Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ancient MesoAmerica News Updates - Exclusive - 2008, No. 1: "Las Choapas," Veracruz - Description of the Recently Discovered Stone Carving
In Ancient MesoAmerica News Updates 2008, No. 29 (April 5, 2008), the report by the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia of April 4, 2008, was posted on the recent discovery of a monolithic stone fragment depicting a skeletal personage, putatively associated with a dot-and-bar numeral. Ancient MesoAmerica News Updates is honored to present the following report, posted upon request by archaeologist Carlos Pallán, AGIMAYA-INAH glyphic documentation project director, Coordinación Nacional de Arqueología, Mexico City, dated April 15th, 2008 (nota bene: rubbing elaborated by Proyecto Arqueologico Las Choapas INAH-Comesa-Pemex, Jaime Cortés-Hernández, Director; image courtesy of AGIMAYA-INAH/Archivo Técnico Image Database, Coordinacion Nacional de Arqueologia, Mexico, 2008; for research purposes only, any other uses strictly prohibited):
A stone carving of considerable size was recently found at an archaeological site in Veracruz (tentatively referred to as “Las Choapas” here) which precise location is being deliberately concealed in order to avoid further damage to the vestiges or the risk of looting. Suffice it to say that it is located near kilometer 47 of the highway that goes from Raudales, Chiapas, to the main municipality of Las Choapas, Veracruz, inside the ejido San Miguel de Allende, comprising an extension of 60 hectares. The terrains border the municipalities of Huimanguillo, Tabasco and Ostuacán, in Chiapas. The archaeological project responsible of the important findings to be discussed is affiliated to Centro INAH Veracruz, and was directed by archaeologist Jaime Cortés Hernández, in collaboration with archaeologist Raúl Jiménez Huerta. This extensive project involved the topographic mapping and delimitation of over 120 sites and was performed in collaboration with Compañía Mexicana de Exploraciones (Comesa), as well as partially financed by Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex).

Preliminary commentary on the iconographic motif depicted - Given that for the time being any information about associated archaeological materials is extremely scant and that the majority of sites found within the Ejido San Miguel de Allende present vestiges that were initially described as “Preclassic” by the archaeological team that first reported them –led by archaeologist Cortés- it would seem reasonable to start exploring the associations of this remarkable carving with other known motifs dating from the Middle to Late Preclassic to the Protoclassic and Early Classic.
This large stone carving was apparently intended to be understood from a right to left perspective, given that the main head-variant sign and other discernible elements are facing to the right. The main sign is clearly the representation of a skull which I shall describe as “anthropozoomorphic” in order to avoid any premature identifications with a particular entity or animal. It shows a noticeably defleshed jaw articulation and an opened eye which tends to discard straightforward associations with known Mesoamerican ‘death gods’ (i.e. Schellhas’ God A or other Maya skeletal supernaturals). That the entity depicted had a supernatural character seems to be indicated by the presence of an earflare. Additionaly, it shows a ‘bracket’ element in the upper head not unlike those of some Maya signs such as T1016 (God C’s head) and sign SNA in (Macri and Looper 2003: 164).
A ‘fire’ volute extends forward from the supernatural’s brow or nose. It can be compared with sign T122, although its shape is more symmetric. It could be said at this point that the motif of a ‘fire’ or ‘breath’-exhaling skull is not completely unknown within Maya iconography and writing. Some of its most common occurrences can be found as part of the Dedicatory Formula (PSS) on vessels represented by the sign T1049 (or SCE in Macri & Looper 2003: 158). Unfortunately, we still lack –to my knowledge- sufficient Early Classic and sculptural examples to make a more productive comparison with the stone relief from Las Choapas.

(photograph source: EnlaceVeracruz212. Periodismo de Investigación)

Above the crown of the head, an apparent ‘sprouting’ or ‘tufting’ vegetal motif can be discerned, perhaps reminiscent of semi-arid plants more common towards the Central Mexican plateau (cf. Taube 2000: Fig. 17a,b). It bears a certain resemblance with some depictions of Panmesoamerican day-signs ‹REED› or ‹FLOWER› (see for example Xochicalco St. 1; Los Horcones St. 2). Almost touching the occipital region behind the head there is an element which arguably could correspond to a bar-and-dot coefficient. If this is so, and Judging from the length of both the bar element and the relative spacing between the dot elements, the intended value could have been originally ‹EIGHT›, instead of ‹SEVEN›. Immediately behind this purported numeral, although unaligned with it or any of the other signs, another ‘scroll’ appears, only this time closely resembling the Maya sign T126.
The overall composition strongly gives the impression of being either: 1) fully iconographic in nature, with no associations to a particular language or perhaps: 2) a particular toponym, anthroponym or theonym rendered through an ‘emblematic’ writing tradition, a trait that, despite being more common amongst central Mexican Early-Classic to Late-Postclassic civilizations (cf. Taube 2000: Fig. 20), it was also readily adopted and/or emulated by some cultures that interacted with the former. Less likely, it could also involve 3) a compound where iconographic motifs were intertwined with glyphic signs (i.e. headdresses containing elements of glyphic proper names in Zapotec or Mayan traditions, etc.). However tempting, I shall avoid for the time being to establish premature associations between the purported coefficient of ‹EIGHT› with the vegetal-like motif that might produce misleading calendric dates (i.e. ‹EIGHT-REED›), given that no clear reading order, alignment or indication exists between these two elements to suggest that they were intended to be read together.
A preliminary official INAH’s pronouncement about the stone carving and cultural affiliation can be consulted at CONACULTA).


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