Smithsonian Olmec Legacy

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An archaeological site

San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán

San Lorenzo Monument 1. stirling_95. Photograph by Richard H. Stewart, R.H. Heizer Collection, National Anthropological Archives
San Lorenzo Monument 1. stirling_95. Photograph by Richard H. Stewart, R.H. Heizer Collection, National Anthropological Archives

After hearing reports of stone monuments near Río Chiquito in southern Veracruz, Matthew Stirling visited the area as he was returning from fieldwork at Piedra Parada in Chiapas in 1945. Stirling and his crew returned to the site Stirling called San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán the following field season, and excavated numerous monuments, including five colossal heads, a stone altar and many other stone carvings. San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán encompasses three distinct Olmec sites, Tenochtitlán, which is also called Río Chiquito, San Lorenzo and Potrero Nuevo. San Lorenzo has a long history of occupation, dating from approximately 1500 BC to 400 BC when it was abandoned.

In ancient times San Lorenzo was located on the high ground between two branches of the Coatzacoalcos River, forming an island similar to the site of La Venta. San Lorenzo's main architectural feature is a natural hill, which was modified by terraces, retaining walls and a complicated water drainage and allocation system. Archaeologists have uncovered numerous monuments at San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, and Potrero Nuevo, including ten colossal heads, the last of which was excavated by Ann Cyphers in 1994.

Read Stirling's 1945 letter to Wetmore.

Other archaeologists have continued Matthew Stirling's work at San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, including Francisco Beverido, Jürgen Brüeggeman, Michael D. Coe and Richard Diehl.

In 1989 the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) initiated the Proyecto Arqueológico San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán. Since the early 1990s Ann Cyphers has been the lead archaeologist at the site.

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