Smithsonian Olmec Legacy

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An archaeological site

Cerro de las Mesas

Cerro de las Mesas Monument 2. stirling_20. Photograph by Richard H. Stewart. M.W. Stirling Collection, National Anthropological Archives
Cerro de las Mesas Monument 2. stirling_20. Photograph by Richard H. Stewart. M.W. Stirling Collection, National Anthropological Archives

Cerro de las Mesas, though not an Olmec site, was the focus of Matthew Stirling's third joint Smithsonian-National Geographic archaeological expedition in 1941. In addition to 15 stelae and 8 other monuments, they found skeletal remains, uncommon at other sites. Probably the most spectacular of the finds of the 1941 season was a cache of 782 pieces of carved jade, including several "Olmec style" blue jade specimens. Cerro de las Mesas was occupied during a later period than either Tres Zapotes or La Venta, and as a result the jade cache is presumed to have been heirlooms.

Cerro de las Mesas was occupied during the years 600 BC and 900 AD, and may have been a regional capital during its later period. Most of this occupation took place after the decline of other Olmec sites such as La Venta and Tres Zapotes, although during the formative era it was influenced by the Olmec.

Near the south bank of the Río Blanco, 15 miles east of the Bay of Alvarado, on Veracruz's Gulf Coast,

… on an ‘island' of relatively high land... are numerous mound groups, of which five, Los Pajaros, Santana, Cerro de Gallo, Coyol, and Cerro de las Mesas may be considered of major importance… The Cerro de las Mesas group… in the middle of the area, is, however, the most impressive and was probably the ceremonial center for the region.
— (Stone Monuments of Southern Mexico, 1943)

In March 1940, Matthew Stirling wrote to Gilbert Grosvenor of the National Geographic Society:

…we went from Vera Cruz to the Mistequilla country on the Rio Blanco where we spent three very interesting days. While here we located an important site which included 18 carved stone monuments, 12 of which are stelae, many of them containing glyphs. I have never heard of this site and have never seen it mentioned in the literature. I will not go into details concerning this site however, until I have definitely ascertained whether or not it is new.

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