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

Recent Publications in Gulf Lowlands Archaeology

It is always difficult and frequently frustrating to locate recent professional publications dealing with Gulf Lowlands archaeology. I hope this annotated list will help people searching for such items. In it I try to emphasize publications with bibliographies that serve as reliable guides to further sources. I also annotate each entry with a simple description of its contents or at times my highly personal and idiosyncratic evaluation. I suggest that you view the latter skeptically. In the future I plan to issue periodic up-dates that fill in gaps and incorporate newly-published items.

Installment 1, February 1, 2010

Arnold III, Philip J. and Christopher A. Pool (editors)
2008 Classic Period Cultural Currents in Southern and Central Veracruz Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.
This book contains eleven articles written by specialists in the archaeology and history of the region. It is the most recent and up-to-date work on the archaeology and art of the Classic period (AD 300-900) cultures as of November 2009.
Arqueología Mexicana
This popular magazine appears in Mexico six times a year. I consider it one of the two best popular magazines on archaeology published anywhere in the world. The articles are all written by scholars and appear in Spanish but are well edited for clarity; the illustrations (all color) are uniformly superb. Each issue focuses on a specific time period, culture or topic. The most recent issue relevant to the Gulf lowlands (Vol. XV, #87, septiembre- octubre 2007) was dedicated to the Olmecs.
Borstein, Joshua A.
2005 "Epiclassic Political Organization in Southern Veracruz, Mexico: Segmentary versus Centralized Integration," Ancient Mesoamerica Vol. 16, # 1, pages 11-22.
Borstein discusses settlement and survey data from the lower Coatzacoalcos and San Juan drainages to determine which of the two extremes mentioned in the article title best characterizes the region in the Epiclassic (AD 700-1000) period. He concludes that both models are supported in some ways and not others, and suggests that considerable variability existed in the political structure in the region over time and space.
Budar, Lourdes and Sara Ladrón de Guevara (editors)
2008 Arqueología, Paisaje y Cosmovisión en los Tuxtlas. Universidad Veracruzana, Xalapa.
The ten essays in this collection focus on the Pre-Columbian occupation of the Tuxtla mountains. They include the first description of rock art in the region, a subject heretofore completely neglected.
Cheetham, David, Susana E. González, Richard J. Behl, Michael D. Coe, Richard A. Diehl, and Hector Neff
2009 "Petrographic Analyses of Early Formative Olmec Carved Pottery"Mexicon, Vol. XXXI, Nr. 3, June 2009, pages 69-71.
This technical study of the paste composition of Calzadas Carved, an important Olmec trade ware found in many parts of Mesoamerica, is the most recent in a series of publications about this pottery type with unusual, iconographically-charged carved designs.
Childress, David Hatcher
2007 The Mystery of the Olmecs. Adventures Unlimited Press, Kempton, Illinois.
I consider this a real piece of trash, packed with more mistakes than accuracies on each and every page. If you like science fiction, this is not even a good read. However, I always encourage people to examine such books and form their own opinion. I do suggest that you borrow it from a library rather than waste $20 that you could spend on a good bottle of Argentine Malbec wine.
Cyphers, Ann
2004 Escultura Olmeca de San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán. Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Universidad Autónoma de México, Mexico City.
This monumental work is the only complete catalogue of Olmec stone sculpture form the great Early Formative center of San Lorenzo. All 156 sculptures are illustrated with excellent photographs and accurate drawings and described in detail. This is an absolutely essential source for any serious student of the Olmecs. The first printing consisted of 1,000 copies so it may be difficult to locate. The ISBN number is 970-32-1572-6.
Cyphers, Ann, Alejandro Hernández-Portillo, Marisol Varela-Gómez, and Lilia Grégor-López
2006 "Cosmological and Sociological Synergy in Preclassic Architectural Complexes," in Precolumbian Water Management: Ideology, Ritual, and Power, Lisa J. Lucero and Barbara W. Fash, editors, pages 17-32, University of Arizona Pres, Tucson.
San Lorenzo, the large Olmec Early Formative "capital" located in the annually flooded Coatzacoalcos river flood plain, is famous for its spectacular carved stone aqueducts. The authors discuss these and related architectural features as physical manifestations of a symbolic system that supported Olmec rulers' power over their subjects.
Cyphers, Ann, and Judith Zurita-Noguera
2006 "A Land That Tastes of Water," in Precolumbian Water Management: Ideology, Ritual, and Power, Lisa J. Lucero and Barbara W. Fash, editors, pages 33-50,, University of Arizona Pres, Tucson.
A companion piece to the essay listed above, this article describes the multiple subsistence strategies employed by the San Lorenzo Olmec in their watery world. It also discusses the distribution and significance of stone monuments on the regional landscape.
Daneels, Annick
2004 "Mascaras de piedra de estilo Teotihuacanos en las costa de Golfo," in La costa del Golfo en tiempos Teotihuacanos: Propuestas y Perspectivas, (eds.) Ruiz Gallut, María Elena, and Arturo Pascual Soto, pages 393-426, INAH, México City.
See Ruiz Gallut and Pascal Soto (editors) 2004
2008 "Ballcourts and Politics in the Lower Cotaxtla Valley: A Model to Understand Classic Central Veracruz?," in Classic-Period Cultural Currents in Southern and Central Veracruz, Philip J. Arnold III and Christopher Pool (eds.) Dumbarton Oaks, Washington.
See Arnold and Pool (editors) 2008
Follensbee, Billie J. A.
2008 "Fiber Technology and Weaving in Formative Period Gulf Coast Cultures," in Ancient Mesoamerica, Vol. 19, #1, pages 87-110.
The author examines evidence for Olmec weaving through analysis of cloth depictions on sculptures and possible weaving tools.
García Cook, Ángel and Beatriz Leonor Merino Carrión
2004 "Secuencia cultural para el Formativo en la Cuenca baja del río Pánuco," in Arqueología, Segunda época, 31, pages 5-27.
The authors report their investigations in the Formative cultures of the region and outline a detailed cultural sequence lasting from 1700 BC until AD 200 based on ceramic typology and radiocarbon determinations.
Koontz, Rex
2008 "Iconographic Interaction Between El Tajin and South Central Veracruz," in Classic-Period Cultural Currents in Southern and Central Veracruz, Philip J. Arnold III and Christopher Pool (eds.) Dumbarton Oaks, Washington.
See Arnold and Pool (editors) 2008
2009a Lightning Gods and Feathered Serpents: The Public Sculpture of El Tajin, University of Texas Press, Austin.
Koontz, a long-time student of Tajin and its art and iconography, presents his original and thoughtful conclusions about the meaning of the sculptural programs at the Temple of the Niches, the central ballcourt, and the Mound of the Building Columns, Tajin's royal court zone. This is a major statement on the subject.
2009b "Social Identity and Cosmology at Tajin," in The Art of Urbanism, William Fash and Leonardo Lopéz Luján (eds.) Dumbarton Oaks, Washington.
By analyzing the public art at El Tajin, especially the carved panels in the ballcourts and elsewhere, Koontz shows that certain rulers pictured themselves as flying impersonators of the Wind God while emphasizing their connections with distant highland regions.
Ladrón de Guevara, Sara
2005 "Lenguaje corporal en Tajin," in Arqueología Mexicana, 71: 44-47.
The author examines the postures that humans assume in the public art at this major Epi-classic center. She demonstrates that only a limited number of postures are expressed, including those she identifies as "noble", "captive", "sacrificial victim" and "divinity".
2008 Dualidad, TenarisTamsa and the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa, Veracruz.
This exhibition catalogue contains excellent photographs and brief texts by the author and Sergio Vásquez Zárate. The 31 objects, all from the collections of the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa (MAX), reflect ancient concerns with the concept of duality in its many forms: life/death, youth/age, male/female, etc.
Ladrón de Guevara, Sara and Vladimir Hernández
2004 "¿Huracán o Quetzalcoátl? Dios de El Tajin" in Arqueología, Segunda época 32, pages 61-70.
The authors revisit the long-running debate over which of these two deities was the focus of public religion at el Tajin. They opt for the former, based upon both artistic representations and climatic data that show the frequency of hurricanes in the region. They argue that water and violent storms were integrated into the dominant characteristics of this leading regional deity and that in the past scholars have confused it with the central Mexican Feathered Serpent.
Ladrón de Guevara, Sara and Maliyel Beverido (editors)
2008 Mujeres de Antaño: Presencias y omisiones, Museo de Antropología, Xalapa, Veracruz.
This collection of seven well illustrated essays highlights the important and often neglected presence of women in Pre-Columbian Gulf lowlands art and images. The authors are all affiliated with the Universidad Veracuzana and the MAX (Museum of Anthropology Xalapa). Appropriately enough, it was published on March 8, 2008, the International Day of the Woman.
Lawler, Andrew
2006 "Claim of Oldest New World Writing Excites Archaeologists," Science , Vol. 313, page 1551.
Lawler, a journalist trained in archaeology, discusses the broader significance of the Cascajal Block, a stone tablet inscribed with Olmec glyphs.
2007 "Archaeology Beyond the Family Feud," Archaeology , March-April 2007, pages 21-28.
The subtitle tells it all: "After decades of debate, are younger scholars finally asking the right questions about the Olmec?" As an older scholar, I personally would argue there are no "right" questions, only "different" questions.
Lunagómez, Roberto, Xochítl Léon, and Nelly Núñez
2004 "Hallazgos recientes en el sitio Medias Aguas, sur de Veracruz," Arqueología , segunda época, 34, pages 30-37.
Lunagómez presents important new information about this Late Classic (AD 700-1000) period settlement, including data on the site plan, excavations and the date of the unusual non-Olmec "Colossal Head" found there.
Morante López, Rubén
2005 La pintura mural de Las Higueras, Veracruz, Universidad Veracruzana, Xalapa, Veracruz.
Morante's monograph is one of the most important books on a Gulf lowland site to appear in many years. In it, he rescues a vast body of information on the painted murals from La Higueras, a Classic site excavated in the 1960s but never properly published. His book includes all the information he could get from fields notes, interviews with the now-deceased excavators, color photographs and descriptions of every mural fragment, along with his iconographic interpretations of the paintings. A spectacular reconstruction of the murals and their setting is one of the highlights of the Museo de Anthroplogía de Xalapa (MAX), an institution of which he is a former Director.
Pascual Soto, Arturo
2004 "La cultura de El Tajin en el Clásico Temprano," in La costa del Golfo en tiempos Teotihuacanos: Propuestas y Perspectivas, Ruiz Gallut, María Elena, and Arturo Pascual Soto (eds.), pages 441-449, INAH, México City.
See Ruiz Gallut and Pascal Soto (editors) 2004
Pool, Christopher A.
2006 "Current Research on the Gulf Coast of Mexico," Journal of Archaeological Research, Vol. 14, # 3, pages 189-241.
Pool presents a very useful synthesis of late 20th and early 21st century investigations in the region, along with a complete bibliography that includes many Spanish language publications not on the radar screen of the average non-Mexican scholar. This is a great place to begin an investigation into recent research in the region.
2007 Olmec Archaeology and Early Mesoamerica, Cambridge University Press.
The most recent book-length treatment of subject, written by excavator of Tres Zapotes, this work examines every facet of Olmec life and culture.
Rodríguez Martinez, Ma. Del Carmen, Ponciano Ortiz Ceballos, Michael D. Coe, Richard A. Diehl, Stephen G. Houston, Karl A. Taube, and Alfredo Delgado Calderón
2006 "Oldest Writing in the New World," Science, Vol. 1610-1614.
This report documents the Cascajal Block, a rectangular slab of serpentine with 62 signs in an unknown and undeciphered script lightly inscribed on the face. The block, found by workers in a gravel extraction site near the Olmec site of San Lorenzo, is thought to date to the San Lorenzo phase (1200-900 BC) and currently is the oldest known example of writing in the Americas.
Ruiz Gallut, María Elena and Arturo Pascual Soto (eds.)
2004 La costa del Golfo en tiempos Teotihuacanos: Propuestas y Perspectivas, INAH, México City.
This volume contains 25 essays in Spanish that address Teotihuacan's interactions with Gulf Lowland societies during the Classic period. The result of a major conference concerning Teotihuacan, it is an absolutely essential resource for serious Gulf Lowland specialists.
Santley, Robert S.
2007 The Prehistory of the Tuxtlas, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.
In this book the late Robert S. Santley (deceased 2006) summarized 20 years of field research at Matacapan and elsewhere in the volcanic Tuxtla mountains of southern Veracruz. It provides a data-rich synthesis of the author's vision not only of Tuxtlas prehistory but his convictions about what archaeology should be.
Santley, Robert S. and Philip J. Arnold III
2005 "The Obsidian Trade to the Tuxtlas Region and Its Implications for the Prehistory of Southern Veracruz, Mexico," Ancient Mesoamerica, Vol. 16, # 2, pages 179-194.
The writers examine the history of the obsidian trade into the Tuxtla mountains and the role Teotihuacan played in it during the Middle (AD 550-650) and Late Classic (AD 650-1000) periods.
Sarro, Patricia
2004 "Investigating the Legacy of Teotihuacan in the Architecture of El Tajin," in La costa del Golfo en tiempos Teotihuacanos: Propuestas y Perspectivas, Ruiz Gallut, María Elena, and Arturo Pascual Soto (eds.), pages 329-348, INAH, México City.
See Ruiz Gallut and Pascal Soto (editors) 2004
200 "Rising Above: the Elite Acropolis of El Tajin," in Palaces and Power in the Americas: From Peru to the Northwest Coast, Jessica Christie and Patricia Sarro, (eds.) pages 166-188, University of Texas Press, Austin.
Ségota, Dúrdica
2004 "El Zapotal," in Muros Que Hablan: Ensayos sobre La Pintura mural prehispánica en México, Beatriz de la Fuente (ed.), pages 467-476, El Colegio de México, México.
This short review of the published literature on the site is the first publication to mention the painted murals on the shrine walls.
Skoglund, Thanek, Barbara L. Stark, Hector Neff, and Michael D. Glascock
2006 "Compositional and Stylistic Analysis of Aztec-Era Ceramics: Provincial Strategies at the Edge of Empire, South-Central Veracruz, Mexico," Latin American Antiquity, Vol. 17, # 4, pages 541-560.
Ceramics from two Late Postclassic settlements subject to Aztec control show that inhabitants of the Aztec provincial center of Cuetlaxtlan in the lower Cotaxtla river imitated metropolitan Aztec ceramics much more closely than did those of Callejón del Horno in the lower Blanco river.
Stark, Barbara L., Robert J. Speakman, and Michael D. Glascock
2007 "Inter-regional and Intra-regional Scale Compositional Variation in Pottery from South-Central Veracruz, Mexico," Latin American Antiquity, Vol. 18, # 1, pages 59-84.
Examination of the chemical composition of Classic period pottery from two locations in the general lower Papaloapan region show considerable local or intra-regional exchange but little if any long distance trade.
Stresser-Péan, Guy and Claude
2001 and 2005 Tamtok: Sitio arqueológico Huasteco, Volumenes 1 and 2. Volumen 1, Su Historia, Sus Edificios; Volumen II, Si Vida Cotidiana, Published by Conaculta-INAH and others, Mexico.
Yes, I know that a book published in 2001 is not exactly a recent publication. Nevertheless, this two volume set is the most complete and well documented archaeological site report ever published on Huasteca region site. It is absolutely essential for anyone who aspires to understand the archaeology and prehistory of the northern Gulf lowlands. It contains the final report of many years of investigations at the key Huasteca center of Tamtok, San Luis Potosí state by the by the French Center for Mexican and Central American Studies, an important but little-known organization based in Mexico City. Lavish illustrations include color and black and white photographs and many clear line drawings. If you only have one work on the Huasteca in your personal or institutional library, this should be it.
Urcid, Javier and Thomas Killion
2004 "El legado olmeca: continuidad y cambio cultural en el sur de Veracruz," Arqueología , Segunda época 33, pages 3-31.
The authors report the results of their surface survey in the region between Hueyapan del Campo and Laguna de los Cerros south of the Tuxtla mountains. They emphasize the post-Olmec Classic and Postclassic periods.
Uriarte, María Teresa and Rebecca B. González Lauck (editors)
2008 Olmeca: Balance y Perspectivos. Memoria de la Primera Mesa Redonda , 2 volumes and 3 DVDs. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, and Brigham Young University.
This lavish and comprehensive work contains 36 essays dealing with every aspect of Olmec studies. It is the publication of a major Round Table held in Mexico City in 2005. It is the most recent and comprehensive treatment of the Olmecs in print. The 3 DVDs contain a complete recording of the private discussion sessions that followed each session and provide considerable insights into the thinking of the participants. For those attempting to locate or purchase a copy, the ISBN number is 978-607-200192-3.
VanDerwarker, Amber M.
2006 Farming Hunting and Fishing in the Olmec World , University of Texas Press.
Innovative study of subsistence activities and their remains at Formative period sites in the Tuxtla mountains.
VanDerwarker, Amber and Olaf Jaime-Riverón
2008 "La agricultura tropical en la Sierra de los Tuxtlas durante el período Formativo," Arqueología, segunda época, 37, pages 35-47.
The authors document the intensification of maize agriculture over time in near-house Gardens in the region.
Wendt, Carl J.
2005a "Using Refuse Disposal Patterns to Infer Olmec Site Structure in the San Lorenzo Region, Veracruz, Mexico," Latin American Antiquity, Vol. 16, # 4, pages 449-466.
Wendt's study of refuse disposal patterns at El Remolino near San Lorenzo shows a the presence of a San Lorenzo phase dispersed house-lot arrangement at the riverside location as opposed to a more nucleated approach at the same time in the civic center on the nearby plateau.
2005b "Excavations at El Remolino: Household Archaeology in the San Lorenzo Olmec Region," Journal of Field Archaeology, Vol. 30: 163-180.
Reports the first serious investigations of Early Formative rural Olmec household structure, refuse, and related matters. He shows that the inhabitants of this small riverside community practiced fishing, hunting, gathering, and plant cultivation.
2007 "Los Olmecas: Los primeros petroleros," Arqueología Mexicana, 87, septiembre-octubre) pages 56-59.
See Arqueología Mexicana 2007
Wendt, Carl J. and Shan-Tan Lu
2006 "Sourcing archaeological bitumen in the Olmec region," Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol.: 89-97.
Geochemical analyses of bitumen from natural seeps and Early Formative Olmec sites in southern Veracruz show that this substance, known locally as chapopote, can be identified as coming from specific spots on the landscape. The evidence suggests multiple procurement networks were functioning within a complex regional exchange system.
Wendt, Carl J. and Ann Cyphers
2008 "How the Olmec used bitumen in ancient Mesoamerica," Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Vol. 27: 179-191.
This essay presents a thorough and well considered discussion of ancient bitumen procurement, processing and use by the Olmecs. It will remain a classic on the general subject of bitumen use for years to come.
White, Nancy Marie
2005 Gulf Coast Archaeology: the Southeastern United States and Mexico, University Press of Florida.
White's book is an innovative attempt to bring together information on the ancient cultures that occupied both sides of the US-Mexican border. Approximately half of the 14 chapters, all written by specialists, deal with the Mexican Gulf lowlands.
Wyllie, Chera
2008 "Children of the Cultura Madre," in Cultural Currents in Classic Veracruz, Philip Arnold III and Christopher Pool (eds.), pages 225-258, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington.
See Arnold and Pool (editors) 2008
Zaragoza Ocaña, Diana
2004 "Vecinos cercanos," Arqueología, Segunda época 32, pages 71-93.
Debates over possible Pre-Columbian contacts between northeastern Mexico and the southeastern United States have emerged from time to time over the past 70 years, only to fade away in the absence of solid data. Zaragoza Ocaña's article reviews the history of the issue and then presents new information from Tantoc, a site in San Luis Potosí, that supports the reality of such contacts. An English language version of her ideas can be found in her essay in White (2005), cited above.
Zaragoza Ocaña, Diana and Patricio Dávila Cabrera
2004 "Una torre arqueológica en la Huasteca," Arqueología, Segunda época 33, pages 169-175.
The authors describe a unique square tower made of stone masonry from La Torre de la Rosa, Orizatlán, Hidalgo state. The tower is undated but presumed to be pre-Hispanic.

Previous Page  |  Table of Contents

Return to top of page