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

PALL 2009

(3D-Render of Area)

The remote sensing and limited excavations of 2008 prepared us for more intensive explorations of the public ritual life of the La Laguna community in 2009 and 2010.  Our methodological goals of this ongoing work are twofold: (1) to excavate architectural and other cultural features that were detected through the remote-sensing program and that may provide information regarding the evolution and use of ritual space (through architectural sequences and artifact distributions, respectively); and (2) to uncover floors that could provide additional information regarding the use of space through chemical analysis of absorbed residues within them.  Updates on the 2010 season will be forthcoming.

During the 2009 season excavations focused on three areas of the site center, all in Area G.  To the west, our excavations in the center and within the northern end zone of the ball court defined its playing surface and verified its I-shape.  The exterior dimensions of the ball court are approximately 100 m x 50 m, making it similar to the playing surface of a modern football field, but for a ballgame played over 2000 years ago in a modest-sized town.

Plaza Perspective

Three excavation areas in the central plaza.  Ball court is to left, altar in plaza is at bottom, and floor of temple west of plaza is to right.








A large horizontal exposure was opened in the plaza in front of its largest structure—a temple flanking the plaza to the east.  These excavations recovered floors that will serve for our chemistry study.  They also encountered an altar complex aligned along the axis of the temple’s staircase.  A small square construction housed a large red pottery vessel that was empty and had been buried upside-down.  Around the altar were the densest quantities of greenstone we have seen at La Laguna, possibly from rituals that involved scattering the precious stones.


Excavation of an upside down vessel within altar in plaza.



All of the floor that is still preserved on top of the main temple was also exposed for our chemistry studies.  Ritual deposits were encountered along the central axis of the temple, including a depression in the floor with the remains of a large feline, such as a puma or jaguar, and an offering of 15 large obsidian knives and eccentrics.  These exciting finds are still being studied and we will report on them soon.


Fifteen large obsidian knives and eccentrics from offering on top of temple east of the plaza.



The 2009 excavations at La Laguna have recovered traces of many of the ritual behaviors familiar to us from later Mesoamerican societies, such as the Teotihuacanos, Toltecs, and Aztecs.  The layout of the ceremonial center—with ball court to the west, main temple to the east, and plaza in center—is similar to Tula’s and to many Aztec centers.  Rituals involving scattering greenstone, the remains of large felines, and caches of impressive obsidian implements are also all well known from later societies.  La Laguna was certainly not the only community of the later Formative to engage in such ritual practices, but this important period in Mesoamerican history is still poorly understood.  Our investigations are aiming to rectify this by shedding further light on the legacies of Formative period communities like La Laguna to the celebrated Mexican civilizations of later periods.



Fragments of greenstone beads and pendants found scattered near altar in plaza.


Surface phosphate concentrations in the central plaza, showing association with architecture.
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