Sunday, August 9, 2020

Aguada Fénix Update

Takeshi Inomata has the most exciting site in Mesoamerica, Aguada Fénix on the San Pedro in the municipality of Balancán, Tabasco. 

LiDAR Image of Aguada Fénix

It sits at the nexus of Olmec and Maya civilizations. Inomata also has an enviable publication record. His major article in Science, the #2 science journal on the planet (impact factor 41.845), appeared in 2013: "Early Ceremonial Constructions at Ceibal, Guatemala, and the Origins of Lowland Maya Civilization." His major article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), often considered the #3 science journal in the world (impact factor 9.412), appeared in 2017: "High-precision radiocarbon dating of political collapse and dynastic origins at the Maya site of Ceibal, Guatemala." His major article in Nature, the #1 science journal on earth (impact factor 42.778), appeared in 2020: "Monumental architecture at Aguada Fénix and the rise of Maya civilization."

I heard Inomata at BYU in March, 2016 and wrote an article about him entitled "Takeshi Inomata." Soon after his PNAS article appeared, I summarized an important potential Book of Mormon connection in the article "75 BC." When Aguada Fénix began receiving major publicity following the 2019 SAA meetings in Albuquerque, I tried to make sense of it in an article entitled "Usumacinta Olmec." I heard Inomata at Hamline University in October, 2019 and blogged about his presentation in an article entitled "Light from Saint Paul."

Today, I listened to a Zoom presentation Inomata gave in Spanish to interested Tabasqueños on July 17, 2020. This is what I found interesting:

1. Construction began at Aguada Fénix ca. 1,000 BC just as maize agriculture was becoming a major factor in the local Maya diet. Prior to this time, the proto Maya were hunter-gatherers who subsisted largely on fish, turtles, shellfish, and other riverine resources. Ceramics also appear in the Maya area for the first time ca. 1,000 BC.

2. Aguada Fénix is not Olmec in the San Lorenzo/La Venta cultural tradition. Its monumental platform, though, had strong influence from San Lorenzo.

3. The Middle Formative Chiapas pattern (E Group without platform), described by BYU's John Clark, implies lively communication between the Grijalva basin and Ceibal in the 1,000 - 800 BC timeframe. The following images are screen captures from a YouTube video of a Zoom presentation, so pardon the grainy resolution.

Sites Inside the Blue Polygon Show the Middle Formative Chiapas E Group Architectural Pattern.

4. One way to measure a structure is the volume of material it contains. By this measure, Temple I at Tikal and Temple 26 at Copan are tiny. The Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan contains over a million cubic meters of material. La Danta at El Mirador has 2.8 million cubic meters of material. For years, archaeologists thought La Danta was the largest structure in Mesoamerica. Now we know that Aguada Fénix, with 3.8 million cubic meters of volume in its main platform, is the largest structure in the Maya area. The meseta (plateau) at San Lorenzo, it turns out, contains almost 7 million cubic meters of material. The Pyramid at Cholula is another very large structure.
Material Volume of Major Mesoamerican Structures
The fact that the 4 largest structures in Mesoamerica were all built in the Pre-classic is frankly astonishing. No archaeologist would have believed this a generation ago. It dovetails nicely with the Book of Mormon, though. The Nephite text describes the Jaredites as the greatest nation on earth in their era Ether 1:43.
5. San Lorenzo collapsed ca. 1,100 BC. Aguada Fénix and Ceibal began ca. 1,000 BC. Aguada Fénix collapsed ca. 800 BC just as La Venta was reaching apogee. La Venta collapsed after 400 BC and Ceibal continued on into the Classic.
Pre-classic Timeline.
I have not yet visited Aguada Fénix. John Clark has. I asked him the burning question everyone has on their mind: "Who were these people and how did they appear on the scene literally out of nowhere and build a main platform 1.4 kilometers long X 400 meters wide requiring 3.8 million cubic meters of fill material? John was non-commital. Were they Olmec survivors from the collapse of San Lorenzo who migrated east? Perhaps. The Aguada Fénix platform derives from the earlier San Lorenzo model. Were they antecedents of the early Maya at El Mirador? Perhaps. San Lorenzo had no pyramids. Aguada Fénix had a few small pyramids. El Mirador had spectacular pyramids.
6. Aguada Fénix had an E Group and a platform. This combination Inomata is calling the Middle Formative Usumacinta pattern. About 15 sites between Aguada Fénix and Villahermosa, Tabasco have this pattern. Aguada Fénix is the largest of the 15. Based on his experience at Ceibal, Inomata fully expected to find a centerline cache in the Aguada Fénix E Group. His team did.
Centerline Cache from Aguada Fénix E Group
These polished stone hachas confirmed a cultural relationship with Ceibal which prior to this discovery had the earliest E Group known from the Maya area.
The new "Tren Maya" being developed as a major tourist attraction by the Mexican Government will pass right by Aguada Fénix. Covid shut down the 2020 field season, but Inomata and his wife, Daniela Triadan, will be back in future years with their exciting Middle Usumacinta Archaeological Project.