Off-grid – Archeology magazine
Located in the state of Morelos About 80 km southwest of Mexico City, at the base of a pair of granodiorite hills that rise sharply above the central highlands of Mexico, Chalcatzingo was a regional trading center during the Middle Formation period of Mesoamerica (c. 700-500 BC). For decades, archaeologists have marveled at the similarities between dozens of bas-relief rock carvings discovered at Chalcatzingo and similar examples found in Olmec centers on the southern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, nearly 300 miles away. This has led many to suggest that Chalcatzingo was an Olmec settlement.
At its peak, Chalcatzingo would have covered more than 100 acres and was home to between 500 and 1,000 people. Chalcatzingo farmers have designed agricultural terraces and water control systems on some of the region’s most fertile land. Builders built public squares and artists lined them with stone sculptures depicting deities and mythical events. The individuals depicted on the stelae who have been interpreted as the rulers of Chalcatzingo appear to channel cosmic and solar powers and act as intermediaries with the gods. Chalcatzingo’s tallest monument is an almost square raised platform measuring approximately 230 feet on each side. Nearby, a sunken patio with a table altar for religious ceremonies at its center is reminiscent of Olmec-style public architecture. While the Olmec civilization is generally considered to have experienced a rapid decline around 400 BC, Chalcatzingo continued to be occupied during the Classical period (around 250-900 AD). There are remains of a ball field and two small pyramidal mounds. Radiocarbon dating of evidence from excavations around these structures suggests that they were built from the 6th century AD, when the site was under the influence of the megalopolis of Teotihuacan, 70 miles to the northeast.
Dartmouth College archaeologist Deborah Nichols says a unique ceramic tradition uncovered at Chalcatzingo – the creation of anthropomorphic figurines – suggests that the site was not in fact an Olmec settlement, but that there was likely an exchange cultural direct between Chalcatzingo and the Gulf Coast on an equal footing. based. “There were probably people from the Gulf Coast living in Chalcatzingo, possibly even marriage and family ties, as well as direct business connections,” Nichols says. This may explain the similarity of artistic styles.
Before planning a visit, be sure to confirm the site’s hours, which can be viewed on the website of the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico. The site is located about 800 meters from the modern village of the same name. Chalcatzingo is well worth a day trip from Mexico City, which can be arranged with a travel agency. Because the site doesn’t have a lot of signage, local tour guides are recommended. Besides the architectural plazas, pyramid structures, and the ball field, they can show you stelae that you might otherwise miss, as well as a number of petroglyphs found on the lower slopes of the hills.
WHILE YOU ARE THERE
The nearby town of Cuernavaca has a gem of a colonial core dating from the early 16th century, including the Palace of Cortés, built between 1523 and 1528. The building is now a museum dedicated to the history of Morelos and features artefacts from Chalcatzingo.