Teopantecuanitlán


By 1983, most of the pieces of the Mesoamerican calendrical puzzle had come
together in such a coherent manner that I was encouraged to summarize my re-
search in an article titled "The Origins of Civilization in Meso-America: A Geog-
raphic Perspective". (See the complete bibliography in my book.) In the same
year, a Mexican archaeologist, Dra. Guadalupe Martínez Donjuán, began excavating
a site in a remote area of western Mexico which in subsequent years was to send a
ripple of unease throughout the anthropological community as more and more
surprising information came to light. (The site is situated in the Valley of the Balsas
river, seen in the background of the above photograph.)

First, we learned that the site -- named "Teopantecuanitlán" by Dra. Martínez,
or "the place of the temple of the jaguar-god" -- was "Olmec" in origin, a special
surprise inasmuch as no known "Olmec" site had been found in that region before;
geographically, it certainly did not fit the "established pattern" of "Olmec" settle-
ment, most of which was concentrated in the vast alluvial lowlands bordering the
Gulf of Mexico. As radio-carbon dates for the site became available, we also learned
that its nucleus was fully as old as La Venta, one of the principal "Olmec" ceremonial
centers on the Gulf coastal plain, in that it had been constructed about 1000 B.C.

Naturally, whenever such a discovery is made, all previous research has to be
reevaluated in light of the new data which is being uncovered. So, my first react-
ion to Martínez' discovery was to ask, "What does this do to my calendrical diffusion
hypothesis?" Certainly, in view of the site's "off-side" geographic location and its early
date of origin, it could conceivably throw a major "monkey wrench" into my arguments.
(Indeed, just such a scenario took place with respect to the numeral glyphs used
by the early Mesoamericans; researchers who had just published a "definitive"
work on the origins of writing in Mesoamerica, ascribing them to the Zapotecs of
Monte Albán about 600 B.C., now found that dots and bars were in use among the
"Olmecs" of Teopantecuanitlán at least four centuries earlier!)

For a time, it was difficult to get precise information on just where the site
was located, so I could not evaluate it in terms of a possible solsticial orient-
ation. As more accurate data came to hand, I ventured to start examining detailed
maps of the region surrounding the site with an eye toward such a possibility.
Then, when I discovered in 1996 that there seemed to be a strong likelihood that
the site was indeed solsticially oriented, I knew that I would be obliged to visit
it in person to confirm or deny my hunch.

However, an attempt to reach the site in early January, 1997 was stymied
by an "impossible" road and I had to content myself with studying more about the
place in a newly published volume (Los olmecas en Mesoamérica) available only
in Mexico. There I found a site-plan of Teopantecuanitlán which proved almost
exciting as visiting the ceremonial center itself: Dra. Martínez' carefully executed
map revealed that the entire site was oriented to the setting sun on August 13th! --
proof positive that the sacred almanac had not only diffused from Izapa, the only
place where such a date has true astronomical significance, but also that the sacred
calendar was already in use in the remote interior of western Mexico as early as the
first millenium B.C.-- a fact which further strengthened the support for my computer
study which placed its origin in the mid-14th century B.C.! Thus, on the very eve of
my book's publication, a couple of the most supportive clues that I could have ever
hoped for, unexpectedly fell into place.

In February, 1998 I was privileged to visit Teopantecuanitlán in the company of
Dra. Martínez and make my own observations at the site. Although a GPS (Global
Positioning System) measurement of its latitude and longitude, namely 17º 54' 06.7" N.
and 99º 06' 38.6" W., confirmed the site's alignment to Teotepec (the highest mountain
in the Sierra Madre del Sur) at the winter solstice sunset, a hill immediately back of the
ceremonial center precludes the observation of this phenomenon from the site itself.
Likewise, a ridge lying to the west of the ceremonial center cuts off any view of the
distant horizon, making the direct observation of the setting sun on August 13 also
impossible, so unless some sort of 'relay station' existed on the adjacent hilltop,
neither of these key dates could have been calibrated by naked eye astronomy from
Teopantecuanitlán. Yet, unless one is willing to write off the site's solsticial orient-
ation as a pure 'coincidence' --especially in view of the fact that this has been shown
to have been a prime concern for Olmec planners -- then it seems quite likely that such
a 'relay station' still remains to be found.

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