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Alluvial Stratigraphy and the Search for Preceramic Open-air Sites in Highland Mesoamerica

  • Aleksander Borejsza (a1), Charles D. Frederick (a2), Luis Morett Alatorre (a3) and Arthur A. Joyce (a4)

The Preceramic archaeological record of highland Mesoamerica is biased toward rockshelter sites. We advocate more fieldwork in streamside settings, where open-air sites are likely to be found for reasons related both to the systemic context of hunter-gatherer lifeways and to the geoarchaeological context of site burial and preservation. Predicting site location requires attention to the peculiar nature and behavior of incised ephemeral streams (barrancas) and to the complex alluvial stratigraphic sequences that they leave behind. Four case studies—from the Mexican states ofTlaxcala, México, Morelos, and Oaxaca—reconstruct the geometry and age structure of late Quaternary alluvium from exposures in cutbanks, brickyards, and purposefully dug trenches. We identify deeply buried locales with the remains of extinct megafauna, intentionally set fires, and lithic debitage. We distinguish between geographical areas, stream reaches, and time intervals that do or do not hold much promise for further research. The fragmentary nature of the alluvial record and the paucity of sites can be explained by changes in stream behavior wrought by agricultural land use and are conditioned by the intensity and antiquity of agriculture in any given area. Deposits and sites of Paleoindian age may be more commonly preserved than those of Archaic age.


El registro arqueológico del Precerámico en las tierras altas de Mesoamérica sufre de un sesgo a favor de los abrigos rocosos. En aras de revertirlo, proponemos dirigir may ores esfuerzos a los sitios a cielo abierto en ambientes fluviales que aún no han sido descubiertos. Su presencia y buena conservación se explican tanto por el contexto sistémico en el quefueron ocupados por grupos de cazadores-recolectores, como por el contexto geoarqueológico en el que fueron sepultados. Anticipar su ubicación requiere que prestemos más atención a las peculiaridades geomorfológicas de las barrancas y a las complejas secuencias estratigráficas que producen. Cuatro estudios de caso, en los estados mexicanos de Tlaxcala, México, Morelos y Oaxaca, reconstruyen la geometría y edad de aluviones del Cuaternario tardío con base en cortes expuestos en las paredes de las barrancas, ladrilleras y trincheras que excavamos nosotros. Identificamos algunos lugares con evidencia de megafauna extinta, uso intencional delfuego y talla lítica. Distinguimos entre regiones, tramos del mismo río y periodos que tienen mucho o poco potencial. La escasez y el aislamiento de los depósitos aluviales y sitios de edad precerámica se deben a los cambios hidrológicos provocados por la agricultura y guardan una relación con la intensidad y antiguedad de la misma. Los depósitos que corresponden al periodo Paleoindio parecen ser más comunes que los del Arcaico.

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