Takalik Abaj

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Takalik Abaj

Takalik Abaj, a Preclassic Mesoamerican site on the lower Pacific slope of southwestern Guatemala in the modern department of Retalhuleu, is an early transitional site with precursors of the Olmec influence, pure Olmec, and very early Maya traits. Several hundred pieces of sculpture document the evolution of styles from earliest ground or incised features on otherwise unshaped boulders, through monumental Olmec sculpture such as that of the Veracruz—Tabasco Olmec heartland, to portrait stelae with long-count Maya-like numerals and inscriptions in glyphs that were perhaps ancestral to both central Mexican and Maya glyphs.

The settlement was occupied as early as the third millennium bce, and after its development consisted of numerous earthen mounds arrayed on wide terraces cut into the sloping hillside. The mounds occasionally have adobe brick or facings of stone cobbles, but no masonry architecture.

The sculptured monuments include many Olmec-style pieces covering the full range of Olmec art, if one includes a possible corner from a large rectangular altar. Some alignments on Str. 7, a large platform, may be for astronomical observation. Monument 23 is a typical Olmec colossal head. Late Preclassic "potbelly" sculpture (Monument 40) ties this area to the northern lowlands. Later, Maya portrait stelae appear without evolved precedents at the site. Their long-count dates, on Stela 2 and and (126 ce) from Stela 5 (c. 38–18 bce) are among the very earliest recorded long counts known. The portrait stelae are possible early evidence of the growing permanence of dynastic rule in the Maya area. Stela 5 shows a personage holding a ceremonial serpent, a motif of ruling power seen on later stelae elsewhere as the two-headed serpent bar.

See alsoArchaeology; Maya, The; Olmecs.


Graham, John R. "Discoveries at Abaj Takalik, Guatemala." Archaeology 30 (1977): 196-197.

Graham, John R., R. F. Heiser, and E. M. Shook. "Abaj Takalik 1976: Exploratory Investigations." In Studies in Ancient Mesoamerica, III. University of California Archaeological Research Facility Contribution no. 36 (1978), pp. 85-114.

                                Walter R. T. Witschey