Archaeological exploration at the Altar Valley. Archaeological exploration in the Sonoran Desert.

Binational project explores Altar Valley

Mexican, US archaeologists working together in Sonoran Desert

Archaeologists from Mexico and the United States have started a new binational project to explore ancient settlements in the Altar Valley of the Sonoran Desert, according to a government bulletin published yesterday.

Expert teams from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and Binghamton University in New York state commenced excavation work in the area just south of the Mexico-U.S. border last fall, the INAH statement said.

The project called “Mobility, connectivity and ethnogenesis in the Trincheras Tradition,” is funded by the National Science Foundation, a United States government agency, and led by Elisa Villalpando of INAH Sonora and Randall McGuire of Binghamton University.

Research is set to continue for several years to come with the aim of exploring and “systematically studying” three sites located in the Altar Valley.

In its first phase, which ran from September 25 to December 15 last year, the binational team explored a pre-Hispanic village located in the center of the valley.

At the site, archaeologists discovered relics from the so-called Altar or intermediate period — 800AD to 1300 AD — as well as evidence of a later occupation between 1450 and 1690.

Among the discoveries from the earlier period were decorative ceramics, ornaments made with shells from the Gulf of California, stonework and a copper bell. The latter is a possible indication of trade with other cultures.

Archaeologists also uncovered the graves of three adult females.

Villalpando explained that the joint effort is the first time that settlements from the intermediate period of the Trincheras Tradition have been explored.

However, the current project is the eighth time that teams from Mexico and the United States have collaborated on research in the Sonoran Desert. The first joint project was carried out in 1985.

Previous digs have uncovered more than 90 archaeological sites corresponding to the early and late periods of the Trincheras culture.

Over more than three decades of study and bilateral collaboration, researchers have been able to draw up a chronology of the culture which developed within the Magdalena, Altar and Concepción valleys in the northern Sonora desert between the years 200 and 1450 AD.

It is best known for the construction of settlements on the slopes of the region’s hills and is similar to the Hohokam culture, which was centered in the modern-day state of Arizona, United States.

An established hypothesis proposes that the Trincheras culture was in fact an offshoot of the Hohokam culture, while another submits that the two cultures developed separately from early agricultural societies located on both sides of the current border.

The project is exploring a new, third hypothesis to explain the presence of the Trincheras culture in the Altar Valley that is based on the relationships it developed with other pre-Hispanic cultures, Villalpando said.

Full results of last fall’s excavation and exploration, detailing which of the three hypotheses is closest to the truth, will be published in June.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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