A brief outline of the gradual discovery of Tacó, Tacoc, Tacóh or Tohcok, the toponym by which this archeological site is known, beginning in 1845 with records of inhabited parts of the Yucatan (a zone of land that formerly occupied the entire peninsula) (Pérez 1999).
At that time Tacoc was a hacienda whose importance was diminishing with the passing of time (León 2010). It was located after cropping up on various maps in the second half of the nineteenth century, and, by the twentieth century, US researchers Edwin Shook and Tatiana Proskouriakoff (1951) coined “Tohcok,” which is now the official name used by the INAH for the site located at 19° 46’ 13” North and 89° 52’ 30” West. Federal highway 261 linking Hopelchén and San Francisco de Campeche crosses the site. (Fig. 1)
If we were to refer to the site as Tacóh, the translation would be “the beautiful flint knife” or alternatively, the Maya-Nahua locative would be “the place of the flint knife.” In both cases we believe that the name is related to the remains of the mural painting found in the mid-twentieth century (no longer extant), featuring a figure carrying a weapon with various flint knives inserted into it.
The central scene was divided into two sections: the upper one shows a figure in a dancing position, with the right hand held up and the left holding a round shield and a weapon with four flint blades inserted in it. The body is painted black and clothed in a short skirt made of a jaguar pelt, a kind of belt, an elaborate headdress and a decoration to the rear of the hips; the feet have jaguar claws and there is also a tail of the same feline animal, while the legs have representations of the “kin” sign. A brazier with spikes can be seen by the feet (possibly representing the Oxkutzcab ceramic style, dated between 800 and 1000 AD), and a naked figure is seen resting on it in a ventral position, perhaps as an offering to the gods. Above this small image we can see a glyph identified as T600; it has been related to the Mexica’s “atado de cañas” (“cane bundle”) and the 52-year cycle when the new fire is lit. On the lower register, only some floral elements have been preserved, along with a kind of feather bundle. Surrounding these images, and separated by two lines, a band of glyphs can be seen, and this was read by epigrapher Daniel Graña Behrens (2002) as a date from the short count: “12 (tun?) 2 ahau” which could fall on one of two probable dates: 184.108.40.206.0 (July 16, 743) or 10.8.12.0.0 (September 10, 999). The latter would be more consistent with the site’s architecture and ceramics. (Fig. 2) In general terms, the figure bears a slight resemblance to the individuals appearing on the murals of Cacaxtla, in the state of Tlaxcala. However, the weapon being carried is unusual and the only other similar weapons are those belonging to the warriors depicted in the Mulchic murals in the state of Yucatán.
Proskouriakoff reported that regrettably, by the 1960s, no trace of the mural painting remained and that the vaulted ceiling, although still in situ, only showed some lines and glyphs in black on the stucco surface (Proskouriakoff, 1965). The vaulted ceiling still remains in place today, but without any discernible trace of its previous decoration.
At some point between 1951 and 1955, Raúl Pavón Abreu, of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), led the first series of excavations, consolidating the southern sector of the Building of the Painted Jambs, or Building 1. This can be seen in the archive images of the visits made by researchers from the Carnegie Institution of Washington in 1951 and 1955.
At that time, the Campeche-Hopelchén highway was asphalted, destroying a number of pre-Hispanic platforms due to a lack of awareness of the heritage value of the archeological site which covers several hectares of land around the area currently open to the public.
George Andrews, an architect from the University of Oregon, first visited the site in 1974 and drew an initial sketch of the Building of the Jambs painted in 1983, renaming it Structure 1 (Andrews, 1997) (Fig. 3). He produced various detailed studies of the architecture that was still standing at the site, pointing out its combination of both Chenes and Puuc architectural styles.
In 1995, INAH archeologist Renée Zapata spent a brief season working on the conservation of Building 1. Since then, the municipal council of Hopelchén has been responsible for the upkeep and protection of the section of the site open to visitors. In 1998, the Austrian Karl Herbert Mayer visited the site and recorded some of its previously unknown sculptures.
In 2011 and 2013 the archeologist Sara Novelo and the author excavated Structure 2, furnishing new architectural, iconographic and chronological information about the settlement. Now we know that the Tohcok architectural complex was developed principally between 600 and 900 AD, flourishing between 900 and 1000 AD before gradually falling into abandonment in 1200 AD.
The Pre-Hispanic Settlement
The archeological remains are found on both sides of the modern-day highway; in some cases the walls and parts of the vaulted arches are still standing, but in others they have collapsed and only mounds of earth remain. The group of buildings open to the public has been called the Central Group and detailed studies have been completed only of the buildings around this plaza.
The Building of the Painted Jambs, or Structure 1, is located on the western side and has only been partially explored. Four rooms were found at the far south, along with two chambers to the north. Its central part is a solid nucleus that was used as a platform for other bays located on the upper level. The set of steps on the eastern side have a vaulted passageway running north to south. Structure 1 was an impressive, two-story construction. On its western side, another set of steps led to two rooms erected above (Fig. 4). Building 1 is 130 feet long and 65 feet wide. It might have reached an average height of 26 feet. An interesting feature is the combination of simple entrances with tripartite entryways formed by monolithic columns.
Structure 2, meanwhile, is found to the east and consists of a 30-foot-long square platform, with steps to the east and west (Fig. 5). It has three facade masks on the southern side; one in the middle and one on each corner. The motifs on the corners continue to the north and end at the narrow set of stairs (Fig. 6). Unfortunately, the images’ middle and upper sections were looted and partially destroyed. The elements that form the central facade mask are similar to those on the corners and their characteristics indicate that they represent the Water Serpent, a mythical creature associated with the rebirth of the most powerful rulers.
Other symbolic and decorative elements have been added to the east and west sides of the chamber immediately to the north of the platform. This section also includes facade masks from which emerge guides with flowers, and some even sprout human heads, indicating an organic human rebirth, in other words the return of the god of maize. (Figs. 7 and 8)
One interesting detail is the discovery of the mural painting in the southwestern sector of the room located to the north of the platform mentioned above. The lines were painted red and show a seated figure with a bird’s face, in front of two bundles: the one on the far right bears a basket of fruit. The scene is reminiscent of images that would later be represented in the Maya codices. (Fig. 9)
To the north of the platform we can see a chamber with a single entrance on the north side. This is reached via a passageway shared with another chamber accessed from the south. Notably both rooms and their shared passageway were roofed with a false pointed arch, in other words an arch without keystones or covers (Figs. 10 and 11). This variation of the Mayan arch has also been found at sites such as Yaxché-Xlabpak, Edzná and Sayil.
Inside this southern chamber, excavations have unearthed a stone head (Fig. 12); some of the wall blocks were painted with images of different people, drawn with simple, charcoal lines and most likely the work of the apprentices of painters or draftsmen (Fig. 13). Another find was a handprint outlined in red paint. Another detail of the entrance to the southern chamber is that it had curtain racks—additions inside the building to prevent the entry of light or views onto the interior. They were made by cutting small, two-to-three centimeter wide slots at the edge of the stones. This made it possible to attach ropes or strings to hang cloths or animal skins.
In the north chamber, two niches were found in the north wall. Two stone rings were also recovered, and these were previously built into the upper parts of the side walls and used to hang various objects. These artefacts are commonly found in buildings of the Puuc region.
The architectural features of both of the structures explored point to a combination of Puuc and Chenes styles, a mixture owing to Tohcok’s location in the transitional area between the Chenes and Puuc regions. According to archeological information about its development, this mix of elements can be dated to between 770 and 830 AD. However, the presence of Mosaic-style architectural details leads us to believe that the site continued to be inhabited at least until 1000 AD. The pottery and epigraphic details currently known from Tohcok indicate that the settlement reached its peak during that same period. This was followed by political and financial decline in the Postclassic period.
Aranda González, Mario H.,1985, Apuntaciones históricas y literarias del Municipio de Hopelchén, Mérida, Programa Cultural de las Fronteras / Ayuntamiento de Hopelchén.
Barrera Vázquez, Alfredo et al.,1980, Diccionario Maya Cordemex, Mérida, Ediciones Cordemex.
Benavides C., Antonio y Sara Novelo O., 2012, "Water Lily Serpents at Campeche's Tohcok Structure 2" en IMS Explorer, vol. 41 (6): 1, 5-6. Miami.
León Méndez, Miriam Edith, 2010, Origen y desarrollo de las haciendas en Campeche, Campeche, Poder Legislativo del Estado de Campeche, LX Legislatura.
Pollock, Harry E. D.,1980, The Puuc. An architectural survey of the hill country of Yucatan and northern Campeche, Mexico, Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Proskouriakoff, Tatiana, 1965, "Sculpture and the major arts of the Maya lowlands" en Handbook of Middle American Indians, 2: 469-497. Wauchope, ed. University of Texas Press. Austin.