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Mexican archaeologists discover eight archaeological sites south of Mexicali, Baja California
The campsites have provided proof in the form of isolated archaeological materials. Photo: Antonio Porcayo/INAH.

Translated by: Cristina Perez Ayala

MEXICALI.- In the rocky shelters of Sierra Mayor, located south of Mexicali, Baja California, investigators of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) discovered eight temporary campsites that are between 400 and 7,000 years old and linked to the Cucapa culture. Also, the campsites have provided proof in the form of isolated archaeological materials, like hundreds of animal bones —some of these are extinct—, as well as ceramic and lithic objects, as well as places where iron oxide was used as pigment for body and mural paint.

The former was released by archaeologist Antonio Porcayo Michelini, who is responsible for the investigation project called “Registry and Rescue of Archaeological Sites in Baja California – Phase: Mexicali Municipality”. It was archaeologist Antonio Porcayo Michelini who, in 2008, started to penetrate Sierra Mayor in search of vestiges to integrate to the INAH registry and catalog.

“The Cucapa are one of the four Yumanan ethnic groups originating from Baja California, a region where they have inhabited for at least 2,000 years, according to their linguistic roots”.

The specialist detailed that Sierra Mayor Cucapa is an extremely arid region which (during the summer) reaches temperatures up to 50 degrees Celsius; its extreme climate doesn’t allow vegetation and the earth’s “skin” can be seen; the clay stratum of the hills are exposed: at simple view you can appreciate the reddish tone of iron oxide deposits and important geological moments in the formation of the peninsula.

After an analysis in situ, archaeologists proved that certain sites —where the reddish dirt was obtained— had visible trails of the pre Historic activity involved in the extraction of the clay. Porcayo Michelini explained that there are more sites in other parts of the peninsula of Baja California, but this is the first to have been discovered in Sierra Mayor Cucapa.

The specialist also stated that inside the Sierra they found eight campsites, one of them in the rocky shelter. Those who investigators call “archaeological cucapa natives” as old as 400 to 2,000 years occupied some of these. There is however, evidence that there were other nomad groups, older than the Cucupa, that resided in this area about 7,000 years ago; said places are made up of stones placed around circular structures known as “corralitos” (little pens), which were used as foundations to sew branches and leaves, which they ultimately inhabited.

Every campsite has about five or seven corralitos, which indicates that there were several families living here in a temporary manner, explained Porcayo after emphasizing the fact that two corralitos had hundreds of animal bones consumed as food, some have traces of dismantling cuts, a minority were worked on, and others were used as prime material for tools.

Archaeologists formerly believed that natives used these pens as places to spend the night, however this evidence shows that they were also big ovens used to cook meals. When used as ovens, natives would later cover the heated area with dirt in order to use the warmth of the floor to heat their bodies during the winter, said Porcayo Michelini.

The specialist added that amongst the fauna identified by archaeologist-zoologist Andrea Guía Ramírez, the most common are birds.

Another fact stated by Porcayo is that the quantity of salt and sweet water fish confirms the fact that the Cucapa have been dedicated to fishing for at least 400 years; among the types of fish found, the most uncommon is the matalote jorobado (Xyrauchen texanus), a species that is considered to be extinct in Mexico since the start of the 19th Century. Andrea Guia explained that this fish, very similar to trout, only survives in small populations near the Grand Canyon, but it’s impossible to find it in the Colorado River, where it used to be very common during the XVIII century.

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