The site of Chalcatzingo, located 120 kilometers southeast of Mexico City in the state of Morelos, is situated at the base of two large hills on the only good expanse of agricultural land for many miles. Occupation of the site continued from the Early Formative Period to the Postclassic Period, with the settlement reaching its peak of cultural development between 700-500 BC during the Middle Formative Period (Grove 1987; Grove et al. 1976).

Attention was first focused on the site in 1934 by the discovery of carved stone monuments which were drawn and studied by Eulalia Guzmán (1934). Research at Chalcatzingo continued with Roman Piña Chan (1955) who, in addition to uncovering new sculptures, also conducted limited archaeological excavations. Chalcatzingo's bas-relief carvings received further analysis by other scholars, and new carvings continued to come to light (Cook de Leonard 1967; Gay 1966; Grove 1968). These carvings were recognized to date to the Middle Formative Period, and because of similarities in style and symbols to monuments from the Gulf Coast, a relationship between Chalcatzingo and the Olmec was proposed. It was not until the early 1970's that long-term, intensive excavations were carried out under the direction of David Grove (Grove 1984, 1987). This fieldwork concentrated on gaining a more complete picture of Chalcatzingo and its inhabitants.

The Goals of the Chalcatzingo Project were to gain as complete a picture as possible of the Middle Formative Period, through which Chalcatzingo's relationships to the rest of Central Mexico, the Gulf Coast, and other areas of Mesoamerica could be determined. Grove's research determined that in the Middle Formative, Chalcatzingo's population grew in size, the site reached its maximum extent, the hillsides were terraced for agriculture and occupation, water control systems were constructed, large platform mounds were built, and long distance trade routes were consolidated (Grove 1987; Grove et al. 1976). Burial data indicate the presence of a ranking system composed of at least three hierarchical categories (see Merry de Morales 1987). It is also at this time that the monuments were carved and erected, presumably under the direction of an elite, indicating an increasing centralization of power and authority. While many of these carvings represent mythical or religious themes such as agriculture, rain, and fertility (Gay 1966), others were portraits of elites (Grove 1968). The main thematic purpose of these monuments was to associate the ruling elite with the supernatural forces of the cosmos, and to portray the rulers as the intermediaries between the supernatural and earthly realms in order to legitimate their access to power and their right to rule (Grove and Gillespie 1984).

-Excerpted with permission from a larger report by University of Illinois archaeologists Maria del Rocio Aviles and Dr. David C. Grove, 1996.





Cook de Leonard, Carmen

1967 Sculptures and Rock Carvings at Chalcatzingo, Morelos. Contributions of the University of California Archaeological Research Facility 3:57-84. Berkeley.


Gay, Carlo T.E.

1966 Rock Carvings at Chalcatzingo. Natural History 75, No. 7:56-61. New York.


Grove, David C.

1968 Chalcatzingo, Morelos, Mexico: A Reappraisal of the Olmec Rock Carvings. American Antiquity 33:486-491.

1984 Chalcatzingo: Excavations on the Olmec Frontier. Thames and Hudson, London and New York.

1987 Ancient Chalcatzingo. University of Austin Press. (ed)


Grove, David C. and Susan D. Gillespie.

1984 Chalcatzingo's Portrait Figurines and the Cult of the Ruler. Archaeology 37 (4):27-33.


Grove, David C., Kenneth G. Hirth, David E. Bugé, and Ann M. Cyphers.

1976 Formative Period Settlement and Cultural Development at Chalcatzingo, Morelos, Mexico. Science 192:1203-1210.


Guzmán, Eulalia

1934 Los relieves de las rocas del Cerro de la Cantera, Jonacatepec, Morelos. Anales del Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Historia, y Etnografía, Epoca 5, 1 (2):237-251. Mexico.


Merry de Morales, Marcia

1987 Chalcatzingo Burials as Indicators of Social Ranking. In, Ancient Chalcatzingo, edited by David C. Grove, pp. 95-113. University of Texas Press, Austin.


Piña Chan, Roman

1955 Chalcatzingo, Morelos. Informes 4, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico.