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An archaeologist excavates a ceramic artifact at the pre-Hispanic Aztatlán culture settlement in Mexico, hidden beneath the urban sprawl of the west coast port city of Mazatlán.	Source: INAH

Pre-Hispanic Aztatlán Culture Evidence Found Under Mexican Urban Sprawl

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Workers carrying out paving and infrastructure work in Mexico’s southern port city of Maztalan stumbled upon ancient human remains from a pre-Hispanic Aztatlán culture settlement. Preliminary investigations by archaeologists have unearthed numerous ancient Aztatlán culture artifacts at the site so far, including burial types never seen before in this part of Mexico, according to the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) website .

The pre-Hispanic Aztatlán culture settlement was found in the locality of Avenida del Dolphin, to the north of the port city. Once the workers had found the remains and expert opinion had confirmed that they were indeed ancient, the INAH was called in to carry out the archaeological recovery process. The site has certain unique features and for this reason the INAH is seeking an agreement with the Mazatlán City Council to declare the area a protected site so that more extensive excavations can be carried out, reports Mexico News Daily .

The pre-Hispanic Aztatlán culture settlement was found just north of the west coast port city of Mazatlán. (INAH)

The pre-Hispanic Aztatlán culture settlement was found just north of the west coast port city of Mazatlán. ( INAH)

Aztatlán Culture Burial Types Never Seen in Mazatlán Before!

The Mazatlán port city construction work was being carried out on a hill and it was within this “mound” that the remains of an ancient Aztatlán settlement were found. The natural elevation of the hillock, which is located near an estuary, protected the site from flooding while at the same time allowing the settlers to take advantage of the rich marine ecosystem below.

The surface of the hill mound was covered with crushed and pressed seashell debris over which temporary structures had been constructed. Underneath the floors of some of these structures, INAH archaeologists found human burials. One of the burials contained the high-quality Aztatlán culture ceramic jar.

This ceramic jar is one of many artifacts recently discovered at a pre-Hispanic Aztatlán culture settlement in Mexico hidden beneath the urban sprawl of the west coast port city of Mazatlán. (INAH)

This ceramic jar is one of many artifacts recently discovered at a pre-Hispanic Aztatlán culture settlement in Mexico hidden beneath the urban sprawl of the west coast port city of Mazatlán. ( INAH)

Mexicanist.com quotes archaeologist Víctor Joel Santos Ramírez of the INAH Sinaloa Center, who is coordinating the dig, as saying, “A burial with these characteristics had never been found in Mazatlán: under a shell floor and accompanied by fine ceramics since the most common in the region are burials inside pots.” This makes the pre-Hispanic Mazatlán site archaeologically unique and significant.

Dating Mazatlán’s Aztatlán Culture Remains and Artifacts

Apart from the human remains, which are in a bad state of preservation from the poor soil conditions in Mazatlán, the archaeologists found an Aztatlán-style clay pipe and three complete ceramic vessels in fragmented form at the site. The pottery was dated to the Acaponeta phase (900-1200 AD), according to Alfonso Grave Tirado, another archaeologist at the INAH Sinaloa branch office.

The INAH believes the settlement was part of a culture that developed around 900 AD. This date coincides with the period known archaeologically as Aztatlán Horizon, a time of social, economic, and political evolution in southern Sinaloa and northern Niyarit. Tirado said that it’s highly likely that more evidence of an important ancient settlement will be found in the area where the graves and ceramic artifacts were found.

Though the human remains found at the ancient Aztatlán culture settlement under the port city of Maztalan were not in great condition due to soil conditions the ceramic finds were well preserved. (INAH)

Though the human remains found at the ancient Aztatlán culture settlement under the port city of Maztalan were not in great condition due to soil conditions the ceramic finds were well preserved. ( INAH)

The Aztatlán culture developed in the western part of Mexico during the Epiclassic and Postclassic periods (850-1400 AD), in what are today the western states of Nayarit, Colima, Sinaloa, and Jalisco. Distinctive ceramic pottery with red or orange rims and black-banded designs, exhibiting high workmanship, was a hallmark of this culture, as were its copper, silver, and gold creations. Hunting, fishing, and agriculture were the main occupations in Aztatlán culture daily life.

Funerary urns with offerings formed a central feature in Aztatlán culture burials. It is in this context that the burials found at Mazatlán are an interesting departure from the norm.

At present, Mazatlán has about ten registered archaeological sites. However, as Ramirez pointed out, this is likely because modern urban expansion had swallowed up many sites. Often, authorities weren’t even notified about accidental relic discoveries.

The recent discovery is an exception, as construction officials immediately called in experts. Once the remains were confirmed as being ancient, the Mazatlán City Council cooperated with the INAH to the fullest.

Despite the hardness and depth of the soil, preliminary excavations are scheduled to conclude soon. They will probably find more than enough evidence to make the case for carrying out a more thorough examination of this unique site.

Top image: An archaeologist excavates a ceramic artifact at the pre-Hispanic Aztatlán culture settlement in Mexico, hidden beneath the urban sprawl of the west coast port city of Mazatlán.  Source: INAH

By Sahir Pandey

References

Habib, Y. 2022. Important Pre-Hispanic Settlement Discovered in Mazatlán . Available at: https://belatina.com/pre-hispanic-settlement-mazatlan/.

INAH website. 2022. They discover a new archaeological site of the Aztatlán culture in the urban area of ​​the port of Mazatlán, Sinaloa (English translation). Available at: https://www.inah.gob.mx/boletines/11217-descubren-nuevo-sitio-arqueologico-de-la-cultura-aztatlan-en-la-zona-urbana-del-puerto-de-mazatlan-sinaloa.

Mexicanist. 2022. Finding in Mazatlan reveals Aztatlan culture cults . Available at: https://www.mexicanist.com/l/aztatlan-culture-in-mazatlan/.

Mexico News Daily. 2022. Construction unearths pre-Hispanic archaeological site in Mazatlán . Available at: https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/construction-archaeological-site-mazatlan/.

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