A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
A site in the Ulua River Valley of northern Honduras has yielded the earliest evidence of village life in the area, dating to the end of the Early Formative period, ca. 1100-900 B.C., as well as pottery in the style of the Olmec civilization, which flourished 400 miles west on the Gulf Coast after ca. 1200 B.C. Previously the earliest evidence of villages in the area dated to the Middle Formative period (ca. 900-400 B.C.). Sponsored by the Iñstituto Hondureno de Antropología y Historia, excavations at Puerto Escondido were codirected by Rosemary A. Joyce of the University of California, Berkeley, and John Henderson of Cornell University. In the rubble of a burned-out building they found potsherds similar to wares made on the Pacific Coast, 100 miles from the Olmec heartland, ca. 1000-850 B.C. Neutron-activation analysis should indicate the clay source, but Joyce believes most of the pottery was made locally rather than imported. Either way, the sherds indicate some kind of long-distance connection with the Olmec. "Local elites may have used Olmec symbolism on their own pottery to signify their status," says Joyce. In exchange for Olmec pots, they may have been exporting highly prized cacao beans, for which the area was known in the sixteenth century. Obsidian from the site is being tested by X-ray fluorescence, which should indicate its source and further confirm Honduras' early participation in such long-distance trade networks.