Mexican monolith could change history


3,000-year-old carvings contain ‘new symbols in Mesoamerica’

The Tamtoc archaeological site, northeast of Mexico City, is being opened to the public this week.

MEXICO CITY - 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 archaeological site in the north-central state of San Luis Potosi may prompt scholars to rethink a view of Mesoamerican history that holds 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 archaeologist Guillermo Ahuja, who led a government team excavating the site for the past five years.

Tamtoc, located about 550 miles (885 kilometers) northeast of Mexico City, is being opened 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 (7.6 meters) long, 13 feet (4 meters) high, 16 inches (40 centimeters) thick and weighing more than 30 tons, it may date to as early as 900 B.C., Ahuja said.

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 (133-hectare) 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.