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Emily McClung de Tapia and Yoko Sugiura

Prehispanic Life in a Man-made Island Habitat in Chignahuapan Marsh, Santa Cruz Atizapan, State of México, México
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Chignahuapan Marsh, Santa Cruz Atizapan, State of México

Research Year:  1999
Culture:  Teotihuacán
Chronology:  Pre-Classic to Epi-Classic
Location:  Santa Cruz Atizapan, México
Site:  Chignahuapan Marsh

Table of Contents

Paleoenvironmental studies in the Valley of Toluca
Settlement in the Lacustrine Zone
Macrobotanical analyses
Pollen analysis
Human osteological evidence from burials
Chemical analysis of residues in ceramics
Analysis of residues in floors
Faunal remains identified from Santa Cruz Atizapan
List of Figures
Sources Cited
Appendix 1. Chemical residues in ceramic vessels, Santa Cruz Atizapan, Estado de México.
Appendix 2. Chemical residues from floors, Montículo 20, Santa Cruz Atizapan, Estado de México.
Appendix 3. Faunal materials recovered from Montículo 20, Santa Cruz Atizapan, Estado de México.


The Valley of Toluca (Figure 1), located to the west of the Basin of México, is the highest of the Republic of México (minimum elevation: 2572 m), extending across approximately 1600 km2. As in the Basin of México, several shallow lakes and marshes played an important role throughout the long history of the Valley of Toluca. The lacustrine zone, referred to as the "Ciénagas del Alto Lerma", consists of three marshes and adjacent lakeshore areas covering approximately 300 km2, delimited by the "badlands" (malpais) of San Mateo Texcalyacac to the south, the piedmont of the Sierra de las Cruces to the east, a series of young volcanos to the north and the alluvial plain to the west. Normally, the three marshes form separate bodies of water connected by the Lerma River. However, when the water table rises, one huge swamp is formed, occasionally flooding the adjacent area as well, and covering an area which extends approximately 30 km N-S and 10 km E-O. The southernmost marsh is referred to as Almoloya or Chignahuapan (Figure 2, shown below). Lerma or Chimaliapán Marsh is situated in the middle and the northernmost marsh is named San Bartolo or Chiconahuapan.

In contrast with the Basin of México which today is a closed hydrographic unit, volcanic and tectonic activity during the Early Holocene opened the Valley of Toluca. Numerous springs situated along the western piedmont of Las Cruces and the Sierra del Ajusco, together with rivers and tributaries that descend from the surrounding slopes feed the marshes and the Lerma River, the source of which is located at Almoloya del Rio, flowing north ultimately to the Pacific via the hydrological system known as Lerma-Chapala-Santiago. Rather than conforming a single ecosystem, the lacustrine zone constitutes a complex mosaic of microenvironments: lakeshore, marsh and deep water, an extensive area of "floating earth" (locally called plancha) probably formed by decomposing aquatic and semi-aquatic vegetation in relatively shallow sectors, an area affected by the constant surge of spring water, and anthropogenic features such as canals and other waterways, laundry areas and docks. Open water was restricted to a relatively small sector.

The extensive marshes, including areas covered either by plancha or communities of aquatic, semi-aquatic and floating vegetation, constitutes the major ecological zone. However, in spite of the abundance of faunal and floral resources in this community, it represents an unstable, immature ecosystem. Ecosystemic stability is greatly affected by seasonal rains and fluctuations in the water table caused by regional climatic episodes.

Recent ethnoarchaeological research in the Valley of Toluca indicates that the settlement history of the study area is directly related to role of lacustrine resources in the subsistence system of the lakeshore communities (Sugiura 1998), as recently as three decades ago when the drainage, and consequent desiccation, of the marshes was completed. Inhabitants of the area practiced a generalized adaptive strategy with respect to the resources available, characterized by the indiscriminant exploitation of diverse biotic resources, broad flexibility in subsistence activities and the simultaneous articulation of several subsistence systems. Neither complex technology nor a high degree of specialization, but rather individual skill and experience together with a profound familiarity with the surroundings is required. This flexible, loosely-structured system facilitates the exploitation of available resources.

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Submitted 05/01/2000 by:

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