May 8, 2006

Mexico monolith may cast new light on Mesoamerica

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A carved monolith unearthed in
Mexico may show that the Olmec civilization, one of the oldest
in the Americas, was more widespread than thought or that
another culture thrived alongside it 3,000 years ago.

Findings at the newly excavated Tamtoc archeological site
in the north-central state of San Luis Potosi may prompt
scholars to rethink a view of Mesoamerican history which holds
that its earliest peoples were based in the south of Mexico.

"It is a very relevant indicator of an Olmec penetration
far to the north, or of the presence of a new group co-existing
with the Olmecs," said archeologist Guillermo Ahuja, who led a
government team excavating the site for the past five years.

Tamtoc, located about 550 miles northeast of Mexico City,
will open to the public this week, while experts including
linguists, historians, ethnographers and others study findings
from the site to confirm their origins.

The Olmecs are considered the mother culture of
pre-Hispanic Mexico. Ruins of Olmec centers believed to have
flourished as early as 1200 B.C. have been found in the Gulf
Coast states of Veracruz and Tabasco, with only scattered
artifacts found elsewhere.

Workers restoring a canal at the site stumbled on the stone
monolith. It appears to represent a lunar calendar and contains
three human figures and other symbols in relief.

At 25 feet long, 13 feet high, 16 inches thick and weighing
more than 30 tons, it may date to as early as 900 B.C., Ahuja

Experts will try to interpret the icons to learn more about
the artists and their culture. "They are new symbols in
Mesoamerica," Ahuja said.

At Tamtoc, scientists found evidence of an advanced
civilization, with a hydraulic system, canals and other
technology, making it the oldest and most advanced center of
its time found in what later became Huasteco Indian region,
Ahuja said.

"It is the first and only Huasteco City we know," he said.

The 330-acre complex has three plazas and more than 70
buildings and may indicate that the Olmecs migrated northward
and mingled with other peoples there, he said.