El Cerro de la Mascara Archaeological Site

Miguel Angel Victoria Fotógrafo

The Cerro de la Máscara (or Hill of the Mask in English) archaeological site is the most important petroglyphs site in northern Sinaloa. Its more than three hundred petroglyphs distributed in a mountain range.
In a beautiful natural environment flanked by the old river Zuaque, it is neighbor to the Magic Town of El Fuerte. A must stop for the Chepe Railroad which crosses the Tarahumaran mountain range of the port of Topolobampo to the city of Chihuahua.
They have made the site a focus of visits of thousands of visitors both domestic and foreign. Visitors who also visit other places like the Sacred Heart of Jesus Temple, the Municipal Palace building, the Barracks Square, the El Fuerte Museum, finding a first class service in restaurants and hotels in the city. One of the many that stand out is the Hotel Posada del Hidalgo, located at the foot of Fuerte de Montes Claros Hill.

The archaeological site also represents one of the most important places in the history of northern Mexico. For it jealously keeps the memory of the worldview of the ancient Yoremes (Mayos), inhabitants of this region. The archaeological site is located on the banks of the Fuerte River, within the Mexican northwest.
In the northeastern portion of the state of Sinaloa, very close to the border with the neighboring state of Sonora. It is located 70km (approximately 43 miles) from the city of Los Mochis and 270km (approx. 167 miles) from the city of Culiacán.
Cerro de la Máscara stands along a small spur of rhyolitic stone.
It is submerged in a thorny forest, at the foot of the Sierra Madre Occidental (or Western mountain range).
The closest population to the site is Ejido La Galera, pertaining to the also very close municipal head of El Fuerte, located on the opposite bank of the river.
This municipality borders to the west with Ahome, to the east with Choix, to the north with Alamos, Sonora, and to the south with the municipality of Sinaloa.

The archaeological site is geographically framed in a transition zone between the Western Mountain Range and the coastal plain of the Sea of Cortez, in a space known as the Valley of the Fuerte River.

The archaeological site is geographically framed in a transition zone between the Western Mountain Range and the coastal plain of the Sea of Cortez, in a space known as the Valley of the Fuerte River. Physiographically, it corresponds to the Western Mountain Range Province, which begins at the border with the United States and expands from northwest to southeast to its limits in the south of the province of the Neovolcanic Axis, covering some portions of the states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes and Jalisco.
Cerro de la Máscara is made up of several sets of petroglyphs, a set of mounds constructed with boulders, as well as some circular stone alignments, all distributed over 17 hectares (42 acres).
The limits of the site are defined by the Guásimas stream, which runs to the north and west of it, and an abrupt slope of the ground which goes down to the second fluvial terrace of the Fuerte River, to the east (Carpenter et al, 2006).
Based on the researches practiced on the site, we know that it is made up of 300 engravings, distributed in 15 sets located mainly in the eastern portion of the site and associated with concentrations of archaeological materials.
The petroglyphs are in rhyolite blocks of variable size with mainly geographic, anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, and phytomorphic designs, manufactured with techniques which include percussion, abrasion and incision.
Some engravings with designs of human faces or masks give the name of the site.
Of the 15 sets of petroglyphs, which make up the site, seven are the most frequented by visitors, which have been named by the local oral tradition with nicknames that refer to some formal characteristic. Either one of the designs that make it up or its location or possible functionality: The Observatory, The Mask, The Flanked Stone, The Butterfly, The Queen, The Fox or The Scorpion.
These sets are distributed primarily along the main pike, which makes up the site.
The set of mounds is located in the northern section of the site and is made up of four concentrations of stone and dirt. Its height does not exceed 1.5m and the area is approximately 10m2. They are oval in shape and are surrounded by a high amount of archaeological material. Based on the explorations practiced as part of the Cerro de la Máscara Archaeological Project, it was determined that, in fact, these mounds were the nucleus of a plinth, on which, possibly, some kind of structure constructed with perishable materials was found, which, due to the strong erosion of the ground, did not conserve no more evidence on the surface.

Between 1987 and 1990, Francisco Mendiola carried out a brief surface survey in the municipalities of Ahome, El Fuerte and Choix, only recording the sites with graphic-rock manifestations.

History of research
Between 1987 and 1990, Francisco Mendiola carried out a brief surface survey in the municipalities of Ahome, El Fuerte and Choix, only recording the sites with graphic-rock manifestations. In the municipality of El Fuerte, he recorded 18 sites (Mendiola 1994:197).
Based on the detailed analysis of the designed recorded on the sites, Mendiola was able to identify two main styles: the central sierra-Barobampo style and the Fuerte River style. The first one, located in the mountain range between the Fuerte River and El Carrizo Valley, consisting of rectilinear designs with zoomorphic and phytomorphic representations (Mendiola 1994:493); the second, named Fuerte River style, is distributed along the Fuerte River, from San Miguel Zapotitlán to the Miguel Hidalgo Dam, consisting of curvilinear designs with anthropomorphic representations (Mendiola 1994:493-496).
It should be mentioned that through this study, Mendiola recognized the existence of physiographic-regional variables. In his conclusions, Mendiola affiliated to the Nahuas the manufacture of petroglyphs during their passage through Sinaloa, as part of the Aztecan pilgrimage, a passage commonly reproduced without scientific foundation in the history of these lands. The memory of this research was embodied in his thesis for his Bachelor of Arts: “Petroglyphs and Rock Paintings in the North of Sinaloa”.
Huites Archaeological Project
During 1993, Rebeca Yoma carried out archaeological rescue researches, as part of the construction of the Luis Donaldo Colosio Dam, near the town of Huites. Together with that work, Yoma carried out the recording of some petroglyphs in Cerro de la Máscara. She made decals and cutout drawings of various sets. However, her work never had as main objective the exhaustive record of all the graphic-rock manifestations of the site. The conclusions of this work focused in establishing the cultural development of the south and center of Sinaloa; without touching the petroglyphs site, or the region where it is located.
North of Sinaloa Archaeological Research Project
During 2004, John Carpenter and Guadalupe Sánchez carried out a tour and surface recognition, covering most of the northeast portion of Sinaloa, within the municipalities of Choix and El Fuerte.
The registry was mainly focused in sites with archeological components which had the potential to represent habitable places (Carpenter & Sanchez, 2004:23), living aside the sites with graphic-rock manifestations, since of these, they pointed out, there is an existing body of information. The results of the research brought the registration of 77 sites, of which, 58 have a pre-Hispanic affiliation, seven are historical sites, five have mixed components and seven indeterminate; most of them belonging to the ceramic period, approximately between 100 B.C. and 1500 A.D. (Carpenter & Sánchez, 2004:93,94). In the neighboring area of Cerro de la Máscara they reported three sites: Rancho Lugo, Atanasio Félix and the Petroglyphs of Ocolome, which, they said, must be studied to understand the cultural complex of Cerro de la Máscara. Of the three sites, the Petroglyphs of Ocolome site stands out, which has a great amount of metals and mortars in mother rock associated to the petroglyphs. The site, it seems, was a place where specific activities were carried out, more related to domestic activities (Carpenter & Sánchez, 2004).

Between June 2006 and March 2007, as part of an ambitious project of the municipality of El Fuerte to enable the Cerro de la Máscara archaeological site, John Carpenter, Guadalupe Sánchez and Julio Vicente, carried out archaeological researches.

Archaeological Research Project for the Management Plan of the Cerro de la Máscara Archaeological Site
Between June 2006 and March 2007, as part of an ambitious project of the municipality of El Fuerte to enable the Cerro de la Máscara archaeological site, John Carpenter, Guadalupe Sanchez and Julio Vicente, carried out archaeological researches, as a preliminary step to the work for the habilitation and tourist adaptation that the municipal council planned to carry out.
The works included an intense systematic survey of the site
and extensive excavations in all sites with deposits, as well
as the registration and cataloging of every one of the site’s
petroglyphs; but above all, the development of a management plan for the site visits (Carpenter et al, 2008).
The results determined that the archaeological site covered an area of 17,000m2 in total, with 300 petroglyphs distributed among 15 localities.
In addition to the petroglyphs, they indicated the presence of a component not previously reported, which consisted of three mounds built with boulders and dirt; as well as an alignment of circular shaped rocks, practicing excavations in these elements. The project included the systematic registration of all the engravings of the site, performing photographic surveys, the production of decals with chalk and fabric of each one of them, as well as the filling of registration certificates elaborated specifically for this project. The results obtained after the registration, digitalization and systematization of the information, indicated that the most commonly recorded representations consisted of simple geometric designs, such as: circles, squares, rectangles, spirals and dots; as well as compound geometric designs, such as: concentric circles, double spirals, square and rectangle elements with geometric designs in their interiors. For their part, the anthropomorphic elements consisted of handprints, footprints, and face prints; in general, stylized representations of human figures. Less frequently, zoomorphic elements (possible representations of canines, felines, butterflies, and other forms of unidentified animals) were found. Other graphic elements present consisted of astronomical motives including suns and quincunxes, possibly, alluding to the planet Venus. Others included alignments of dots identified as possible astronomical markers. The representations of masks, weapons and shields were tentatively classified in the category “fetishes”. Representations of botanical graphic elements were rare and included cacti and what appeared to represent some unidentified fruits.
Regarding the archaeological materials recovered in the excavations, although they observed a slight superficial distribution of artifacts, mainly ceramic fragments and carved stone debris, there was no evidence indicating the presence of a significant residential occupation in Cerro de la Máscara. Excavations on the small mound revealed a notable absence of artifacts or cultural elements associated with domestic activities, like hands and metates, stones used for grinding (Carpenter et al, 2008).
The general results of the explorations allowed them to establish that the Cerro de la Máscara archaeological site’s petroglyphs can be attributed to the Cahitas group, and more specifically to the Tehueco groups, perhaps, the Sinaloas, who began to inhabit this region at least 2000 years ago. The authors pointed out that it is a serious mistake to propose possible relations linked to some mythical migration of the Aztecs, since there is no evidence in the regional archaeological record indicating such a possibility (Carpenter et al, 2008).
The documentation of several different techniques used in the elaboration of petroglyphs, in addition to several graphic styles present, as well as the great variability observed in the formation of patina on the rocks surface, seems to confirm evidences indicative of a wide and varied time range of the site’s occupation. Likewise, ceramic materials also confirmed this fact, suggesting a broad range between 200 A.D. and 1450 A.D., approximately. The ceramic types identified corresponded to the Serrana and Huatabampo traditions, with Batacosa, Cuchujaqui, Piedras Verdes, Guasave and Huatabampo types. The few non-local shards found, were indicatives of exchange between the coastal region and the Culiacan region, including the Aguaruto insert and Aztatlán red on bay, as well as dishes from the Guasave tradition (Carpenter et al, 2008).

The absolute absence of historical types indicated that the Cerro de la Máscara Archaeological site was actually a ritual site, probably secretive and with restricted access, whose location never revealed to the Spaniards.

The absolute absence of historical types indicated that the Cerro de la Máscara archaeological site was actually a ritual site, probably secretive and with restricted access, whose location was never revealed to the Spaniards. Perhaps the site, abandoned before 1564, when Francisco de Ibarra arrived to the region (Carpenter et al, 2008).
On the other hand, the presence of graphic elements shared in an extensive geographic region expanding from Nayarit to the southeast of the U.S.A., indicates the existence of an extensive sphere of pre-Hispanic cultural interaction. Probably associated with the diffusion of ideologies, a
“northwestern tradition of rock art” (Santos, 2006 & 2013), during the socio-economic relations between groups, which, extended the cultural boundaries between the cultural traditions of northern Mexico, southwest of U.S.A. and the west of Mexico, approximately between 1200 and 1400 A.D. (Carpenter et al, 2008).
North of Sinaloa Archaeological Project: Cerro de la Máscara II
In July 2011, John Carpenter and his team of researchers presented the catalog of the systematic record of the site’s petroglyphs. This catalog included the petroglyphs proper of Cerro de la Máscara, registered during the project of 2006-2007, as well as the petroglyphs from the site of Ocolome, located exactly on the margin opposite of Cerro de la Máscara, in the Fuerte River.
Although the information presented on the catalog does not differ much from the one presented in the 2006-2007 report, there is new information that clarifies the cultural historic panorama of the site. In this regard, they pointed out that the diversity of designs shared and distributed in the north of Mexico and southwest of the U.S.A., indicates the existence of an extensive sphere of pre-Hispanic cultural interaction, probably associated to the diffusion of ideology during the socio-economic relations between groups (Carpenter et al, 2011).
Final report of the Project of Systematic Record of Petroglyphs Cerro de la Máscara Between 2010 and 2011, the archaeologists María de los Ángeles Heredia Zavala (then delegate of the INAH-Sinaloa Center) and José Alberto Durán Iniesta, carried out some work in Cerro de la Máscara. The main objective of this project was the survey of the site, seeking to expand the data provided by John Carpenter and his team in 2006- 2007. Therefore, they carried out systematic tours to the interior of the site, as well as in some surrounding spaces. Their contributions, in addition to confirming what was reported by John Carpenter, Guadalupe Sánchez and Julio Vicente, was the localization of some scattered blocks with petroglyphs, as well as some remains of possible stone alignments.
The results obtained were focused on trying to compare the data presented by John Carpenter and his team, mainly questioning the concept of semi-isolation and the exclusively ritual use of site by the Sinaloas and Tehuevos groups; however, they did not provide any data to refute the idea. Moreover, they did not present a site chronology proposal, nor tried to interpret it within the regional social dynamic or in its meaning, like the most representative Cahíta ritual site of the region.
Since 2016, the Cerro de la Máscara Archaeological Project is directed by the researchers Victor Joel Santos Ramírez and Julio César Vicente López.

Mtro. Victor Joel Santos Ramírez

Texto: Mtro. Victor Joel Santos Ramírez

Profesor de Investigación Científica y Docencia del INAH. Titular C.

Dirección: Zona Arqueológica Las Labradas, San Ignacio, Sinaloa

Sitio Web: https://inah.academia.edu/JoelSantos

Tel. Cel. (667) 9968450

Twitter: @joelsants 

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How this Virtual Tour was made

The equipment used to perform virtual tour are the following:

  • Nikon D810 DSLR Camera
  • Lens Sigma 8 mm Fisheye
  • Nodal Ninja NN4 Tripod Head
  • Manfrotto 190 Carbon Fiber Tripod
  • Remote Switch

The software processing of the image was

  • Lightroom to process RAW files
  • PTGui for stitching images
  • Photoshop general and local settings
  • PanoTour Pro for generating virtual tour
In portrait photographs if the lighting completed frontally, we manage to conceal some skin imperfections, since we “fill with light” small scars, wrinkles, in the case of adults, and some other marks. On the contrary, if the lighting is done laterally, even to 90 degrees, we will emphasize more the details of these imperfections.
The lighting of Cerro de la Máscara prepared so that the engravings on the stone could be more noticed. That is why, I used a Led Lenser model T7 flashlight in a lateral way and the result was very good.

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Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa

Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa

Traducción al idioma inglés realizada por la Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa a través del Centro de Estudio de Idiomas Culiacán. English language translation made by Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa through the collaboration of Centro de Estudio de Idiomas Culiacán

One comment on “El Cerro de la Mascara Archaeological Site

  • Excelentes imágenes de estos petrograbados del Cerro de La Máscara,localizado en El Fuerte, Sinaloa.Tuve el honor de acompañar al investigador Dr. Francisco Mendiola Galván, en su investigaciόn durante los años 1997-1988, a este sitio y muchos otros en el norte de Sinaloa. Es realmente impresionante la cantidad de sitios (más de 30) con petrograbados y pinturas rupestres que se han registrado en esta regiόn, solamente tomando como eje central el Río Fuerte y la sierra de Barobampo. Felicitciones por esta difusiόn.

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