Archaeologists Unearth Trinket Filled Tombs from Mexico’s Huastec Culture
Archaeologists working on a site in southern Tamaulipas, Mexico, known as El Naranjo, have discovered tombs and ruins from Mesoamerica's Classic period (250 AD to 900 AD). The remains include circular stone platforms, human burials, and precious ornaments that reveal more about the burial traditions and practices of the Huastec people. The large platforms are believed to have been built to protect the eternal resting places of significant individuals, and the ornamental objects found with the remains are thought to have been created with great care and skill. This latest discovery may reveal more information about the Huastec civilization's history and development over time.
The INAH locates a human settlement of more than a millennium in works of the Mante-Ocampo-Tula highway. (INAH)
Tombs and Ruins Uncovered in Tamaulipas
With a highway construction project set to break ground in the state of Tamaulipas in north-eastern Mexico, archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) made the startling discovery that is ground-breaking in another way.
While digging at a site in southern Tamaulipas known as El Naranjo, the scientists unearthed tombs and ruins that date back to Mesoamerica’s spectacular Classic period (250 AD to 900 AD). This included a pair of huge circular stone platforms or bases, and more than a dozen human burials, which revealed new details about the funerary practices of the people who lived in ancient times in Tamaulipas’s Huasteca region.
The tombs and ruins found at El Naranjo, which is located in a valley to the east of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains, are believed to have been left behind by the Huastec people. Data obtained from the excavation site has determined that the platforms (or foundations) and tombs date to the latter part of the Classical Era, or to 600 to 900 AD, when the Huastecs were poised to ascend to a cultural peak.
Riding the Archaeological Superhighway Back to a Glorious Mesoamerican Past
The digs that produced these most interesting finds were carried out under the authority of the Mexican Ministry of Culture. INAH archaeologists were dispatched to perform excavations at promising sites along the route of the Mante-Tula-Ocampo superhighway, which will connect the coastal state of Tamaulipas with the interior state of Coahuila.
In a press release issued by INAH, Esteban Avalos Beltran, the coordinator of the latest excavations, said that the members of his team were excited and delighted by what they found at El Naranjo. He revealed that the pair of large circular platforms were made from limestone and basalt masonry. The two platforms have been tagged Mound 1 and Mound 4, with the former being 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter and the latter 65 feet (20 meters) in diameter.
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Human remains excavated from Mound 4 at the El Naranjo site in northern Mexico. (INAH)
The platforms were discovered and explored first. Their purpose was apparently to protect the eternal resting places of certain important individuals, as the archaeologists found out when they unearthed human remains inside the foundation interiors.
Inside Mound 4 they unearthed the bones of three adults, who were buried together as a group. Before they were entombed, they were adorned in precisely designed shell and green quartz earrings, some of which were made in the shapes of flowers.
A flower shaped ornament created by carving shell adorns these human remains. (INAH)
The other tombs found in the circular foundations were all individual burials. In most instances the deceased were buried sitting up.
An especially remarkable burial was found inside Mound 1. An adult male was encased inside a smaller limestone mound, indicating he must have been a person of great status. This one matched a tomb found at the Tamtoc site south of Tamaulipas in the adjacent state of San Luis Potosi, showing that this funerary practice was not just a localized phenomenon.
The archaeologists used ceramics found at the site of the tombs in El Naranjo to date it to the late Classic Period. They were impressed by the skill displayed by the people who built the huge and impressive stone foundations, and also by the high level of craftsmanship exhibited by the people who carved the shell and quartz ornaments, which were clearly made with great loving care.
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A green quartz gemstone in the mouth of one of the deceased. (INAH)
Digging Down to the Roots of Mexico’s Ancient Huastec Culture
The Mesoamerican Classic period is when many complex and sophisticated societies developed and flourished in what is now Mexico and northern Central America. The latest discovery was made on grounds occupied by the Huastec people, who arrived in the area of southern Tamaulipas sometime between 1,500 and 900 BC, according to experts who’ve analyzed the archaeological record. This distant cousin of the Maya branched out from their original settlements in the far northeastern corner of modern-day Mexico and headed southward, ultimately occupying an expansive area of land down the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and further inland.
Interestingly, the Classic Period was not the most productive time for the Huastec culture. Dating far back into antiquity the Huastecs were responsible for some notable achievements in art, architecture, and religious cosmology (the concept of the great god Quetzalcoatl actually originated with the Huastec people in the first millennium BC). But they only reached their pinnacle of power and influence after the fall of the great city of Teotihuacan and the sudden decline in power of the Maya civilization, in what has been termed the Postclassic period (1,200 to 1,500 AD) of Mesoamerican history.
Sadly the Huastec people lost their freedom and independence in 1450, when their lands were conquered by the Aztec Empire. Things got even worse just a few decades later, when the Spanish arrived and either killed or enslaved the Huastecs who remained in the area.
But for a time the Huastec people were prosperous. Avalos Beltran explained that this newly discovered site, along with several other sites found in northern Mesoamerica, reveal how the fertile Huastec civilization gradually developed over time.
“In one of the valleys of the Sierra Madre Oriental, between the Grutas de la Puente and the Cañón de La Napkin, characteristics begin to be observed that centuries later, in the Postclassic period (1200-1521 AD), would be associated with the Huastec cultural tradition,” is how the INAH archaeologist summed up his team’s findings.
The researcher was quite pleased to be involved with the new discoveries at El Naranjo, which he rates as one of the most important archaeological sites to be unearthed in Tamaulipas in recent years. Through the continued study of these freshly discovered ruins and tombs, INAH archaeologists may learn some fascinating new information about how people the ancient Huastec people lived and worshipped.
Top image: Human remains of the burials found of the Huastec people of Mexico. Source: INAH
By Nathan Falde