The archaeological site of Quiahuixtlan: Self-sustaining settlement for more than 2,800 years

11/05/2021

The exploitation of natural resources, such as renewable energies, is not typical of this era. More than 2,800 years ago, pre-Hispanic cultures, such as the Totonaca, based part of their survival on the use of rainwater, solar energy and sea products such as oyster shells, which contain high levels of calcium. The archaeological site of Quiahuixtlan --whose name means "Place of the rain"-- located in the coastal strip of Veracruz, in the municipality of Actopan, on the Cerro de los Metates, is a clear example of the use of natural resources that began in 800 B.C. and continues to date.

Considered one of the most beautiful Totonac sites on the coast of Veracruz, due to its height -- 150 meters above sea level -- which allows partial dominion of the coast, Quiahuixtlan, a settlement that functioned as a cemetery, city and fortress, is located a short distance from where Hernán Cortés materially established the first Villa Rica de Veracruz.

The geographical conditions of the Cerro de los Metates, which reaches a total of 300 meters above sea level, made it difficult to supply water to the population that inhabited the site and that according to research reached 15 thousand inhabitants, however there was no shortage of water because the Totonacs implemented a rainwater harvesting system to supply the community. Therefore, at the top of the hill they installed containers to store the water, and then transported it through a system of pipelines to the residential area, and from there distributed it to the ceremonial center and the cemeteries.

Immersed in a tropical savannah ecosystem, the Cerro de los Metates allowed the filtration of the liquid and thus prevented water shortages during the dry season -from November to December-. In the archaeological zone this type of activities was resumed and although now a container was not installed at the top of the hill, rainwater continues to be stored, for this purpose a cistern was built in the part known as the central cemetery, next to the guardhouse. The reuse of rainwater is not the only natural resource used.

In 1998, after a flood left the site incommunicado, a solar cell was installed to provide communication to the site. The cell -- one and a half meters long and almost three meters high -- supplies energy to the radiocommunicators of the custodians who work in the archaeological zone. However, this solar cell system still does not provide lighting throughout the site, so visiting hours are restricted from 09:00 to 17:00 hours, Monday to Sunday.

Quiahuixtlan, which is visited by almost four thousand people a month, is also considered a natural park, so to avoid contaminating the ecosystem it was decided to install ecological or dry toilets. This facility uses lime instead of water to prevent contamination of the lagoons located on the slopes of the hill, where mollusks, crustaceans and fish are cultivated, which help fishermen in the region to subsist. All these elements and renewable energy systems make the "Place of the Rain" a sustainable site, like Xochicalco or Monte Alban itself, which also take advantage of natural resources to provide services to visitors.

Meaning

The name of the site is of Nahuatl origin and means "The place of rain".

Cultural Importance

This settlement in the coastal plain of Veracruz dates from the Epiclassic period, when the Totonac settlements of the previous period lost strength as a result of the weakening of Teotihuacan. As a consequence, the inhabitants of the ancient settlements gathered in small towns with moderate extensions of territory. Quiahuiztlán suffered two invasions in the Postclassic period, first by the Toltecs and later by the Mexica, to whom they remained subject until the time of the Spanish contact. Quiahuiztlán, a settlement very close to the point where Hernán Cortés founded the Villa Rica de la Veracruz, was the place where an alliance was made between the Totonac peoples and the Spaniards to conquer the Tenochca empire. Chronology: 800 A.D. to colonial times. Main chronological location: Postclassic, A.D. 900 to 1521.

Access

Take the Cardel-Nautla Coastal Highway (Federal Highway No. 180); there you will find the Farallón-Tinajitas turnoff, which leads to the town of Los Metates. To the east of this town is the area. Visitors can reach the site by public transportation.

Opening hours

Monday to Sunday from 08:30 to 17:00 hours.

Source: INAH