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Coxcatlan Cave (Mexico)

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Definition: Coxcatlan Cave is a rockshelter in the Tehuacan Valley of Mexico, and it was occupied by humans for nearly 10,000 years. Identified by Richard S. MacNeish during the survey of the Tehuacan valley in the 1960s, the cave includes about 240 square meters beneath a rock overhang.

Excavations at the site identified at least 42 discrete occupation levels, within 2-3 meters of sediment. Features identified at the site include hearths, cache pits, ash scatters and organic deposits.

Coxcatlan Cave is most important for the evidence it provides of the initial appearance of domesticated plants including maize, bottle gourd, squash and beans. A seed of Cucurbita pepo (one of several hundred discovered at the cave) was direct dated at 5960 BC, the earliest to date identification of any domesticated plant in the region.

Sources

Flannery, Kent V. and Richard S. MacNeish 1997 In defense of the Tehuacan project. Current Anthropology 38(4):660-672.

Smith, Bruce D. 2005 Reassessing Coxcatlan Cave and the early history of domesticated plants in Mesoamerica. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102(27):9438-9445. Free to download.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

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