MEXICO'S EARLIEST KNOWN TEMPLE PRECINCT EXCAVATED -- DATE IS 1,500 YEARS EARLIER THAN SIMILAR TEMPLES DESCRIBED BY COLONIAL EUROPEANS
Excavations at Mexico’s Valley of Oaxaca have recovered the region’s earliest known temple precinct, which, according to a new study by the American Museum of Natural History, existed about 1,500 years earlier than similar temples described by colonial Europeans. Archaeological investigations during the past 20 years suggest that the temple precinct was staffed by a specialized priesthood. The findings are described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Museum research associate Elsa Redmond and curator Charles Spencer, both in the Division of Anthropology, led the excavations at the archaeological site known as El Palenque. The data document a 300-100 BC walled enclosure that included three multi-room temples and two priests’ residences.
Perforating tools, along with animal and human remains in a room with hearths, suggest that the officiating priests performed bloodletting rituals, animal sacrifices, and possibly human sacrificial rituals. Cooking and producing cloth for priests were likely carried out in a specialized facility. A masonry-lined vaulted tunnel was found leading to the public plaza, which Redmond and Spencer suggest might have been used by priests and other individuals to secretly access the plaza on special ceremonial occasions.