PUEBLA, Mexico – A newly-discovered archeological site in Puebla could not only lead to a better understanding of the life and times of the pre-Columbian inhabitants of Mexico but also provide a boon for the local tourism industry when it opens to the public next year.
The site – known as the Santo Nombre – is the first settlement of its type found in Southeastern Mexico, where the state of Puebla is located, said Dr. Blas Castellón, the archeologist in charge of the project.
“[This place] will help fill a gap in the Mexican archeological map,” Castellón said in a statement. “Until now, there hadn’t been any research into settlements in this region, which is key to understanding the interaction that occurred during the pre-Hispanic era in the areas of Central Mexico, the Gulf region and the region around the state of Oaxaca.”
Archeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) began working on the site in 2009, when they started determining who built the monumental pyramids and structures.
“We believe that [the builders] were the ancestors of the Popolocas, known as the Olmec-Xicalancas,” Castellón said. “But that’s all we’ve determined at the moment. Further investigations need to be carried out on the linguistic and cultural levels.”
The Popolocas are an indigenous group living in the Tehuacán valley in the Southeastern corner of the state of Puebla.
The site, located 90 kilometers (55 miles) from the city of Puebla, is also known as “Los Teteles” (the mounds, in the indigenous Náhuatl language) and is expected to open to the public sometime in 2012, according to the INAH.
Santo Nombre covers an area of 51 hectares (126 acres). The site is strategically located, as it offers a view of the peaks of the Malinche Mountain, as well as the Citlaltépetl and Popocatépetl volcanoes.
The three pyramids that form the Plaza Gran Altar (Plaza of the Great Altar) – the site’s main attraction – are constructed of stone and stucco and have a style reminiscent of Teotihuacán.
Archeologist Ivonne Pérez, the project’s field supervisor, said the group’s first pyramid, which stands 14 meters (45 feet) tall, was named the Pirámide de los Caracoles (Pyramid of the Snails) because its top features an offering with two giant snails.
She estimates that it was occupied “from 100AD to 600AD.”
The Southern Structure, which stands 7 meters (22 feet) tall, is known as the Pirámide de los Cascabeles (Pyramid of the Bells) because “right in the middle we found the remains of a young man with a green object in his trachea, in the form of an offering, with more than 60 bells tied to his ankles with palm fibers,” Castellón said.
Charred agave tips and small clay objects that could be used for self-sacrifice were found inside the structure.
But the third temple, which has yet to be named, is the largest of them all – 22 meters (72 feet). Archeologists are in the process of analyzing skeletal remains collected around the site.
Pedro Trujillo, director of Urban Development for the Tlacotepec de Benito Juárez municipality, where Santo Nombre is located, said the municipal government’s priority is protecting the site and letting the INAH do its job so the site can be opened to public.
The local government seeks to bring economic development to Tlacotepec by promoting Santo Nombre as a cultural tourism destination, Trujillo said.
INAH data shows Mexico’s cultural heritage has become a major tourist attraction for the country in recent years. A total of 14.5 million Mexicans and 3.5 million tourists visited archeological sites, museums and historical monuments throughout Mexico last year.
“First, we must attract hotel owners from the city of Puebla,” Trujillo said. “Then, we have to turn the archeological site into part of the circuit for those who also come to visit Mexico’s other main archeological sites, such as Teotihuacán, in Mexico state, and Monte Albán, in Oaxaca.”
Local officials are also planning on using Santo Nombre to lure tourists to visit Tentzo hills, a protected state park, and the area’s restaurants and bars, said Pedro Gaspar Domínguez, Tlacotepec’s director of rural development.
“We also have a really beautiful cavern, with a spring,” he said. “It’s the only such site in the municipality. There are some human footprints out there that people say are more than 2,000 years old.”