Santa Luisa

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Santa Luisa

Santa Luisa, a major archaeological site with one of the longest culture chronologies in coastal Mexico, dating from about 6,000 bce to the present. Covering a 6.2-square-mile area of alluvial terraces between the modern towns of Gutiérrez Zamora and Tecolutla, in the state of Veracruz, this significant ancient site along the Tecolutla River has extremely abundant cultural remains. Its strategic location at the convergence of diverse riverine, estuarine, forest, and savannah zones with plentiful food resources made it attractive for long-term human occupation. At nearby La Conchita, a small, closely related site, there are remains of extinct Pleistocene fauna as well as later campsites radiocarbon-dated to 5,600 bce.

The population peak at Santa Luisa, which corresponds with the construction of numerous temple structures and extensive irrigated field systems for intensive agriculture, occurred during the Classic period (about 300–900 ce) and the locally defined Epi-Classic period (about 900–1100 ce). At that time the site was dominated by and heavily reflected the regional culture, whose major expression was the city of El Tajín, some 21 miles distant.

Extensive explorations of Santa Luisa were undertaken between 1968 and 1979 by this writer in the effort to define a workable culture chronology for the north-central region of Veracruz. The resulting nearly continuous evidence of human presence, currently divided into seventeen archaeological phases, has been most useful for interpreting the processes of cultural evolution throughout the region since the time of Early Archaic hunter-gatherers. One of the unanticipated conclusions of these excavations was that, in this traditional Totonac area, the oldest identifiable ethnic evidence appears to be Huastec.

Other important discoveries at Santa Luisa include evidence of preceramic villages on deltaic islands, early ceramics, Olmec-inspired artifacts, vestiges of various forms of intensive agriculture, rare in situ examples of ritual ball-game sculptures called yokes and palmas, painted stucco fragments, and architectural remains.

See alsoArchaeology; Huasteca, The; Totonacs.


S. Jeffrey K. Wilkerson, Ethnogenesis of the Huastecs and Totonacs (1973); "Pre-Agricultural Village Life: The Late Preceramic Period in Veracruz," in Contributions of the University of California Archaeological Research Facility, edited by John A. Graham, no. 27 (1975): 111-122; "Man's Eighty Centuries in Veracruz," in National Geographic Magazine 158, no. 2 (August 1980): 202-231; "The Northern Olmec and Pre-Olmec Frontier on the Gulf Coast," in The Olmec and Their Neighbors: Essays in Memory of Matthew W. Sterling, edited by Michael D. Coe and David Grove (1981), pp. 181-194.

Additional Bibliography

Clark, John E., and Mary E. Pye. Olmec Art and Archaeology in Mesoamerica. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art; New Haven, CT: Distributed by Yale University Press, 2000.

White, Nancy M. Gulf Coast Archaeology: The Southeastern United States and Mexico. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005.

Winfield Capitaine, Fernando. Bibliografía arqueológica de Veracruz. Xalapa: Universidad Veracruzana, 1997.

                                   S. Jeffrey K. Wilkerson

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Santa Luisa

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