La Laguna, Tlaxcala: The Archaeology of a Formative Period Central Mexican Town.

PALL 2006

(3D-Render of Area)


Elite life at La Laguna was the focus of excavations in 2006.  We concentrated exclusively on Area H, a flat break on the lower slope of the hill to the north of the site.  This area is one of the few at La Laguna where surface mounds are visible away from the ceremonial center.  We suspected that they represented buried buildings, which we verified through test excavations in 2004.  Yet we greatly underestimated how large the structures might be, as excavations proceeded horizontally and vertically over many meters to define the size and shapes of three residential platforms.  The two largest platforms measure approximately 25 meters on a side and are 2.5 meters high; they appear to have served as residences for an elite family.

Excavations

One of the large elite residential platforms in Area H.


           

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The two large residential platforms would have created a conspicuous, elevated living surface for the area’s inhabitants.  The houses on top of them were also made of wattle-and-daub, like the residence in Area F excavated in 2005.  But, unlike that residence, the houses in Area H were very large and their exterior walls were painted with vibrant polychrome designs.  The sloped walls of the platforms were also covered with mixtures of smoothed mud and crushed tepetate (the hard substrate of the region)—unlike in Area F, where they were left as unfinished stone.  A third platform in Area H was L-shaped and less elaborate.  The presence of two hearths and utilitarian ceramics on top of this platform suggest that it served as a kitchen.

 

 

Piece of burnt daub with painted designs on front and impressions from wood frame of house on back.

 

 

Infant Remains


         
  

Floors on top of the two large residential platforms were made of a thick layer of tepetate that had been crushed and stamped to create a hard,uniform surface.  Two burials were placed in the floor of one of the platforms and were studied as part of the osteological analysis conducted by Couoh Hernández (2009).  The results of her analysis confirmed our suspicion during the excavation of one of the burials that it post-dated the occupation of the platforms.  This adult male individual was buried with a large orange vessel that appeared to date to the Epiclassic period, a millennium later than the primary Formative period occupation of the site.  The significantly greater preservation of collagen in the bones of this individual compared to the adult woman buried in the floor nearby—and to every other individual from the site analyzed by Couoh Hernández—is consistent with an intrusive, later burial.  It is likely that a family occupying an isolated farmstead during this later period chose a visible mound as an appropriate place to bury one of their family members.  A third burial was discovered under one of the large platforms, but dates to the first occupation of the site (c. 600 BC).  The remains were of an infant who was wrapped in a textile and buried with a miniature pot.  Scattered fibers around the body were still preserved over 2500 years later.

 

 

 

 

Burial of an infant with miniature vessel and textile remains.

 


Several lines of evidence demonstrate the manner in which the elite family in Area H expressed their socioeconomic status.  Most important is the size and elaboration of their houses, which are on the larger size of the spectrum for Terminal Formative residences excavated from central Mexico to date.  Major construction efforts are also notable in the landscape modification of the area, which included some artificial flattening of the hill slope and the construction of large stone retaining walls down slope.  We also encountered the remains of an earlier structure inside of one of the two platforms.  Since a radiocarbon date from a posthole in this structure is approximately a century earlier than those associated with the final constructions, we believe that this family was able to mobilize large labor projects for several generations during the first centuries BC and AD—consistent with ranked, hereditary inequality within the La Laguna community.  The next most conspicuous difference between the residences in Area H and Area F was the greater access the elite family that occupied Area H had to imported resources, particularly registered in greenstone and marine shell used as personal adornments.  Other lines of evidence show fewer differences between the two households, more consistent with subtler gradations in social status.  Greater detail is provided in Carballo (2009, in press).

 


 AreaH Reconstruction          

Reconstruction of Area H residential platforms and their structures.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 


One final interesting aspect of Area H was the intensity of the fire that burned the structures prior to their abandonment.  During excavations we encountered dense concentrations of burnt daub along the sides of the platform, which accumulated up to a meter in some cases.  Several pieces had been vitrified, suggesting an intentional burning which involved the addition of extra fuel.  We are still investigating the reasons for the burning of the Area H structures, as well as others in the center of the site.  In all cases, however, they appear to have been ritually terminated.  Whether this was undertaken by the inhabitants of La Laguna or in association with some external conflict—such as Teotihuacan’s political expansion through northern Tlaxcala—requires more investigation.  

Excavation of a post hole with pieces of a burnt corner post and vitrified daub.
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