Drawing after Miguel Covarrubias – Indian Art of Mexico & Central America Death Gods, Smiling Faces and Colossal Heads: Archaeology of the Mexican Gulf Lowlands
by Richard Diehl

Ancient Mexico was a mosaic of peoples, languages, and cultures, all with their unique but related art styles, living patterns, and religions. Of the major regions, none was more complex than the Gulf Lowlands, the area east of the Sierra Madre Oriental in modern Veracruz, Tabasco, Puebla, Queretaro, Hidalgo and San Luis Potosi states (Figure 1). However except for the world-renown Olmecs, these ancient cultures have not received the attention they deserve from the English-speaking public. Several reasons account for this but a primary one is that most of the research has been published in Spanish, frequently in limited access books and hard-to-find Mexican journals.

Map of Archaeological Sites

Figure 1. Map of México Gulf Coast Lowlands. From Diehl, Richard A. "The Precolumbian Cultures of the Gulf Coast," in The Cambridge Prehistory of the Native Peoples of Americas: Volume II, part 1, eds. R. E. W. Adams and M. Macleod, pp. 156-196., 2000.

Death Gods, Smiling Faces, and Colossal Heads is my attempt to remedy this situation. After devoting a considerable part of the past 45 years to archaeological research in the region, I feel it is important to bring these rich and vibrant cultures to a broader audience than that typically reached by the books, journal articles and conference papers that have occupied me up until now. I hope to use the FAMSI web site to reach out to the public with short illustrated essays on many facets of these cultures. My scope will be as broad as possible, including archaeology, anthropology, geography, history, art, and other scholarly disciplines. I will examine every topic that occurs to me or is suggested by a reader. Since I am no an expert in all of the many facets of Gulf Lowland studies, I will submit drafts of my essays to people who are experts before posting them. However I do not always take advice, even good advice, and I remain responsible for any errors. As I advise my students, "Never take my word alone for anything, always check out alternative sources."

I intend to add new materials to each section of Death Gods, Smiling Faces and Colossal Heads, on a regular basis, hopefully at the beginning of each month. Obviously numerous factors will influence this, including some that I cannot predict at this time. I hope you find these essays useful and enjoyable.


This chapter has be reprinted with permission. No reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.
"PreColumbian Cultures of the Gulf Coast" by Richard A. Diehl History of the Native Peoples of the Americas. Volume 2, Mesoamerica, edited by Richard E. W. Adams and Murdo J. MacLeod. Copyright © 2000 Cambridge University Press.
Cambridge University Press, ISBN: 9780521351652

Table of Contents

Pre-Columbian Cultures of the Gulf Coast
The Region and its Characteristics
The Archaeological Record
The Origins of Settled Village Life and Agriculture
The Rise of Complex Societies - Early and Middle Formative Periods
The Late Formative (300 B.C.-300 A.D.)
The Classic Period (A.D. 300-900)
Bibliographical Essay
Ancient Cities, Towns and Shrines
El Zapotal
Aztec Gold at Punta Gorda: the Fisherman's Treasure (690 KB)
Profiles of Gulf Lowlands Archaeologists
Recent Publications

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