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Archaeologists Use Total Station to Conduct 3D Scan of Prehispanic Shaft Tomb
Total Station technology allows describing and outlines with detail the features of a terrain. Photo: Eugenio Perez/INAH.

MEXICO CITY.- Archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) conducted for the first time the three-dimensional registration of a shaft tomb, underground spaces used during Prehispanic time as funerary chambers in the western region of Mexico.

Shaft tombs are integrated by a vertical shaft of variable depth and one or more funerary chambers. Specialists managed to conduct 3 dimensional imaging of one of these great spaces at the Cerro del Teul Archaeological Site, in Zacatecas, by using Total Station, an electro-optical device.

Archaeologist Enrique Perez Cortes detailed that the scanned space is the shaft tomb Number 5 at the Prehispanic site, built between the 2nd century BC and 400 AD, it consists of an underground chamber with the shape of a dome and ellipsoidal plan that measures nearly 3 meters long, 2.5 wide and 1.5 high.

“Total Station technology allows describing and outlines with detail the features of a terrain. By using this device we managed to register the shaft tomb, so we can study more deeply the funerary space”.

Archaeologist Laura Solar, in charge of El Teul Archaeological Project with Peter Jimenez Betts, mentioned that this is the first occasion when a shaft tomb at a Mexican archaeological site is registered with Total Station, considering these tombs are also found in South America.

“Southern Zacatecas is the northernmost region of the shaft tomb tradition, typical from Western Mexico, and the case of Cerro del Teul is the earliest evidence of the sedentary occupation of this hill, dating from the 2nd to the 5th centuries of the Common Era.

“It is interesting how shaft tombs in the region are found in the high area of the hill, since they were generally distributed in slopes and valleys, associated to water currents or downpours, where some early villages settled. This reveals the relevance of Cerro del Teul as a ceremonial center, even before our era”, commented the INAH researcher Solar.

The meticulous registration of the tomb was performed using coordinates obtained with a processor and a laser-surveying instrument connected to a computer. The shaft tomb is represented on the screen as reticules with their exact volume measurement.

“By using Total Station we are able to generate a meticulous data base of some Prehispanic sites, before and after archaeological intervention, which later helps to conduct analyses of the architectural layout of the buildings, and even of some specific pieces found”, declared Perez Cortes.

At the archaeological site located in the Zacatecan municipality of Teul de Gonzalez Ortega, 6 shaft tombs have been located, which are integrated by a circular shaft or well with diameters that measure from 80 to 100 centimeters and approximate depth of 150 centimeters, an access and a funerary chamber of an approximate size of 300 by 250 centimeters.

In mid 19th century the geodesic engineer Carl de Berghes created a precise map of Cerro del Teul, where he located 3 shaft tombs or “particular chambers”, as he called them.

Recently, the team of the archaeological project has achieved to recover archaeological material when cleaning up 3 of them.

“Sediment was extracted and using the sieve we recovered beads made out of marine shell and stone; remains of dart-throwers (atlatl), pigments, broken vessels, 2 small zoomorphic wind instruments and other objects that were part of necklaces.

“Our intention is to recover the most information possible of the tombs looted in prior centuries, to know the specific kind of the regional funerary deposits and determine which logistic problems we can expect to face when we find one intact. We know these are groups of tombs, they are never isolated”, manifested Laura Solar.

Elements recovered in tombs confirm there was an extensive commercial network in this region of western Mexico one or 2 centuries before the Common Era, such as complete shells from the Pacific Ocean of the Strombus genre testify.

Shaft tombs in the area remind those found at Cañon de Bolaños in northern Jalisco, but at El Teul there have been observed small excavations at the shaft or well that conducts to the mortuary chamber that might have been used as steps.

Archaeologist Laura Solar concluded that in El Teul there is an opportunity to investigate about the transition between Shaft Tombs Tradition, associated to agricultural villages, and the later adoption of the Mesoamerican construction pattern of monumental ceremonial centers.

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