GIS Data Base and Spatial Analysis of the Basin of Mexico

Project: Research project

Project Details


Funding by the National Science Foundation will support a 2-year project under the direction of Dr. Kenneth Hirth to create an visual computer (GIS) database on prehistoric population development in the Basin surrounding modern Mexico City. The Basin of Mexico was the cradle of Mexican civilization. It was the home of Mexico's first great city at Teotihuacan as well as the center of the great Aztec civilization encountered at the time of the Spanish conquest. Between 1960-1975 NSF funded a series archaeological settlement surveys in this area that covered approximately 800 sq. miles and located over 2,052 sites spanning 3,000 years of cultural development. These surveys represent one of the largest surveyed areas of the ancient world and have shaped understanding of complex society in Central Mexico. These surveys contain important information that continue to guide interpretations of cultural development not only in Mexico but also in the comparative analysis of the rise of ancient civilizations around the world.

Unfortunately, the rapid urban expansion of Mexico City has destroyed or covered most of these valuable archaeological sites making these surveys the only archaeological record for the region. While the results of these surveys were published in the 1960's and 1970s following academic conventions of the day, none of these archaeological site data are now available for studying the evolution of cultural complexity using contemporary computer methods. Furthermore, none of this information is currently available to the Mexican government in a form useful for the conservation and preservation of its national patrimony. Recent attempts to relocate sites in endangered areas has been unsuccessful because of a significant error in the original map grid used to record site locations.

This project will ensure that the information from one of world's major centers of cultural development will be preserved and available for analysis by future generations of archaeologists and prehistorians. It will relocate, correctly position, and digitally encode site information on modern geo-rectified maps and air photos and will code important data on prehistoric architecture and associated artifacts in linked databases. This will enable researchers to conduct a series of new quantitative studies on prehistoric population growth, land use, environmental change, and subsistence risk that were not possible during the original analysis. These analyses will provide new insights into the range of factors that influenced settlement decisions and the development of complex society in this important area of the ancient world.

The broader impact of this project is that it will create an durable site archive that can be used immediately by Mexican archaeologists of the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH) to investigate and preserve endangered archaeological sites in the Mexico City area. The rapid destruction of sites in the Basin of Mexico means that in the 21st century most new information on prehispanic culture will have to be derived from urban salvage projects. The data from this project will help guide that research. INAH plans to merge the data from this project into its site monitoring program to develop a more comprehensive archaeological salvage and conservation program for the greater Mexico City metropolitan area.

Effective start/end date8/1/067/31/09


  • National Science Foundation: $156,807.00


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