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Early Mesoamerican Villages. Formative, Pre-Classic Periods Farming Formative Households. Formative/Pre-Classic Chronology. Early Formative (Pre-Classic) Period 1500/1800-900 BC Middle Formative (Pre-Classic) Period 900-300 BC Late Formative (Pre-Classic) Period 300 BC - AD 300.

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early mesoamerican villages

Early Mesoamerican Villages

Formative, Pre-Classic Periods


Formative Households

formative pre classic chronology
Formative/Pre-Classic Chronology
  • Early Formative (Pre-Classic) Period 1500/1800-900 BC
  • Middle Formative (Pre-Classic) Period 900-300 BC
  • Late Formative (Pre-Classic) Period 300 BC - AD 300
formative pre classic periods
Formative/Pre-Classic Periods
  • Characteristics
    • Permanent Villages
      • Wattle and Daub structures
      • Domestic and public architecture
    • Appearance of pottery
    • Specialized crafts people
    • Increased social stratification
    • Increased population
    • Beginnings of writing
    • Increased trade
  • Slash and burn agriculture (called milpa by the Mayas) is also labor intensive.
  • Modern-day Native Americans in Guatemala who employ this agriculture spend about 190 days every year in agricultural work.
  • Despite this labor, there are at least 170 days are left over (almost half of a year) for other types of labor.
  • This excess time was used in the Classic Period in the building and maintenance of cities as well as the extensive production of art-work and the agricultural labor necessary to support the priestly populations in the cities.
slash and burn technique
Slash and Burn technique


  • Amaranth is cultivated in the Nahuatl (Aztec) speaking area of Zongolica, Veracruz using slash and burn techniques (Early 1982).
  • Young amaranth greens are picked as vegetables and the grain is later harvested.
  • The plants are allowed to naturally reseed themselves for a second planting.
  • In the tropical Yanatile region of Southeastern Peru, amaranth is also cultivated with slash and burn, being broadcast after maize is sown. Seeds are also scattered on kitchen compost piles outside the home.






traditional uses
Traditional Uses
  • In both Mexico and Peru, wild amaranth leaves are gathered, boiled, and fried. In both areas only popped seeds are eaten.
  • In Mexico, the seeds are popped on a clay griddle comal with an escoba whisk broom.
  • In Peru, a clay pot and drumstick like spatula is often used (Early and Capistran 1987).
  • The most common commercial use of amaranth in both regions is as a snack (alegrias in Mexico; turrones in Peru) made by mixing the popped seeds with molasses.
  • Amaranth flour (pinole in Mexico; mash'ka in Peru), made by grinding the popped seeds on a grinding stone, is the next most common use. Less frequently in Mexico tamales are also made with the flour.



Toasting amaranth, Cuzco, Peru. & Woman dancer carrying a bundle of amaranth on her back during the carnival dance festival Pisac, Cuzco, Peru


west mexico
West Mexico
  • Ancient West Mexico was the home of a highly sophisticated culture that constructed tumuli (earthen mounds) and monumental ritual circles, and laid their dead to rest in high-status burials that contained elaborate ceramic assemblages.
  • The main manifestation of West Mexican culture dates to the Late Formative and Early Classic periods, 300 BC - AD 400.


west mexico1
West Mexico

Western Mexico archaeological sites. The orange circles show archaeogical sites. The larger green circles highlight the most important sites.

west mexico2
West Mexico
  • Best known from West Mexico are the large, earthenware figurines that depict men and women in lively poses and with exaggerated facial expressions.
  • While some of the figures are quite naturalistic in appearance, others are highly stylized.
  • Many are portrayed in polychrome clothes.
    • Although the vast majority of these figurines have been looted from tombs, great progress has been made in recent years in recovering the archaeological culture that created these objects.
earthenware figures
Earthenware Figures


funerary rituals
Funerary Rituals

For example, this model depicts a funerary ritual. A deceased individual lies in state while other figures stand guard and play musical instruments. Above, a high-ranking individual looks on while clasping a drinking cup in his hand.

Another model depicts paired figures engaged in some sort of ceremony beneath the branches of a tree.

This imagery compares to models of volador rituals that featured a "flying" dance in which several performers descended upon ropes from atop a central pole that symbolized the axis mundi.

In this model, the central tree may also symbolize the axis mundi.

the teuchitl n tradition
The Teuchitlán Tradition
  • The Teuchitlán Tradition refers to a complex social, economic, and political order that was centered in western Jalisco in a very fertile agricultural zone.
  • By the Late Formative period, architecture in this region was typified by a series of complexes, each of which was centered upon a circular altar that was surrounded by patios and platforms containing a series of mounds.


shaft and chamber tombs
Shaft and Chamber tombs
  • Associated with some of these complexes were shaft tombs where only the most elite families buried their dead.
  • By placing the shaft tombs beneath the platform mounds, the tombs of ancestors were integrated closely into the ritual centers and became the focus of ancestor veneration.
  • These shaft tombs also contained a wealth of ceramic figurines and small-scale models of ceremonial centers, houses, and ballcourts.
shaft and chamber tombs in west mexico
Shaft and Chamber tombsin West Mexico
  • Between 1500 B.C. to 400 A.D.
    • long, oval-shaped tombs with a vertical shaft leading to side chambers.
    • Skeletal remains associated with shell artifacts, pottery, and ceramic sculptures.
    • Often looted, but one from Jacona was excavated.
      • contained the remains of ten individuals
      • also had many pieces of pottery and figurines
shaft and chamber tombs1
Shaft and Chamber Tombs


central mexico oxtotitl n
Central Mexico: Oxtotitlán
  • Located in the Ottomanguean-speaking region of Guerrero, Mexico, the Middle Formative site of Oxtotitlán contains a polychrome rock painting that contributes significantly to our understanding of how Middle Formative thrones, like La Venta (Olmec site) Altar 4, actually functioned within the sacred landscape.


mural 1
Mural 1
  • The rock painting, known as Oxtotitlán Mural 1, is located high on a cliff face above the entrance to a grotto beneath which was a series of agricultural fields.
  • However, as one can see in the photograph, rain streams down on either side of the mural where it is not protected by the overhang. This rain would have fallen down the cliff face to where it was used to irrigate the agricultural fields below.
altars and ceremonialism in the formative
Altars and Ceremonialism in the Formative
  • Mural 1 depicts a ruler dressed in a bird costume and seated on a throne that compares closely to La Venta Altar 4.
  • His costume and dramatic posture suggest that he is performing an avian transformation, or contacting the supernatural realm in the form of a bird.
  • In this setting, the ruler's actions must have been conceptually linked to the arrival of the rains and agricultural fertility.


chiapas highlands coast
Chiapas Highlands & Coast
  • Highlands
    • Chiapa de Corzo, may date to ca. 1600 BC
    • evidence for maize farming
  • Coast
    • Altamira
      • Barra phase
        • earliest dates go to about 1550 BC
        • thought that occupation began around 1800 BC
        • sophisticated pottery
        • obsidian not for manioc
locona phase 1400 1450 bc uncalibrated
Locona phase (1400-1450 BC, uncalibrated)
  • dates to around Cal 1650 BC
  • John Clark suggests simple chiefdoms for this time a: settlement patterns indicate discrete clusters of villages
  • separate polities with two-tiered hierarchy
  • obsidian distribution suggests regionally-oriented, redistributive economy centered on a major village
  • supported by evidence for food storage and public feasting c: social differentiation evident
  • house size and construction
  • mortuary patterns
  • evidence for patronized craft specialization
  • forehead mirrors made of white mica
    • two found, one in association with the burial of a child
    • probably mounted on helmets
household activities
Household Activities
  • Activity Area
    • smallest unit of archaeological analysis
    • spatially restricted areas where a specific task or set of related tasks has been carried out.
  • Male and female work areas
    • characterized by scatter of tools, waste products, or raw materials, called “activity sets”
formative households
Formative Households
  • House Structures
    • One-room, thatched roofs, wattle and daub houses.
  • Construction:
    • excavation of floor area, approximately 10 cm deep, 3 X 5 to 4 X 6 meters large, one doorway generally 1 meter wide.
    • floor then stamped hardand given a light surface of light sand.
    • posts for the walls ranged in size
      • from 10-15 cm in diameter with 20-25 posts per house
      • 20-25 cm in diameter with fewer posts
    • sometimes foundation lines with stones
    • roof thatched with grass ( in one case, reed canary grass burned samples found in excavated house).
    • walls posts were pine, cane tied together formed remainder of walls, and then clay smoothed over entire wall area.
variation between households
Variation Between Households
  • Universal Household Activities
    • food procurement, preparation, storage
    • grinding stones
    • storage pits
    • large storage jars
    • rabbit bones, burned plant foods
    • pottery charcoal brazier fragments
  • Household Specialization
    • flint tool manufacture
    • bone tool manufacture
    • ground stone tool manufacture
  • Regional Specialization
    • shell ornament production: especially on coast
    • feather working: bones of macaw.
    • salt making: Lake Texcoco
paso de la amada
Paso de la Amada
  • located on Pacific coastal plain in Chiapas
  • Paso de la Amada, site of the largest Early Formative village in the region, between 1400 and 1100 BC the settlement covered 50 hectares.
  • Also has earthen platforms for large buildings dating back to 1400 BC.


paso de la amada1
Paso de la Amada


statuette from paso de la amada
Statuette from Paso de la Amada

Ceramic statuette of a human female from mound 32, Paso de la Amada.


earliest ballcourt
Earliest ballcourt
  • Excavation of a large mound revealed the parallel structures of a court buried under erosion deposits.
  • The court was built in two stages, the first dating about 1500BC. The two mounds were 74 and 78 meters (about 25 feet) long and 1.45 meters (4.7ft) high, with a playing alley between them 6.8 metres (22ft) wide. The construction is one of the largest ball courts known in pre-Columbian America.
  • Sloping "benches" on either side of the alley made the speeding ball shoot off at an angle, making it more difficult to play. Real-tennis players will know the feeling. It is calculated that 25 workers could have built the earthen mounds in 25 days of hard work. Within a century or so, the court was doubled in size by expansion of the mounds, although the playing alley remained the same width and was lengthened only slightly.


modern ballcourt player
Modern Ballcourt Player