Toyah culture

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Cueva Pilote: Ritual bloodletting among the prehistoric hunters and gatherers of Northern Coahuila, Mexico
Solveig A. Turpin and Herbert H. Eling, Jr.

With contributions by: Linda Scott Cummings and Kathryn Puseman Leland C. Bement Cover art: México á Través de los Siglos, D. Alfred0 Chavero (1962)

Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Historia Oficio No. C.A .401-36/953

Abstract CuevaPilote, a small cave well-hidden in the precipitous canyons of the
Sierra Encantada in northern Coahuila, produced an artifact assemblage that can best be explained in the context of ritualized auto-sacrifice, or bloodletting, a custom well-documented in the complex societies of Mesoamerica. Over a score of deer scapulae painted with red or rarely with black geometric designs, 3 marine shellbeads, 56 mussel shell beads and a plaque, 43 ornamental snail shells, 4 pads of agave fiber cut from the trunk of the desert palm, 192 agave spines, fragments of a domesticated gourd, bear bones, a small assortment of human bones and teeth, projectile points, a cache of preforms, and other miscellaneous stone tools were exhumed from the site. The projectile point styles found in the cave have beendated to the period between 3200 and 4100 B.P. in Texas, but four radiocarbon assays produced an age range between 600 and 1000 B.P. for the ritual complex. Historical, ethnographic, and pictorial accounts of bloodletting and the presence of human protein residues on a sample of agave spines support the proposition that Pilote was a ritual site, utilized by hunting and gathering people who sharedtheir religious asceticism with their urban neighbors to the south.

Dedicated to the memory of

Tom Barksdale
June 21, 1921 – January 17, 1999
Tom Barksdale was a true man of the border, at home in two cultures and beloved in both. Like his father before him, Tom was a repository of oral history, about the people, the places, and the past of northern Coahuila. He was our passport to remoteplaces and our ambassador to the people who inhabit them. He was one of the folk on both sides of the Rio Grande; their respect and honor were expressed in the way they extended their hospitality to him and his companions. Tom was with us both season at Pilote where he endured the rigors of the worst winter in modern memory, at San Vicente, Santa Rosa, San Antonio de los Alamos, Acatita la Grande,Las Animas, the Sierra del Fuste, El Cedrito, and finally at Aguaverde where this last photograph was taken in December 1998. Tom died unexpectedly in January as we were planning our return to Aguaverde. Certainly the world is a lesser place.

Figure 1. Topographic map of northern Coahuila (Smith 1970: 10). Cueva Pilote is adjacent to the C in Sierra del Carmen.

Introduction A small cave,well hidden in the remote mountains of northern Coahuila (Fig. 1), was the site of ritual activities with a strong Mesoamerican imprint around A.D. 1300. Cueva Pilote, so named for its location at the foot of the highest peak in the northern Encantada Valley, produced a nonutilitarian artifact assemblage that included over a score of painted deer scapulae, 56 mussel shell beads and a mussel shellplaque, 3 marine shell beads, 43 large and decorative snail shells, a cache of 6 preforms, at least 3 complete and 3 partial projectile points, fragments of a domesticated gourd, 4 palma-fiber pincushions, and almost 200 agave spines. The most parsimonious explanation for this unusual assortment is their use in rituals that included self-mutilation and bloodletting. In this context, the onlyartifacts that could possibly be considered mundane are some of the stone tools - 8 bifaces and 4 unifaces - and debitage, the latter amounting to 45 flakes, chips, and cores. The mussel and marine shell, some of the lithic material, and the gourd are exotic and probably brought in from the Rio Grande valley, the Gulf of Mexico, and one of the horticultural areas far outside the Encantada Valley....