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Tehuacán, a city and a valley, about 150 miles south of Mexico City at the southern edge of the state of Puebla. In this valley, corn (Zea mays) was first domesticated some 7,000 years ago. Early corncobs, less than an inch long, were uncovered in early levels of two rock shelters, Ajuereado and San Marcos; from the upper levels of these caves and others 26,000 specimens have been gathered that document corn's development from its wild ancestor to the present-day races. Paralleling the record of maize evolution in this stratified cave sequence are data showing the complete cultural development, starting with the early hunters of Ajuereado from 1500 to 900 bce. In El Riego times (7000–5000 bce) they became foragers. These foragers then began to cultivate some plants—mixta squash, avocado, gourds, and chili peppers—in the incipient agricultural stage called Coxcatlán (5000–3400 bce). During the Abejas phase (3400–2300 bce), the Tehuacán people grew increasing numbers of domesticated plants—moschata squash, black and white zapotes, common and tepary beans—but continued to be incipient agriculturalists, sometimes living in pit house villages.

Sedentary village life, characterized by corn agriculture and crude pottery, occurred in the poorly documented Purrón phase (2300–1500 bce). Subsequent stages of development were much like those in the rest of Mesoamerica: Formative—Ajalpán (1500–900 bce) and Santa María (900–200 bce); Classic—Palo Blanco (200 bce–700 ce); and Postclassic—Venta Salada (700–1500 ce, the time of the Spanish conquest).

Archaeological investigations in this valley over a twenty-five-year period (1960–1985) have documented one of the few complete and unbroken cultural sequences for Middle America. Even more significant, Tehuacán records not only the domestication of basic New World plants—corn, squash, and beans—but also the development of agriculture itself.

Today Tehuacán is the second-largest city in the state of Puebla, with a 2005 population of 238,229. In the 1990s textile maquiladoras employed about half of the city's workers and resulted in a population boom. When the maquiladoras vacated the city in the late 1990s, its residents were faced with high levels of unemployment and an environmental nightmare.

See alsoArchaeology .


Byers, Douglas S. Tehuacán: El primer horizonte de Mesoamérica (1968): Richard S. Mac Neish, ed., The Prehistory of the Tehuacán Valley, 5 vols. (1972).

Lama, Eréndira de la. Simposium internacional Tehuacán y su entorno: Balance y perspectivas. Mexico: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1997.

                                    Richard S. MacNeish