Monday, April 26, 2021


In part I of this article (Link here) we discussed the archaeological site of San Miguel Ixtapan, Mexico, whose origins may date back to the Pre-classic or even Formative period of Mesoamerican civilization, over 3,000 years ago. The site is known for its incredible "Maqueta" stone, the model of a city sculptured in a huge basalt rock, as well as for its unique style of megalithic architecture.

High precision megalithic stonework

Even more than its remarkable “Maqueta” stone, perhaps the most distinctive aspect of this remote site is the presence of some huge megalithic stone slabs that are found both in their archaeological context as well as reused in various civic and religious buildings of the present-day village of San Miguel Ixtapan.

        For their exceptional workmanship and precision, these stone slabs are among the finest examples of megalithic stone carving to be found anywhere in Mexico and Mesoamerica, being perhaps only comparable to some of the finest specimens of Pre-Inca and Tiwanaku stonework from South America.

        Two slabs are found embedded in the walls of the early Colonial church of San Miguel in the center of town, with another large stela erected vertically in the church courtyard and a fourth one standing in one corner of the main square of San Miguel Ixtapan.

The finest and best preserved of the four carved andesite stone slabs that can be found in the center of San Miguel Ixtapan. Notice the remarkable flatness and regularity of the stone surface and the accuracy of the geometric cut, with straight edges and clear-cut right angles. [Photo by Author].

Another view of the same andesite stone slab in the south wall of the church of San Miguel Ixtapan. Its measures are 1.54 meters high by 1.23 meters wide, with a minimum thickness of 25 centimeters and an estimated weight of between 1-1.5 tons. [Photo by Author]. 

The very precise cut and remarkable right angles of the largest and best preserved of the andesite stone blocks found in the church of San Miguel Ixtapan. [Photo by Author].

Another one of the carved andesite slabs incorporated in the walls of the church of San Miguel Ixtapan. [Photo by Author].

A side view of the same slab, showing its thickness. [Photo by Author].

         A fragmentary slab is housed in the site museum of San Miguel Ixtapan, whereas two more can be found in their archaeological context within a ceremonial space known as the “Recinto de las Esculturas” (Enclosure of the Sculptures), located on one side of the main pyramid.

        Most of the slabs in the Church and in the main square are heavily eroded, the slab embedded in the south wall of the Church being by far the best preserved. We took accurate measurements of the largest of the stone slabs embedded in the south wall of the church. It measures 1.54 meters high by 1.23 meters wide, with a minimum thickness of 25 centimeters and an estimated weight of between 1-1.5 tons.

        All the slabs repeat the same geometric pattern, with minimal variations: It consists of a seeming ‘T’ shape with a rectangular hollow below. On some of the slabs the carving is plain, whereas on others the carvings are framed within a three-dimensional double or triple molding. The carving is extremely regular, following straight lines intersecting at right angles with the various planes of the stone cutting. Whereas the stone is not eroded, a remarkable level of flatness and polish is visible, which is even more remarkable if one considers that the stone out of which the slabs were carved is a hard, finely grained type of gray-green andesite, with a hardness of 7 on the Moh scale (comparable to 6-7 for granite).

        A significant exception to this pattern is offered by one of the slabs erected on the square in front of the church, which contains two “knobs” (possibly some badly eroded and defaced human head sculptures?) inside each arm of the inverted letter ‘T’. 

One of the wonderfully carved stone slabs found in front of the church of San Miguel Ixtapan. Unlike the other slabs, this one has two “knobs” protruding from the arms of the letter ‘T’. [Photo by Author].

A close-up view of the enigmatic slab found in front of the church of San Miguel Ixtapan; notice the two "knobs" protruding out of the arms of the inverted 'T' shape, a design reminiscent of similar Andean motifs. [Photo by Author]. 

A large basalt stela, carved from a piece of columnar basalt and now laying in front of the church of San Miguel Ixtapan. [Photo by Author].

Fragment of another stela, this one without decoration, in one corner of the main square of San Miguel Ixtapan. [Photo by Author].

        During our second visit to the site on April 24th, 2021 we were accompanied by archaeologist Victor Osorio Ogarrio, director of the archaeological site and museum of San Miguel Ixtapan and to whom goes our unconditioned appreciation for the excellent management of this small but very important archaeological site.

The two monolithic slabs found in situ within the “Recinto de las Esculturas” (Enclosure of the Sculptures), still in their original location. One can appreciate their different workmanship and orientation compared to the slabs in the church. The slabs on the left was covered with a white plaster stucco, apparently in an attempt to restore it after it had already suffered significant erosion. [Photo by Author].

Another frontal view of the two stone slabs inside the "Recinto de las Esculturas". [Photo by Author].

        This time we had the opportunity, thanks to Dr. Osorio, of visiting the “Recinto de las Esculturas”, located in a portion of the site that is regularly closed to the public. There we could observe two more of the huge stone slabs in their archaeological context. The slabs form a sort of separation wall delimiting a space for offerings, where numerous anthropomorphic sculptures dating to the Epiclassic period (ca. 900 AD) were found, which are now exhibited in the local museum with the exception of two that were left on site. The stone slab to the right of the entrance shows the same accurate workmanship and geometric moldings as the slabs in the church. Its orientation, however, appears to be upside down. The slab to the left is of much inferior workmanship – It was either an attempt to replicate the same pattern and design of the other slab, or the result of a repair attempt with stucco of an earlier stone slab, as evidenced by the fact that stucco was applied over a seemingly already heavily eroded surface. There is no consistency in the orientation of the two stone slabs, the one on the right having the ´T¨ at the bottom (upside-down from the ones in the church), the other having the “T” shape placed horizontally. It is quite possible that the stone slabs were only put in this chamber in secondary use and appropriated from some earlier structure. This, together with the degree of erosion visible on the surface of the left stone slab before it was covered with stucco, suggests that their origin must be at least in the Epi-classic period (to which period dates the arrangement of this chamber and the offerings laid inside it), but could be possibly much older.

A fragment of another stone slab in one corner of the site museum of San Miguel Ixtapan (the notebook is for scale). Unlike the slabs in the church, which are made of andesite, this one is considerably thicker and made of basalt. It comes from a site close to Rancho “I” about 5 kilometers from San Miguel Ixtapan. [Photo by Author].

Rancho “I”

Thanks to Dr. Osorio, and while trying to unravel the mystery of the stone slabs, our curiosity was again picked by a carved basalt fragment housed in a corner of the site museum showing part of a geometric frame. Unlike all the other slabs at the site and in the church, which are made of a finely grained andesite, this fragment turned out to be of basalt, and much thicker than any of the other slabs at approximately 0.45 meters thick.

        After inquiring about the provenance of the fragment, we learnt it was brought to the museum in the late 1990’s from a site located approximately 5 kilometers from San Miguel Ixtapan. This site has, to the best of our knowledge, never been documented or excavated.

        Attracted by the possibility of finding more carved stone slabs at this site, we drove to Rancho “I” based only on some very rough indications provided by locals (due to the exceptional potential importance of this site and its lack of protection we decided not to disclose its location).

Exploring Rancho “I” with the help of a local farmer. Notice the very large mound to the left covered in huge basalt stone fragments. This is only one of several large mounds at the site. [Photo by Author].

        There we found evidence of what must have been a very extensive site – everywhere over a distance of several hundred meters one could see the obvious remains of buried mounds and pyramids, covered in fragments of basalt stone. Laying on the ground were huge masses of heavily eroded basalt, including basalt columns and other possibly worked rectangular stones. Near the base of one of the larger mounds we found a huge carved basalt stone slab, broken into three pieces. If complete, the stone must have measured at least 1.80 by 1.60 meters, with a thickness of between 0.4 and 0.5 meters and an estimated weight of between 4 and 5 tons. The design on the stone, as well as its workmanship, is comparable to the stones in the church and the fragment from the museum. To imagine that such exquisite moldings were carved in the very hard basalt without iron or other metal tools is simply astonishing.

The huge carved basalt slab found broken into three pieces at the newly discovered site of Rancho “I”. It is much thicker than the slabs at the church and made of basalt instead of andesite, yet the carving is similar. If complete, it would have measured 1.8 by 1.6 meters, with a thickness of 0.5 meters and a weight of 4-5 tons. Next to it is possible to see the excavation made by looters to remove the slab from its original site, together with numerous other pieces of wrought and unwrought basalt. [Photo by Author].

The largest and best preserve portion of the huge basalt stone slab at the site of Rancho "I". The two small holes were probably made by looters in an attempt to break the stone. [Photo by Author].

Another view of the same fragment. If complete, the slab would have measured 1.80 by 1.60 meters with a thickness of 0.5 meters and an estimated weight of 4-5 tons. [Photo by Author].

The author, standing behind the newly discovered carved stone slab at the site of Rancho "I". [Photo by Author].

        According to local farmers, the stone was discovered accidentally in the early 2000’s by treasure hunters, who removed it from a nearby trench (now filled with smaller stone fragments) and broke it into pieces while looking for treasure. When found, the huge stone was apparently intact. Now only three large fragments remain, with a fourth one (part of the letter ‘T’) missing.

        It is to be hoped that the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) will decide to take action to protect this remarkable site and remove the carved stone slab to a place where it will suffer no further vandalism. It is very likely that more carved stone slabs will be found at this site, which may reveal precious information about the civilization or culture responsible for its construction, and about the true age of the slabs.

An unknown civilization?

The type of megalithic architecture of San Miguel Ixtapan and the exceptional quality of its stone workmanship in such hard stones as basalt and andesite, has no parallel in ancient Mexico, and indeed throughout Mesoamerica. This is an entirely unique site, the silent testimony of a culture that vanished nearly without a trace hundreds or thousands of years ago, leaving only its abandoned stone monuments behind.

        There is no consensus as to which culture inhabited the area of San Miguel Ixtapan since at least the Formative and Pre-classic period. Aztec documents refer to the inhabitants of this region as the Chontal, a generic term in the Nahua language used to indicate any foreign people of non-Nahua descent.

        Previous studies have suggested a possible association of the site with the still enigmatic and poorly studied Mezcala culture of Guerrero (Reyna Robles, 2006), and other sites in the region of the Upper Balsas River.

        Another possibility is that the megalithic architectural style and artistic tradition of San Miguel Ixtapan represents an element foreign to Mesoamerica, maybe imported by means of trans-oceanic contact from South America. In this respect, numerous scholars (Malmstrom, 1995) have suggested a possible relationship between the Purupecha (or Tarascan) language spoken in parts of western Mexico, and the Quechua language of Peru and the Andean region of South America.

        Only more extensive excavations at San Miguel Ixtapan and at the newly discovered site of “Rancho I”, which promises to be even more extensive, may help to unravel the mystery of the origins of this unique megalithic culture that has no other known parallels in ancient Mesoamerica.

Some large scattered megalithic basalt blocks on the opposite side of the ravine from the archaeological site of San Miguel Ixtapan, laying in the shade of a giant tree. [Photo by Author]

Part of a megalithic basalt wall and stone arrangement on the opposite site of the ravine from the site museum of San Miguel Ixtapan. [Photo by Author].

A monumental andesite pillar, nearly 2 meters high (the notebook is for scale), unfortunately defaced by graffiti, standing on one side of the parking lot of the archaeological site. Originally part of an arrangement of 3 similar pillars, it is the only one still standing. [Photo by Author].

A large block of columnar basalt, possibly a stela, near San Miguel Ixtapan, known locally as the “Piedra del Muerto” (Stone of the dead) for its vague resemblance to a coffin, now broken in two pieces. [Photo by Author].

The incredible “Maqueta” stone model of San Miguel Ixtapan, carved from a single huge boulder of basalt measuring 3 by 4 meters and believed to contain the representation of a yet unidentified city. See Part I of this article for more information. [Photo by Author].


We would like to thank archaeologist Victor Osorio Ogarrio, director of the site and archaeological museum of San Miguel Ixtapan for his kind permission to visit the “Recinto de las Esculturas” and for accompanying us on our visit to Rancho “I”.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely the Author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Dr. Osorio, of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), or of the Secretary of Culture of the State of Mexico.


[1] INAH, “Zona Arqueológica de San Miguel Ixtapan”, on January 9, 2008. On-line resource: Accessed on April 20, 2021.

[2] Malmstrom, Vincent H. “Geographical Origins of the Tarascans”. Geographical Review, vol. 85, No. 1, January 1995, pp. 31-40.

[3] Osorio Ogarrio, Victor Ángel and Marco Antonio de León Cortés. “Una posible Diosa Prehispánica en San Miguel Ixtapan, Tejupilco”, Arqueología Mexicana, 158, July-August 2019, pp. 46-51.

[4] “Revista cultural San Miguel Ixtapan”, Expresión Antropológica, no. 1-2 Nueva Serie. Gobierno del Estado de México: Secretaría de Cultura, 1999.

[5] Reyna Robles, Rosa María, La Cultura Arqueológica Mezcala, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2006.

[6]“San Miguel Ixtapan, Estado de México”, Arqueología Mexicana, Especial 35, Estado de México, guía arqueológica, June 2010.

[7] Sinaí Gomez, Rodolfo, “Antecedentes Históricos - Tejupilco”, Municipio de Tejupilco, 2012. On-line resource. Accessed on April 25, 2021 through

[8] Wikipedia, “San Miguel Ixtapan (Archaeological Site)”. Last edited on December 19, 2020. On-line: Accessed on April 20, 2021.


  1. Hello, one question, what camera do you use? Could you recommend a model with a similar quality?

    1. Hi! It is nothing really super fancy, just a Canon EOS 70D with a 18-55 mm lens. I may switch to a newer camera soon, but I find this one extremely reliable with reasonable image quality, and most importantly light enough to carry around during my explorations. Plus battery life is very good (400+ pictures), which is perfect for when you are visiting remote locations and only running on a few spare batteries.

  2. The stone work is amazing. It reminds one of the beautiful stone work at Pumapunku in Bolivia. I hope that you're successful in getting the interest of INAH in conducting some studies at Rancho "I." Thank you for this excellent post.

    1. Thank you! I now have knowledge of a total of 13 similar stone slabs at various sites in and around San Miguel Ixtapan, I hope to be able to publish a complete catalogue of these very enigmatic sculptures.