Archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have unearthed a Mixtec-Zapotec tomb in the Mexican town of San Juan Ixcaquixtla.
San Juan Ixcaquixtla, situated on a hill in the state of Puebla, has revealed its archaeological treasures during recent urban development projects. The town, built on a complex of burial mounds known as “teteles,” has now exposed a third tomb.
The site, associated with the Mixtec civilization, a major Mesoamerican culture that thrived from 1500 BCE to 1523 CE, offers a glimpse into the lives of the Mixtec people, often referred to as “cloud people” in Nahuatl. These discoveries underscore the resilience of Mixtec towns that resisted Spanish domination under Pedro de Alvarado.
The discovery caught the attention of Santiago Miranda de Aquino, the City Council President, who stumbled upon the tomb during urban development work. He promptly alerted INAH, leading to the dispatch of an archaeological and physical anthropology team in September 2023.
Led by archaeologist Alberto Diez-Barroso Repizo, the INAH team has meticulously explored two 4 by-2-meter chambers, revealing the skeletal remains of at least 20 individuals from the Classic Mesoamerican period (CE 100 to 650).
The burials follow a tradition of mortuary practices, suggesting a lineage of merchant-warriors. Among the findings are 150 ceramic vessels, a carved human bone, a votive axe, and three yokes associated with ceremonial ball games.
Diez-Barroso Repizo emphasizes the significance of the tomb, stating, “The burials are indicative of a mortuary tradition where multiple individuals were interred, likely part of a lineage of merchant warriors. This suggests a ritual of ancestor worship, given that some of the remains belong to adults.”
The town of San Juan Ixcaquixtla, with its unique topography perched on a hill overlooking a valley, has proven to be a rich archaeological site. The existence of multiple mounds or “teteles” concentrated in the town center indicates the prevalence of burial complexes.
This recent discovery aligns with previous findings in 2004 and 2013, each uncovering tombs with distinctive characteristics. Tomb 1 in 2004 featured three chambers and remarkable wall paintings, while the 2013 tomb was found adjacent to the municipal market.
Manuel Villarruel Vázquez, the director of the INAH Puebla Center, underscores the importance of preserving San Juan Ixcaquixtla’s archaeological heritage. He states, “The ongoing investigation will integrate the data collected from the two previously discovered tombs.” This integration aims to construct a comprehensive picture of the Mixtec necropolis and its cultural significance.
The Mixtec civilization, known for its unique language, jewelry, pottery, and codices, played a crucial role in the Mesoamerican landscape. Despite offering tribute to the Aztecs during the zenith of the Aztec Empire, many Mixtec towns retained their cultural identity. The recently unearthed tomb provides insight into the Mixtec’s mortuary practices, ritual ceremonies, and their belief in maintaining a strong connection with ancestors.
This connection is further emphasized by the Mixtec belief in ancestor worship, as evidenced by the elaborate burial offerings and the presence of ritualistic items such as the yokes associated with ceremonial ball games. The ongoing investigation promises to reveal more about the Mixtec people’s spiritual beliefs and complex societal structures.