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Chalcatzingo, an archaeological site located in the modern state of Morelos, Mexico, approximately 60 miles southeast of Mexico City. It was one of the earliest and largest ceremonial centers and one of the first complex chiefdom societies to develop in central Mexico.

Chalcatzingo is located at the base of a large mountain known as Cerro Chalcatzingo. Between 1000 and 100 bce, terraces were constructed across the hillside where household gardens were planted adjacent to individual residences. A large upper terrace immediately adjacent to Cerro Chalcatzingo was the focus of the site's elite and ritual activity. A large platform (77 feet long by 33 feet wide by 3 feet high), a large public plaza, and an elite residential area were the center of the community's ritual life. After 700 bce the ceremonial zone expanded and ritual architecture was constructed on adjacent terraces, which included rectangular stone-faced platforms with one or more carved stelae (stone monuments) and an enclosed patio with a tabletop altar.

Chalcatzingo is famous for its Olmec-style rock carvings, many of which are located on the talus above the site's ceremonial core. These carvings reflect Chalcatzingo's role as a major ritual center and its participation in long-distance trade networks throughout Mesoamerica. Chalcatzingo grew to its greatest size between 700 and 500 bce, when it covered slightly more than 88 acres and had a population of between four hundred and one thousand people. During this period Chalcatzingo brought the Amatzinac region under its direct political control and developed perhaps central Mexico's first chiefdom-level society based on social ranking, the inheritance of status, and differential access to wealth.

See alsoPrecontact History: Mesoamerica .


David Grove, et al., "Settlement and Cultural Development at Chalcatzingo," in Science 192 (1976): 1203–1210; Chalcatzingo, Excavations on the Olmec Frontier (1984); Ancient Chalcatzingo (1987).

Kenneth Hirth, "Interregional Trade and the Formation of Prehistoric Gateway Communities," in American Antiquity 43 (1978): 35-45.

Additional Bibliography

Diehl, Richard A. The Olmecs: America's First Civilization. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2004.

Grove, David C. "Faces of the Earth at Chalcatzingo, Mexico: Serpents, Caves, and Mountains in Middle Formative Period." Iconography in Olmec Art and Archaeology in Mesoamerica, edited by John E. Clark and Mary E. Pye. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art; New Haven, CT: Distributed by Yale University Press, 2000.

Grove, David C., and Rosemary A. Joyce, eds. Social Patterns in Pre-Classic Mesoamerica. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1999.

                                         Kenneth Hirth

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