Warrior-Trader Mixtec Tomb Unearthed in Mexican Town Square
Archaeologists have unearthed a rare twin-chambered stone Mixtec tomb in central Mexico. This discovery is only the third of its kind in the region. What sets this tomb apart from the other two is that it contains unique evidence of ancestor worship and the funerary customs.
Recovered within the modern plaza [town square] of San Juan Ixcaquixtla, the Mixtec tomb once served as a central sacred feature in a wider complex of burial mounds known as teteles. According to the press release published by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), the 1,500-year-old burial represents only the third such tomb ever unearthed in the region, and it’s being associated with “a lineage of merchant-warriors.”
A 1,500-year-old intact Mixtec tomb was unearthed during road works in San Juan Ixcaquixtla. (INAH)
Mixtec Tombs: Where Cloud People Go to Rest
The Mixtec people emerged around 1500 BC and their culture collapsed when Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado arrived in 1523 AD. Known for their unique language, jewelry, pottery and codices, the term “Mixtec” comes from the Nahuatl word mixtecah, meaning “cloud people.”
While many Mixtec communities offered tribute to Aztec rulers, many Mixtec towns maintained their own cultural identity and remained independent of the Aztec empire. INAH said that from pre-Columbian times, “the Mixtec were one of the major civilizations of Mesoamerica.”
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The double-chambered stone Mixtec tomb was revealed by road workers in the main public square of San Juan Ixcaquixtla. Comprising two rooms measuring four meters by two meters (approximately 13.12 feet by 6.56 feet), the researchers identified three individual burial deposits within the Mixtec tomb. These contained the skeletal remains of at least 20 individuals that correspond to the Classic Mesoamerican period (AD 100 to 650).
The archaeologists have so far recovered “150 ceramic vessels, a carved human bone, a votive axe, and three yokes in a ‘U’ shape often associated with ceremonial ball games.” In Banderas News, lead archaeologist Alberto Diez-Barroso said the design and style of the ceramics provide evidence of “ritual of ancestor worship,” leading him to suspect that the Mixtec tomb burials represent individuals from “a lineage of merchant-warriors.”
Archaeologists have excavated several artifacts including ceramic vessels and a votive axe from within the Mixtec tomb. (INAH)
Uniting the Living with the Dead: Mixtec Tombs and Burials
Manuel Villarruel Vázquez, the director of the INAH Puebla Center, said that the ongoing investigation into the newly discovered Mixtec tomb “will integrate the data collected from the two previously discovered tombs.” These two tombs were also discovered in the town square in 2004 and 2013, respectively, and all three belong to an expansive Mixtec necropolis.
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Like many ancient animistic cultures around the world, Mixtec people believed in maintaining a strong connection with their ancestors. They therefore usually buried their deceased with overt respect and reverence, most probably because they believed the spirits of the deceased continued to influence the lives of the living.
The Mixtec tomb offers evidence about the funerary practices of these ancient peoples. (INAH)
Legacy of the Long-Distance Mixtec Feather Traders
Mixtec traders maintained and developed a rich network of trade routes connecting various disparate regions across Mesoamerica. These routes facilitated the exchange of goods and ideas, as far as central Mexico and the Gulf Coast.
Besides gold jewelry, pottery, codices, textiles and precious stones being traded over long distances, the Mixtecs were particularly renowned for their featherworking skills. Archaeologists believe that their brightly colored feather mosaics were in high demand, according to an article on featherwork published in Alternative Pathways to Complexity.
Top image: The Mixtec tomb has revealed information about funerary rituals 1,500 years ago. Source: INAH
By Ashley Cowie