Hiker falls onto monolith, saves it from looters

A tourist hiking in the foothills of a waterfall in Mexico two weeks ago fell from a branch onto a Mesoamerican monolith that was in the process of being carved out of the stone by looters. You’d think looters would be deterred by the weight of the stone — an estimated 10 tons — and its size — five feet wide, five feet high and almost seven feet deep — but no; they just started cutting the carving out of it, removing the porous red volcanic cantera stone around the figure which is about a foot and a half wide and two and a half feet high. Given enough time they would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that pesky hiker falling out of a tree.

The tourist reported the find to the authorities in the nearby city of Calvillo in the central Mexican state of Aguascalientes who in turn called in regional experts from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). Archaeologists examined the monolith and discovered it’s a unique piece of major historical import in the region. Carved in the image of a man with a headdress and earrings, its location near a waterfall and spring suggests a connection to a deity.

The figure shows a strong influence of Teotihuacan style from between 200 to 600 A.D. The urban center of Teotihuacan was 350 miles southeast of Calvillo, but its cultural sphere of influence was vast. Before now, however, archaeologists thought the local culture was entirely Chichimeca, nomadic hunter-gatherers of varied language and ethnicity, but no artifacts this old have been found in the state before. It significantly predates known Chichimeca settlements in the area.

In order to keep it safe from human depredation, experts will be completing the looters’ work. The 10-ton stone is simply too big and unwieldy to remove. It’s in the wilderness where there are no roads. It would require specialized equipment and a cargo helicopter to air lift it out of the jungle, and officials have neither the material nor the funding to make that happen. Instead, they’ve installed a shelter around the stone and will have a joint police and army surveillance team on site while archaeologists detach the carved figure from its rocky home. The operation is expected to take 15 days to a month.

Once it’s been removed, the carving will be kept at the INAH lab where archaeologists can study it fully. Its ultimate destination will be the Municipal Museum that is currently under construction in Calvillo.

9 thoughts on “Hiker falls onto monolith, saves it from looters

  1. This one made me smile! Love seeing the looters get foiled! Not to mention the implications of this very important find on our understanding of Mexican pre-history.

  2. Your link to the original story still leaves the questions: how did the hiker come to be in the tree? Was he spying on the looters? How did one hiker manage to scare off a team of looters? Was he armed?

    Wonderful outcome, but I’m curious about the hiker!

    1. The hiker did not interrupt the looters mid-loot. The process of carving out the figure was ongoing. Authorities could tell from the way the rock had been cut away what was happening, but the bad guys were not caught in flagrante, which is doubtless a very good thing for our tourist hero.

  3. Fascinating story. Makes me wonder just how the looters were going to remove the figure. But hey, there are plenty of unscrupulous rich people willing to pay good money to hire a helicopter and plenty of poor (and possibly but not necessarily also unscrupulous) people who would be willing to detach said figure to bring in a little money. They wouldn’t want to be working when people are in area– confrontation would kind of mess up the plan. Good for hiker– able to understand what he/she was looking at and then reporting it so it could be saved. The only part is I’m sad about is that now the waterfall is missing its deity.

  4. I was blessed to be in Calvillo on vacation just about the time this was discovered & reported. Hiked up to the spot on Sunday July 13th. Trail not well marked. What a National Treasure for Calvillo. Beautiful carving. The police and firefighters of Calvillo are doing around the clock security detail to protect it. The policeman on duty was so taken back of my family’s kindness that he let my daughter go beyond the caution tape and we took a picture of her sitting next to the stone. What a wonderful memory this trip will become. We hiked back up into the area on Tuesday and explored more. So much to see in the area of the waterfall.

  5. Thank you so much for publishing this positive news item! In my opinion, if there was an award for “Tourist of the Year”, I would nominate this person for it, as this has been a truly beneficial “accident” for the archaeology community and for the heritage of the country.

    Thanks again and best wishes!


  6. lol! experts will be completing the looters work! indeed! to the victor belongs the spoils. the experts have
    hidden large amounts of evidence
    of history that might upset the status
    moral relatavism is the insanity
    of man revealed.

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