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Matacapán, Middle Classic period (a.d. 400–700) urban center on Mexico's Gulf Coast in the Tuxtlas Mountains of southern Veracruz. The Tuxtlas lay within a region of remnant rain forests, numerous volcanoes, and a long rainy season that today supplies water to extensive areas cleared for agriculture and cattle production. Recent research at the site has uncovered the Formative and Olmec origins of settlement in the region, which now appear to stretch back into the second millennium b.c. Throughout the succeeding millennia the area was periodically devastated by volcanic eruptions that blasted nearby hillsides with enormous basaltic "bombs" and covered the surrounding countryside with a thick mantle of rich ash. Human occupation and population growth in the area, fueled by its agricultural potential, comprised a set of episodes punctuated by volcanic disasters. The longest period of growth culminated in the relatively dispersed urban sprawl at Matacapán with a resident population of perhaps 20,000 people distributed across an area perhaps as large as 5 square miles.

At its height Matacapán was the center of a diversified regional economy that specialized in industrial-level ceramic production, as evidenced by innumerable and well-preserved pottery kilns that have been uncovered throughout the ancient city. Matacapán also maintained far-flung economic and political links to the giant urban metropolis of Teotihuacán in the central Mexican highlands as well as to the more numerous Maya population centers of the eastern lowlands. More than one hundred enormous earthen mounds comprising the monumental core of the Middle Classic city were mapped by archaeologists during the 1980s. Most of these monuments, however, have been leveled and destroyed by wealthy export tobacco farmers who control the region.

See alsoArchaeology; Mesoamerica.


Robert S. Santley, Ponciano Ortíz Ceballos, and Christopher A. Pool, "Recent Archaeological Research at Matacapán, Veracruz: A Summary of the 1982 to 1986 Field Seasons," in Mexicon 9 (1987): 41-48.

Thomas W. Killion, "Residential Ethnoarchaeology and Ancient Site Structure: Contemporary Farming and Prehistoric Settlement Agriculture at Matacapán, Veracruz, Mexico," and Robert S. Santley, "A Consideration of the Olmec Phenomenon in the Tuxtlas: Early Formative Settlement Pattern, Land Use, and Refuse Disposal at Matacapán, Veracruz, Mexico," in Gardens of Prehistory: The Archaeology of Settlement Agriculture in Greater Mesoamerica, edited by Thomas W. Killion (1992), pp. 119-149, 150-183.

Additional Bibliography

Santley, Robert S. The Prehistory of the Tuxtlas. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007.

Schwartz, Glenn M. and Steven E Falconer. Archaeological Views from the Countryside: Village Communities in Early Complex Societies. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.

Stark, Barbara L. and Philip J. Arnold. Olmec to Aztec: Settlement Patterns in the Ancient Gulf Lowlands. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997.

                                    Thomas W. Killion