.C.) around the latter date their use seems to have been more generalized, including such sites as La Venta, on the coastal Gulf zone and Copán, Honduras (Ibid.: 212).

In spite of the importance of these materials, little is known about the existence and use patterns of green stones in western Mesoamerica. This is due in part to the few systematic excavations carried out in this region, as well as the little interest shown by archaeologists on the study of this kind of materials. Their attention has been focused primarily on ceramic sculptures. Because of this, the known sample of objects made with green stones was derived exclusively from looted collections, which hindered research because of the lack of known provenience. Another problem is that in western Mesoamerica this kind of object has been found primarily in funerary contexts, which do not necessarily represent the use for which they were produced in the first place.

The earliest known ritual use of green stones in western Mesoamerica pertains to the Opeño and Capacha complexes, primarily studied in Michoacán, Colima and Jalisco. El Opeño is a funerary site located in the Zamora-Jacona Valley, Michoacán (Figure 1). Around 1500 B.C. the El Opeño tombs had an elaborate system of construction, with ample underground chambers excavated in volcanic tuff and stepped access corridors. These tombs contained a wealth of objects deposited as offerings, such as conch shells from the Caribbean (Turbinella angulatus), and green stones such as jadeite, amazonite, and chrysoprase (Oliveros 2004: 144, 150) showing great diversification and a complex system of religious beliefs, as well as a well-defined social ranking.

The Capacha complex is distributed in the intermontane valleys of the Jalisco sierras, as well as around the Colima Volcano and Colima Valley. In several sites in Jalisco with close links with the Capacha complex – such as the burial area found in El Embocadero II (800 B.C.) in the Mascota Valley – we have found the immediate forerunners of the shaft-tomb tradition. In the small burial chambers is reported the use of artifacts made of green stone, such as cylindrical beads of jadeite and possibly of amazonite, as well as unmodified turquoise fragments (Mountjoy 2004).

In the site of El Camichín, in the Salado River basin, Colima, was found a burial zone on top of an elevated hill circumscribed by two rows of big stones separated one from the other and surrounding the hill almost entirely, with an entrance toward the northeast – a feature that indicates a restricted access to the cemetery (Ramos et al. 2005). This feature, together with the various burial forms, indicate complex ritual practices. A recurring custom are the offerings associating elaborate ceramics, miniature metates (grindstones), Spondylus valves and greenstone pendants.

The offerings indicate an incipient specialization in the exploitation of resources, which allowed these settlements to take part in the regional exchange networks. The presence of these offerings shows that these trade networks functioned since very early times, linking coastal sites where shell objects were obtained, manufactured and distributed, with inland communities – at least in the area around the volcanoes in the bordering area between Jalisco and Colima. The shell objects found during investigations in this area only include Spondylus valves, which were polished so as to eliminate the spines from their surface.

This kind of funerary offering derives from an incipient social differentiation. An example of this are the offerings of Spondylus and green stone, which were used selectively since they were not associated with all burials. It is possible to interpret their use as an indicator of status within the community, which has also been reported for other sites pertaining to the Preclassic period throughout Mesoamerica, such as Chalcatzingo (Morelos), Tlatilco (central Mexico), and San Lorenzo (Veracruz) (Grove and Gillespie 1992a). There is evidence for long-distance exchange networks since very early times, which may have functioned as a dispersal mechanism for several abstract concepts from one region to another (Flannery 1968; Grove and Gillespie 1992b). Therefore, it is not surprising that items made with these materials had a connotation as status signifiers, which was shared throughout several regions where they were accessible to just one sector of society.

There is evidence for contact between the Capacha and Opeño complexes, primarily through the relationships seen between the Rojo Zonal and Rojo Guinda/Crema ceramic types, as well as the similarities between the figurines of both complexes (Oliveros 1974; Schöndube 1980: 151). This contact could have spread through the Tuxpan-Tamazula-Zapotlán zone, where Opeño-style figurines and Capacha ceramics have been found (Lameiras 1990: 27; Schöndube 1974: 84, ff.), as well as through central Jalisco, where looted tombs with a layout similar to the El Opeño tombs have been reported, as well as ceramic vessels resembling the Capacha complex (Weigand and Beekman 2000: 41). Between 1300 and 900 B.C. El Opeño and Capacha had some kind of contact with cultures in central Mexico, such as Tlatilco and the Cuautla River, which may have had a higher level of sociocultural development. Since a long time ago, Beatriz Braniff and other scholars pointed out the existence of a "tertium quid" in central Mexico, which was different from Olmec and central Mexican traditions, and had originated in West Mexico (Braniff 1998: 28).

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Submitted 09/01/2006 by:
Mtra. Lorenza López Mestas Camberos
Centro INAH Jalisco

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