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

PALL 2010

(3D-Render of Area)

Investigations in 2010 continued directly from the 2009 season by exploring three other central structures. One of these was a large low complex of attached rooms and features that appears to have been used in supra-household food storage, preparation, and consumption. The other two were elevated mounds that appear to have served as temples.

A structure in the secondary plaza behind the primary temple consisted of large facilities for storing and cooking food (Structure 12M-3), suggestive of having served in community ritual consumption events. Evidence in favor of this interpretation include two low circular stone walls in one section, consistent with storage features in central Mexico; two stone-lined hearths; a number of semi-complete food storage, cooking, and service vessels encountered on the final occupation surface; two complete stone querns (metates) and several pestles (manos); and chemical signatures consistent with food preparation activities, particularly in association with the hearths. Cached within one of the possible granaries was a semi-complete effigy vessel depicting the Storm God—demonstrating a direct link between this deity and concerns of community sustenance. Based on a nearly complete vessel found elsewhere at the site, we know that the Storm God once held a lightning bolt in its right hand and had a triangular headdress. The S-scroll ears are symbols representing clouds.

Aerial photo of Structure 12M-3 at close of excavations.


Serving vessels from Structure 12M-3.

Storm God effigy found cached within Structure 12M-3..


A smaller mound (Structure 12M-1) that had been subject to earlier test excavations and a looter’s trench was excavated in order to record a construction sequence for one of the site’s central structures. Since the looter’s trench had already disturbed original construction layers, we were able to remove backfill and record a sequence of ten superimposed floor levels—indicating that construction of central buildings could be an incremental process. At the bottom of the excavations, corresponding to an early platform only 50 cm high, we recovered the very fragmentary remains of one or two cremated individuals. Osteological analyses indicate that the remains were subjected to intense heat, and their positioning is suggestive of a mortuary bundle. Such a mortuary practice was often reserved for higher-status individuals in later central Mexican civilizations. Accordingly, it is likely that the bundle contained one or more individuals marked as being important within the community. It is also possible that the early stage of construction corresponds to a house platform, which then was elaborated by over two meters of renovations to convert a domestic space into a ritual platform. Remains within the looter’s trench included parts of a painted effigy vessel, which is also seen in early context at Teotihuacan and Cholula, indicating that the inhabitants of La Laguna were participants in the stylistic exchanges of this incipient urban landscape.


Excavation of looter’s trench through Structure 12M-1 with remains of cremated bundle at bottom.


Anthropomorphic effigy vessels with remains of pigments.


Excavations at the second largest mound (Structure 13M-1) documented the presence of a destroyed upper floor level, but excavations within the rubble fill underneath where the floor would have been resulted in the recovery of a smashed Strombus (conch) shell. Within the penultimate floor below the rubble we discovered a termination cache containing a complete Strombus shell and two miniature ceramic vessels. Since the Structure 12L-1 offering also contained an example of a pair of items in which one was deposited whole and the other after being broken, this similarity in two offerings may be suggestive of a particular ritual practice that symbolized termination of a ceremonial structure.


Cache offering from penultimate floor of Structure 13M-1.


Two findings related to natural and human ecology come from the zooarchaeologial and botanical analysis conducted in association with the excavations. In the first case, an analysis of over 3300 samples of carbonized wood has shown that larger species like pine (75%) and oak (17%) were abundant, unlike at present when juniper (under 2% of the identified archaeological samples) and xerophytic plants like agave dominate the landscape. This finding suggests that forest resources were maintained nearby throughout the Formative period occupation of the site. In the second case, the presence of ducks and turtles, while not abundant, are indicative of a nearby water source. The most likely candidate is the eponymous wet-season pond that gives the site its name (La Laguna) was also present, and perhaps was more substantial, two thousand years ago.

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