by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
Edo. de Morelos
“One Summer In Mexico” – Part 39
The little-known Chalcatzingo Archaeological Zone is located about 36 mi (57.9 km) southeast of Zocalo Plaza in Cuernavaca, Morelos, México. The massive cone of the Popocatepetl Volcano dominates the view to the north from this town site. It is one of four archaeological zones in Morelos and Oaxaca States that will be featured in the next documentary video on the People of One Fire Youtube Channel.
The town was founded around 1400 BC and contains what is probably the oldest stone veneered pyramid in Mexico. It contains some the of the oldest or the oldest rock carvings in Mexico. It definitely was an important religious center for the “Olmec” Civilization, 250 mi (403 km) to the southeast. It may actually be the site of the first civilization in Mexico, one that predated the “Olmec” Civilization. Chalcatzingo connected trade routes between Guerrero, the Valley of Mexico, Oaxaca, and the Gulf Lowlands.
Chalcatzingo is located in the Central Valley of Morelos (municipality of Jantetelco) and dates from the Formative Period of Mesoamerican chronology . . . about 1500 BC. The site is well known for its extensive array of monumental art and iconography. The inhabitants began to produce and display Olmec-style art and architecture around 900 BC.
At its maximum size between 700 BC and 500 BC, Chalcatzingo’s population is estimated at between five hundred and a thousand people. By 500 BC it had gone into decline. The climate in Morelos is generally warmer and more humid than the rest of the Highlands. The Chalcatzingo acropolis covers roughly 100 acres (0.40 km2). This section of the town was obviously the scene of many types of religious rituals.
Located in the Amatzinac River Valley, the site lies at the base of the two massive granodiorite hills that rise from the valley’s flat landscape. A nearby spring provided its early farming inhabitants with an ample water supply.
Architecture and town plan
The village contained a central plaza area, designated Terrace 1 by archaeologists, downhill from elite residences. Terrace 25 is composed of a sunken patio. Stone-faced patios and bas-relief monumental art are the features that are found both at Chalcatzingo and at Teopantecuanitlan, which located about 60 miles (96 km) to the southwest in the state of Guerrero. These are the only two sites known with these features. The sunken patio of Teopantecuanitlan is older. There are also other parallels between these sites. At Chalcatzingo, in the center of the sunken patio is a tabletop altar reminiscent of those at La Venta and San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, both lowland Olmec centers.
Structure 4 is Chalcatzingo’s largest structure, an almost-square platform measuring approximately 70 m (230 ft) on each side. Burials of high-status individuals have been excavated here, with jade ornaments and a magnetite (iron ore) mirror. Most of the village’s burials were located under the floors of houses—individuals representing the whole variety of social statuses were buried this way.
Chalcatzingo is perhaps most famous for its bas-relief carvings. Most of the 31 known monuments occur in three distinct groupings: two on Cerro Chalcatzingo and the third on the terraces within the actual settlement.
Like other Formative period culture centers, Chalcatzingo declined in importance but, unlike centers on the Gulf Coast, the site was not abandoned. The location has clear evidence of a minor occupation in the Late Formative Period and served as a minor ceremonial center during the Classic period. However, by 500 BC Chalcatzingo had lost its importance in Mexican Highland culture. This occurred some 400 years after the “Olmec” Civilization city of San Lorenzo was abandoned, and 100 years before the abandonment of La Venta.
Chalcatzingo’s decline coincided with the development of widespread settlement clusters throughout the Morelos region, consisting mainly of small farming villages. Over 1000 years after Chalcatzingo’s abandonment, the Late Classic settlement Xochicalco reached its peak in Morelos between 700–900 AD.
Implications for understanding Mexico’s early history
For at least the past 60 years, the general consensus of anthropologists in the Americas is that the so-called “Olmec” Civilization was the first civilization in Mexico, but not the Americas. The Olmecs actually had nothing to do with the Olmec Civilization, but during the early 1940s a public relations-savvy Gringo archaeologist, named Matthew Stirling, gave the civilization the name of a Nahuatl tribe, which arrived in the region around 1,500 years after its cities were abandoned. Mexican anthropologists and historians knew better, but lacked the political influence internationally during the 1940’s, to press their facts.
Even Wikipedia’s articles on Matthew Stirling and the “Olmec” Civilization get it wrong. I have tried repeatedly to make the correction, quoting the landmark book by my Mexican mentor, Dr. Román Piña Chan, La Cultura Madre, but the changes are quickly deleted by academicians, who don’t know their Mexican anthropology.
Nevertheless, all indigenous peoples in Mexico told the Spanish that civilization began in Mexico in the Morelos Valley with the arrival of newcomers in the vicinity of Tepotztlan. I am beginning to suspect that they are right and my mentor was wrong. Why would people from the “Olmec” Civilization walk 2-600 miles to worship at the Chatcatzingo Shrine, unless it was where their culture began?
Mexican archaeologists have identified petroglyphic boulders in the Copper Mountains near Tepotztlan, which are identical to those in the Etowah River Valley of northern Georgia and County Kerry, Ireland. In 2015, contractors constructing an expressway bypass for Tepotztlan uncovered the stone foundations and ruins of buildings, totally unlike those that were later built in Mexico. Definite Mesoamerican ruins were on top of the non-indigenous architecture ruins.
There was one section of the ruins that would not be covered or destroyed by road construction. Over the protests of the supervising archeologists, the President of Mexico order the INAH to cover the ancient ruins, which predate the Olmec Civilization, not to mention them again to the public and then restore the “Indigenous” ruins at ground level. Apparently, for political reasons, the Mexican government does not want to acknowledge the evidence of other peoples coming to their land in early times. The Truth is out there somewhere!