Image - Cacao Pod Vessel - K6706 © Justin Kerr FAMSI © 2007:
David Cheetham

Cantón Corralito, Objects from a Possible Gulf Olmec Colony
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Figure 34. Calzadas Carved rim and body sherds. Illustration by Ayax Moreno.

Research Year:  2005
Culture:  Olmec
Chronology:  Late Archaic to Early Formative
Location:  México
Site:  Cantón Corralito

Table of Contents

Methods and Preliminary Results
Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis
Pottery Classification and Morphology
"Chicharras and San Lorenzo Ceramic Complexes, San Lorenzo"
"Cherla and Cuadros Ceramic Complexes, Cantón Corralito"
Style and Design Structure
"Early Olmec Figurines from Two Regions: Style as Cultural Imperative"
Other Items
List of Figures
Sources Cited


This illustrative project is one component of a larger study investigating the nature of social relations between the Gulf Coast and Pacific Coast regions during the early Olmec horizon (1150-1000 bc, uncalibrated). My overall interest lies in determining if Gulf Coast Olmec peoples established a colony along the Pacific Coast at the site of Cantón Corralito (Cheetham 2006a), which was about 25 hectares in size at the time and centrally located in the heart of the Mazatan zone about 400 km south of the Gulf Olmec heartland (Figure 1). The site has a long history of occupation beginning in the Late Archaic period (ca. 2500-2000 bc) and then the Early Formative Barra, Locona, Ocós, Cherla, and Cuadros phases (ca. 1600-1000 bc). Near the end of the Cuadros phase Cantón Corralito was completely destroyed by river floodwaters and covered by a thick (1.0-2.5 m) layer of sand and alluvium, making it a sort of aquatic version of Pompeii. With financial aid from the New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF) and the Reinhart Foundation, the site was excavated between April-July of 2004. The massive inventory of artifacts from large-scale excavations includes over 5,000 objects produced in the early Olmec style typical of the Gulf Coast and several other regions of Mesoamerica. Most Olmec style objects at Cantón Corralito are fragments of ceramic figurines and potsherds with carved-incised designs, although the inventory is not restricted to these two classes of objects.

I requested FAMSI funds to have some of the objects excavated at Cantón Corralito professionally illustrated and made available for both future publication and current viewing on the FAMSI website. Since the collections are very large, only a very small percentage of objects were drawn and some classes or types of items received more attention than others (most notably, carved potsherds). Still, the drawings contained in this report should prove useful to scholars wishing to compare materials from Cantón Corralito with those excavated elsewhere in Mesoamerica. The illustrations were done by the talented hand of Ayax Moreno; former staff artist at the NWAF (Brigham Young University) based in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas.

With few exceptions all fully illustrated objects in this report were subjected to chemical compositional analysis (INAA) to determine origin of manufacture. The compositional work, now in preparation for publication, indicates that a significant number of Early Olmec horizon figurine and decorated pottery fragments (ca. 9-18%, depending on class/type) excavated at Cantón Corralito come from objects made in vicinity of San Lorenzo Veracruz, the largest and best documented Early Olmec horizon site in the Gulf Coast region. I by no means had all imported objects illustrated, but those that were are included here and duly labelled. The same is true of the few objects imported from an unknown location. All other illustrated objects were made at Cantón Corralito or elsewhere in Mazatan.

The report begins with a brief regarding the nature of the early Olmec phenomenon in Mesoamerica, debate surrounding this issue, and related research questions behind the Cantón Corralito project. The research design is then introduced, with data summaries provided for each method used as far as current results permit. Illustrations made possible though the FAMSI grant are presented in the appropriate overview, and in two sections links are provided to a related study or work already completed or nearing completion. Note that my inability to fully disclose all research results is not due to any reluctance to do so, but rather the fact that the project forms the basis of my Ph.D. at Arizona State University, which was in the write-up stage at the time this report was prepared and submitted. All FAMSI sponsored illustrations are, however, included.

Some of the details in this report may change slightly when the results of the final analyses are obtained. Thus, these data, particularly the provenience results as determined by preliminary data from compositional analyses (INAA), should be viewed as preliminary. A subsequent report outlining the final results will be prepared and posted on the FAMSI website at a later date.

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Cantón Corralito, Objects from a Possible Gulf Olmec Colony  (2.98 MB)

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Submitted 03/26/2007 by:
David Cheetham
Arizona State University &
New World Archaeological Foundation, Brigham Young University

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