Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Robert H. Tykot , Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

E. Christian Wells, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Charles B. Connor, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Karla L. Davis-Salazar, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mary E. D. Pohl, Ph.D.


Mesoamerican archaeology, Formative period, Preclassic period, Remote sensing, Non-destructive survey techniques


This dissertation examines El Marquesillo, a settlement in an archaeologically unexplored region of the Southern Gulf Lowlands of Veracruz, Mexico. Evidence suggests the site has been consistently occupied from the Early Formative period (c. 1500 BC) to the present. Thus, this investigation presents an opportunity to re-examine the sociopolitical continuum encompassing the Olmec cultural phenomenon (c. 1150-300 BC), the emergence of which has been used repeatedly as an example of incipient social complexity.

Theorists have portrayed the development of sociopolitical complexity as a mosaic process in which environmental, social, political, economic, ideological, and demographic variables act independently or in combination to bring about change. In order to examine these variables, a suite of traditional and progressive archaeological techniques -- remote sensing, geophysical survey, GIS, mapping, anthropogenic soil survey -- were employed to prospect, document, and analyze the natural and built environments along with the material record documented at El Marquesillo. I argue that the resulting data do not fit many of the traditional models that have been offered to explain the development of Olmec sociopolitical complexity.

The term "traditional Olmec paradigm" is used to describe a collective array of conjectural concepts that have been proposed by theorists to explain how Formative people of the Southern Gulf Lowlands constructed and experienced their reality. Findings from El Marquesillo and other recent Heartland investigations suggest that much of this traditional Olmec paradigm may not be accurate. The Gulf Olmec were not a homogeneous and uniform entity across space and time. At El Marquesillo, idiosyncratic behaviors of the ancients relating to ancestor veneration and their connection to the landscape and worldview have been identified. These noted variations in social expression and the lack of adherence to the traditional Olmec paradigm suggest that some hypotheses regarding the Formative people of the Southern Gulf Lowlands be re-visited and possibly revised in the light of new evidence.