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Scientists unearth centuries-old crocodile stone

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In the 1960s, a team of excavators uncovered the ruins of the ancient city of Lambityeco (AD 500-850), in what is now Tlacolula de Matamoros, Oaxaca, Mexico. In a recent return to the site, the discovery of a carved stone crocodile by Field Museum archaeologists has provided a key to revising long-held ideas about the site

They found a palace with iconic frescoes that indicate the close connections between Lambityeco and nearby Monte Alban, a much larger urban settlement in the region.

Scientists unearth centuries-old crocodile stone

However, not all of the pieces recovered during this study seemed to fit this narrative. Some of the artifacts showed marked differences with those from Monte Albán. Because of these differences, the archaeological team attributed Lambityeco to a later time period than Monte Albán, an interpretation that stood for decades. Nevertheless, more recent reanalysis of materials from Lambityeco has shown that the site was actually contemporaneous with Monte Albán, leading to new questions.

How to found large curve stone?

Evidence collected over the past four years has helped illustrate this change. One key feature that changed at Lambityeco was its ballcourt — an important structure for both ceremony and recreation in prehispanic Mesoamerica. In its original design, the ballcourt at Lambityeco, which was discovered by the Museum team in 2015, was laid out in a very similar pattern to the one in Monte Albán: both were constructed with the same orientation and were entered from the north side of the court. However, less than two centuries after the ballcourt was created in Lambityeco, the people sealed its north entrance and created a new stairway on its northeast corner — a major shift from the layout at Monte Albán. At this same time, the frescos in the palaces, excavated in the 1960s, were covered over, and never re-created again.

Another piece of evidence that helps illustrate this change at Lambityeco is a large stone carved on three sides with an image of a crocodile that was discovered during this recent field season. This is the largest carved stone found to date at Lambityeco. Although similar crocodile stones have been found at other sites in the Valley of Oaxaca, this was a unique discovery. Not only was it one of a few carvings of its kind to be discovered still in its prehispanic context, but the Field Museum team also found that the stone was moved from its original location during the long-ago occupation of Lambityeco.

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