The Dawning of Creation in the Central Mexican Highlands: Interpreting Olmec Style Symbolism at the Formative Period Sites of Chalcatzingo, Oxtotitlán, and Juxtlahuaca




Stanley, Brendan C.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



By 900 BC, Middle Formative Olmec influence had projected into the central highlands of Mexico. This became clear with the 1930’s discovery of Chalcatzingo and its monumental bas-reliefs created in the Olmec style (Guzman 1934). Additionally, Olmec style symbolism appeared in the modern state of Guerrero with outstanding examples likes the awesome architecture of Teopanticaunitlan and the cave paintings of Oxtotitlán and Juxtlahuaca (Donjuan 1994; Grove 1969; Gay 1967). This thesis will iconographically analyze the Olmec style symbolism of Chalcatzingo, Oxtotitlán, and Juxtlahuaca, which include bas-reliefs carved onto mountain tops and polychrome paintings executed within sanctums of mountain caves. On the one hand, my hypothesis is that these periphery centers incorporate heartland symbolism and ideology to validate and link their elites to those of Olman. This symbolism is expressed through themes of rulership, and it relates to exchange networks between this highland region and the gulf coast heartland (Reilly 1990). At the same time, the symbolism displayed at the aforementioned sites can be linked thematically, which shows a unique socio-political fluoresce within this highland periphery. Thematically, the highland symbolism relates to greater Mesoamerican cosmology of a cyclical and shamanistic worldview where the duty of human society, through ritual and worship, is of maintaining harmony of the human world, the natural world, and the spiritual world. Specifically, the highland symbolism depicts a ritual intensification, or cult, unique to the highlands. This ritual intensification consists of sacred mountains as water shines that birth the winds and clouds of the rainy season, that empower shamanistic elites who travel through mountain caves of sky and earth, and that birth ancestral deities who emerge from the primordial caves at the Dawning of Creation.



Olmec iconography, Olmec archaeology


Stanley, B. C. (2020). <i>The dawning of creation in the Central Mexican Highlands: Interpreting Olmec style symbolism at the formative period sites of Chalcatzingo, Oxtotitlán, and Juxtlahuaca</i> (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


Rights Holder

Rights License

Rights URI