Collection Description

Tradition Name

Highland Mesoamerican Early Preclassic

Tradition Description

The Highland Mesoamerican Early Preclassic tradition extends from about 4000 to 2600 BP (2000-600 BC) in the mountainous inland regions of Mesoamerica. The people were agriculturalists with some reliance on wild plants and animals. Chiefdoms emerged during this tradition. Settlements show a hierarchy with the most important having civic-ceremonial platforms. Long distance trade items included obsidian, precious goods, and probably elite knowledge. Evidence of autosacrifice (offering your own blood to feed the gods) appears.


Select the Tradition Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Middle America and the Caribbean --General Middle America and the Caribbean





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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF Archaeology collection and referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The NY41 Early Highland Mesoamerican Preclassic collection documents in English, deal with a variety of subject material for the Early and Middle Formative periods in Mexico. Grove (1986, no. 1) attempts to re-evaluate the so-called Olmec horizons of the Formative period in Mesoamerica, which were believed to represent Olmec superiority and cultural diffusion throughout the region. In this article Grove tries to show that this concept is not necessarily true, and instead that the archaeological record may indicate a long-term, on-going and gradual social evolution across much of Mesoamerica. Nichols (1987, no. 2) attempts to demonstrate that risk of crop failure was significant in promoting land-use intensification and the development of hydraulic agriculture during the Formative period in the northern Basin of Mexico. The study by Tolstoy (1989, no. 3) presents a cultural analysis of the artifacts from two of the earliest known sedentary communities in the Basin of Mexico – Coapexco and Tlatilco. The work examines each community in turn describing the pottery, figurines, obsidian, and ground stone artifacts from Coapexco, and the graves and grave goods from Tlatilco. Several of the studies in this collection deal with Santo Domingo Tomaltepec in the Valley of Oaxaca. Whalen (1981, no. 4), focuses on the evolutionary processes in this community during the early phases of the Formative period in Mesoamerican cultural development. Rick (1981, no. 5) discusses the Early Formative stone tool industry at Santo Domingo, while Smith (1981, no. 6) deals with the botany of the site, and Spencer (1981, no. 7) and Sallade (1981, no. 8) describe respectively an early San José domestic structure and a two-room temple. Marcus and Flannery (1996, no. 10) describe the development of sedentary village life in the Valley of Mexico, with a focus on the availability of the water supply as a significant factor. Marcus and Flannery (1996, no. 11) describe the various factors contributing to the development of individual leadership in Tierras Largas society in the Valley of Oaxaca while in no. 12 (Marcus and Flannery 1996) they see the beginnings of chiefdoms. How these chiefdoms competed is explored in no. 13 (Marcus and Flannery 1996).

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Sarah Berry

Ball Courts - use "RECREATIONAL STRUCTURES (345)"

Barrancas – ravines or gullies created by water erosion- use "TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)"

Caves, naturally occurring - use "TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)"; for use as dwellings - use "DWELLINGS (342)"

Mica – use "MINING AND QUARRYING (316)"

Molcajetes – chili grinders - use "GENERAL TOOLS (412)"

Tepetate – a type of soil, often called "caliche" or a local type of limestone - use "SOIL (134)"

Indexing Notes by

Sarah Berry

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