Smithsonian Olmec Legacy

Website Search Box
Excavation of Tres Zapotes Monument D, 1939.

Getting There

The Weiants and E.G. Cassidy leave camp. Tres Zapotes, 1939. wetmore_591. Photograph by Alexander Wetmore, Smithsonian Institution Archives
The Weiants and E.G. Cassidy leave camp. Tres Zapotes, 1939. wetmore_591. Photograph by Alexander Wetmore, Smithsonian Institution Archives

In late November 1938, Clarence Weiant set out for Tres Zapotes to set up camp. Most of Mexico's Gulf Coast was covered by virgin forest. Small settlements, such as the village of Tres Zapotes, were scattered throughout the region. There were almost no roads, other than paths through the jungle, and people mostly traveled via rivers and streams. On December 7, 1938, Weiant wrote from Santiago Tuxtla in Veracruz:

Dear Dr. Stirling, I still haven't reached Tres Zapotes, but I'm getting close. Am taking with me as my man Friday a 19-year old lad named Miguel, who was recommended by a cigar-maker in San Andrés Tuxtla. He is very good as conductor of a mule train… It had rained hard the afternoon before, with the result that we had to travel thru mud every inch of the way…

A month later the other members of the expedition joined Weiant at the field camp. A few days after his arrival, Stirling related their experiences of reaching camp in his January 6, 1939, letter to Alexander Wetmore, thus giving him directions how best to get to Tres Zapotes and join the expedition. (Read Stirling's 1939 letter to Wetmore.)

Stirling described the Tres Zapotes area as extremely isolated at the time of their first field season. However, the sites were soon to become much more accessible due to the rapid development of Mexico's petroleum industries. New infrastructure was an essential part of this development. In 1940 it took the Stirlings five days, part of it on foot trekking on muddy paths, to go from their camp in southern Veracruz to the site of La Venta just across the border into Tabasco. Two years later it took them 12 hours to travel all the way from Mexico City to La Venta!

The search for Pueblo Viejo in 1943 took some of the expedition members to a remote area bordering the states of Tabasco, Veracruz, Chiapas and Oaxaca. This time the only possible mode of transportation was via boat. Stirling, Weber and Stuart traveled on the Tonala and Pedregal rivers with a guide, until they could go no further in the shallow waters and had to transfer to a dugout canoe. After three days of canoe travel and searching through the jungle - unsuccessfully - the expedition was forced to make the arduous trip back to their main field camp at La Venta. The site of Pueblo Viejo - a lost city or a myth - was never found.

[ TOP ]