Veracruz: Gateway to the Ancients of Mesoamerica – Travelogue

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The mysterious and stunning archaeological Capitol of Cantona.
The mysterious and stunning archaeological Capitol of Cantona.

In January, 2018 we treated our tour guests to a unique introduction to the archaeology of Mexico’s Gulf Coast by participating in the Archaeological Conservancy’s Veracruz tour. Come along and join us for this travelogue and video. After the first site of La Antiqua, the trip continued to the amazing site of Cantona. Thank you to John Foster, member and volunteer, for the Cantona Video.

At an altitude of 8,000 ft., the stunning site of Cantona has 24 ballcourts and almost 3,000 residential terraces. In a setting of pine and Joshua trees, the site is a maze of walled raised pathways. Cantona may have been the largest urban center in prehistoric Mesoamerica, covering 12 square kilometers, occupied from 100 BC through AD 1000. It was a prominent, if isolated, Mesoamerican city between AD 600 and 1000.  It was abandoned after AD 1050. The site is very remote and rarely visited. The cultural affiliation of Cantona is unknown, but may be Olmec or Chichimec culture.

Zempoala, a Totonac dating to AD 1000-1150.
Zempoala, a Totonac dating to AD 1000-1150.

Zempoala is a Totonac site known for its unique circular structures and pyramids. The site is constructed from river rock and was occupied from AD 1000 to 1150.

Quiahuiztlan is a Totonac site dating to around AD 1300.
Quiahuiztlan is a Totonac site dating to around AD 1300.

Quiahuiztlan is a Totonac site with Toltec-style features dating from around AD 1300. The site was built on a hillside with a spectacular view of the Gulf of Mexico.

El Tajin was a Totonac capital occupied between AD 500 and 1200.
El Tajin was a Totonac capital occupied between AD 500 and 1200.

The site of El Tajin was a Totonac capital occupied between AD 500 and 1200. The site contains 17 ballcourts and has distinctive Teotihuacan-style influences including frets, scrolls and images of Quetzalcoatl. The Pyramid of the Niches, above, contains 365 niches, suggesting the building may have been used as a kind of calendar.

Famous Olmec head at Santiago Tuxtla.
Famous Olmec head at Santiago Tuxtla.

The tour included a rare opportunity to view all but two of the 17 known Olmec colossal heads, including the ‘Cobata Head’ on display in the main plaza of the town of Santiago Tuxtla (above) . This head is unique because of its closed eyes and it also has the distinction of being the largest known colossal head, weighing in at 40 tons.

Olmec head at Tres Zapotes Archaeological Museum.
Olmec head at Tres Zapotes Archaeological Museum.

This Olmec colossal head is on display at the archaeological museum at the site of Tres Zapotes.

San Lorenzo Olmec Head.Photo: The Archaeological Conservancy.
San Lorenzo Olmec Head. Photo: The Archaeological Conservancy.

This Olmec colossal head is on display at the archaeological site museum at San Lorenzo.

La Venta Offering 4 Displayed as it as excavated.Photo: The Archaeological Conservancy.
La Venta Offering 4 Displayed as it as excavated. Photo: The Archaeological Conservancy.

This unique carved set of figures named ‘offering 4’ was found buried in a plaza at the Olmec site of La Venta. Offering 4 consists of sixteen male figurines positioned in a semicircle in front of six jade celts, perhaps representing stelae or basalt columns. Two of the figurines were made from jade, thirteen from serpentine, and one of reddish granite. This granite figurine one was positioned with its back to the celts, facing the others. On display at the site museum at La Venta.

The Veracruz Tour will be offered again in 2020, while you are waiting check out our other Archaeological Adventure trips!

~Jim Walker, Southwest Regional  Director 2-14-2018

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