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|Americas| |Harvest of Bones| |Talgua Archaeological Project| |Talgua Archaeological Project: A Technical Assessment|
 
Talgua Archaeological Project:
A Technical Assessment

James E. Brady, Christopher Begley, John Fogarty, Donald J. Stierman, Barbara Luke and Ann Scott
 
|Technical Assessment| |References Cited| |Figures|
 
The Talgua Archaeological Project was formed as a regional archaeological survey focusing on the Pre-Columbian remains found near the town of Catacamas in northeastern Honduras [Figure 1] after the discovery in 1994 of an important ossuary in the Cueva del Río Talgua [Cave of the Glowing Skulls] (Brady 1997, Brady et al. 1995a, 1995b). The project, directed by James Brady of California State University, Los Angeles brought together specialists from a number of institutions to investigate this little known area.
 
Cave Ossuaries

The Cueva del Río Talgua was heavily vandalized after the preliminary survey in September 1994 and continued to be vandalized up toBrady with skull the end of the project in 1996. For that reason, it was not an important focus of study after 1994 and the subsequent work carried out there has been more in the nature of salvage. During the 1995 season, two new deposits of bone were discovered by John Fogarty, in niches high above the floor of the main burial chamber. Although the bone was extremely fragile, all the pieces were intact and painted a deep red. These deposits provide archaeologists with a model of how the rest of the bone was probaby preserved before the vandalization.

     A number of calcite covered bone deposits were also vandalized. In one lot (III-4), a skull was chipped out of its matrix and stolen. In their haste, the thieves failed to notice the rim of a ceramic vessel placed below the skull and surrounded by a bundle of long bones, presumably belonging to the same individual. The vessel, although broken, was removed from the calcite. The find bears on an argument made after the first season of work in which we speculated that the question of whether the grave goods were associated with specific individuals or were generalized offerings could be definitively answered by access to the bones encased in calcite. If offerings were present, they would be cemented in their original positions so the associations could be determined. The discoveries in lot III-4 clearly indicates that offerings were associated with particular individuals. The point is an important one, especially in the case of the marble vessels, because individualized offerings would suggest that differences in wealth existed and, therefore, a degree of social stratification had already been achieved.

     A number of pieces of charcoal were found inside the vessel and submitted for radiocarbon dating. Because of the small quantity, Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) had to be employed and gave a reading of 2510 +/- 60 years B.P. [Beta-85276; calibrated one sigma results: 515-790 B.C.] which has three intercept points on the calibration curve falling between 600-765 B.C. The date overlaps earlier measurements [Beta-77105, calibrated one sigma results: 905-1030 B.C.; Beta-77106, calibrated one sigma results: 780-825 B.C.] and reinforces our confidence that the ossuary is early. The reading is also important because it dates the vessel. The modeled face on the pot is similar to many of the other vessels recovered in 1994 and suggests, therefore, other similar ceramic is early as well.

     Two additional AMS dates were run by Dr. David McJunkin of the University of Wisconsin - Madison Radiocarbon Laboratory on protein removed from human bone. A sample from one of the lots on the second of the three levels of the ossuary gave a reading of approximately 1400 B.C. [WG285; 3110 +/- 85 years B.P.], the earliest date from the cave. If accurate, the date would indicate that the ossuary was used very early in the Early Formative Period and suggests that cave ossuary burial was a much more ancient form than suspected. The date may also indicate that the earliest material is on the lower levels of theTalgua ossuary so that additional samples need be run from the first level to determine when people actually began bringing their dead to the cave. The second sample produced a far more recent date [WG286; 1385 +/- 75 years B.P.] which may indicate that Classic Period populations buried additional individuals in the cave around 650 A.D. In both individuals the stable isotope readings indicate that little corn was being eaten.

      The most notable find of the 1996 field season was the investigation of a new ossuary cave discovered by Nelson Alvarado, an employee of the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia (IHAH) hired to guard the Cueva del Río Talgua. The Cueva de las Arañas Calcite covered skullwas mapped and explored by Fogarty working for IHAH as a visiting specialist sponsored by the U.S. Information Agency. Located only a few hundred yards from the entrance to the Cueva del Río Talgua, the Cueva de las Arañas is a small cave, only about 85 m deep [Figure 2]. A surface sweep of the cave's entrance chamber conducted by Ann Scott recovered a range of artifacts believed to be associated with rituals. The ceramics from the entrance appear to date to the Late Classic Period (600-900 A.D.). Large quantities of riverine snail shells (Pachychilus sp.), many with the spire broken off, were recovered along the highly compacted use-floor in the chamber. This type of snail shell is frequently encountered in Maya caves where they may have been part of a ritual meal (Brady 1989:380-381). Their discovery in the Talgua area suggests that the use of the snails in ritual was far more widely distributed than previously recognized. A small burned corn cob was also recovered which is of interest because stable isotopes have shown that the Middle Formative (1000-300 B.C.) population was not eating large quantities of maize. Scott speculates that the cob is probably contemporaneous with the ceramics and may represent evidence for a shift in subsistence. The exact date for the introduction of maize into this area and its importance in the local diet, however, are still open questions. Offerings of small maize cobs as part of cave rituals has been documented at Copan (Brady 1995:34), in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala (Sharer and Sedat 1987:248), Naj Tunich (Brady 1989:86) and Cueva de las Pinturas (Brady et al. 1997) in the Peten and Bats'ub/25 Flight Cave, Belize (Prufer and Dunham n.d.).

     The Cueva de las Arañas contains a number of deposits of human burials. The main deposit is located at the very rear of the cave in a small circular chamber which at one time contained active formations. For this reason, all of the bones are preserved within a protective cap of calcite. Unlike the bright white calcite covering the remains in the Cueva del Río Talgua, the calcite in the Cueva de las Arañas is badly yellowed suggesting that water no longer enters the chamber as it did when the bones were deposited. The evidence suggests that, like Talgua, these were secondary burials but, unlike the Talgua burials, the Arañas bones were not painted red nor placed on a prepared surface of ocher. The once neatly stacked bones in Las Arañas had also been disturbed and were cemented by calcite in the places where they had been scattered [Figure 3]. Because of the time required for the calcite to form, it appears certain that the ossuary was looted in antiquity and this may account for the fact that only a few shell beads and a fragment of a marble vessel were found associated with the burials. A radiocarbon date run on charcoal at the entrance to the ossuary chamber gave a date of 915 B.C. [Beta 95367; 2790 +/- 100 years B.P.; calibrated one sigma results: 825-1030 B.C.] suggesting that the Arañas ossuary is contemporaneous with the Cueva del Río Talgua burials. There is no firm evidence for the date of the ossuary's looting but we speculate that it may have occurred in the Late Classic, some 1500-1700 years after the initial deposition.

     The Cueva de Piedra Blanca, located near the top of the mountain overlooking the town of Catacamas, was investigated during the 1995 season. The cave is small, no more than 50 m, but almost vertical with a small passage winding through large chucks of collapsed rock. Near the bottom of the cave there are at least ten deposits of human bone so the cave clearly functioned as an ossuary. The bone was heavily disturbed and two skulls, which had been deeply embedded in calcite, had been broken during the attempt to remove them. Our guide said that a relative of his had taken an intact vessel from the cave indicating that other archaeological material had been present at one point.

     The discovery of the Cueva de las Arañas and the Cueva de Piedra Blanca are important because, to this point, only a few ossuary caves have been reported and these are widely distributed across Honduras.Face painted in cave Archaeologists have, therefore, considered them to be rather rare. With the investigation of the Cueva del Río Talgua in 1994, the Cueva de Piedra Blanca in 1995, and the Cueva de las Arañas in 1996, the Talgua Archaeological Project has documented three ossuary caves in a small area and has information on a number of others. There can be little doubt, therefore, that the inhabitants living nearby were using a number of ossuary caves. By simple arithmetic it is clear, therefore, that each ossuary must have served a social unit smaller than a single village. Since most traditional societies are organized on the basis of kinship it seems reasonable to expect that these smaller units were clans or lineages. Perrin (1996:421) sees this type of grouping of the dead as an expression of a "very Amerindian concept of ancestrality." This would tend to support the suggestion that the Talgua Cave was a lineage burial cave similar to those in the Maya area used up to the beginning of this century (Brady 1997).

     The discovery of multiple ossuaries has additional implications. We see no reason to suspect that the Talgua region differs from others in the use of ossuaries so it is likely that large numbers of ossuaries are to be found in all parts of Honduras. A recent listing of Honduran caves provides an indication of the enormous quantity of unexplored sites available (Hawkins and McKenzie 1993). The investigation of the three ossuaries also permits us to see regularities in the type of cave context selected for the ossuaries. Although each is different from the others, the chambers are all in hidden, difficult to reach locations in the deepest parts of their caves. In cave studies, it is generally recognized that the selection of deep, hard to reach locations is a marker of ceremonial utilization.

     Finally, it should be noted that four of the five radiocarbon dates from the ossuary contexts and all of the ossuary ceramics argue for a Early to Middle Formative date for cave ossuaries in this region. The cave ossuaries in Copan (Gordon 1898; Rue et al. 1989) and Cuyamel (Healy 1974) have also yielded early ceramics although it must be recognized that there is no direct dating of the skeletal material from these sites and serious reservations have been expressed about the dating of the Gordon's Cave osuary (Brady 1995). Nevertheless, recent data indicate that cave ossuary burial may have been widely practiced over a large area covering all of Honduras and perhaps the southern Maya lowlands (Bonor 1995; Bonor and Martinez 1995; Brady et al. 1997) early in the Formative. The practice seems to disappear by or before the Late Formative.

 
Cave Art
     The walls of the Cueva de las Arañas' small entrance chamber were one covered with red and black paintings. Only remnants of these now survive in areas where rock overhangs protected them from the elements. To reach the ossuary and the tunnel system from the entrance, one must pass through a crawlspace so low that several of the project members were unable to negotiate it. Near the entrance to this opening is a well preserved ladder-like painting. Immediately inside there are three additional well persevered black paintings. Two are large, dramatic faces which do not look particularly human [Figures 4 and 5]. The third is a second ladder-shaped geometric design [Figure 6]. After the discovery of the rock art in the Cueva de las Arañas, the entrance to the burial chamber in the Cueva del Río Talgua was rechecked and very faint drawings were noted there as well.. The presence of the paintings at the entrances to the ossuary chambers appear to be marking the boundaries of this sacred space and probably deal with themes of death and afterlife.
 
Surface Settlement
     Excavations conducted at the nearby surface site, called the Talgua Village (Site OL 33), have radically changed our view of settlement in the area. The village site, located on a terrace overlooking the Talgua River approximately 3 km downstream from the Talgua caves [Figure 7], was originally thought to date to the same period as the ossuary (800-1000 B.C.). This would have made it the largest Middle Formative settlement in Honduras. Based on the perceived importance, the mounds were mapped in 1994 by George Hasemann of IHAH and Christopher Begley of the University of Chicago. The village's more than 80 mounds are arranged formally around several plazas [Figure 8]. The largest mounds are around 2.5 meters high, with most measuring a meter or less. A settlement survey cconducted by Boyd Dixon in 1995 of the Talgua River drainage confirmed that the village was largest nucleated settlement along the river (Dixon et al. 1998).

      During the 1995 season, a shovel test-pitting project, directed by Hasemann, encountered a hearth and recovered several carbon samples. Two samples submitted for radiocarbon analysis by the senior author yielded dates of 1250 +/- 50 B.P. [Beta 85277; calibrated date of A.D. 780; calibrated one sigma results: A.D. 695-865] and 1160 +/- 140 B.P. [Beta 85278; calibrated date of A.D. 885; calibrated one sigma results: A.D. 695-1015]. Thus, the village appears to be some 1500 years later in time than the ossuary. A more intensive investigation was carried out by Begley in 1996. Excavations were designed to retrieve information about intrasite variation, occupation sequence, and to check details of particular architectural features.
 
Geophysical Prospection
     To maximize limited time and resources, archaeological work was carried out in conjunction with geophysicists and geophysical engineers. Portions of the site were surveyed using magnetic, electrical, and seismic geophysical techniques. Donald Stierman from the University of Toledo Face painted in caveconducted surveys using a proton precession magnetometer and electrical resistivity apparatus (Stierman and Brady 1999). A team from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, led by Barbara Luke, of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, applied electrical resistivity and a non-traditional seismic technique using seismic surface waves to search for archaeological features (Luke et al. 1997).

     The Toledo team conducted reconnaissance at Talgua Village and at Chichicaste in July of 1995. Magnetometer data were collected along four 60-meter profiles spaced 2 meters apart, with station spacings of 1 meter and sensors set at 80 cm and 320 cm heights. Electrical resistivity reconnaissance at Talgua involved a series of Lee partitioning array (Parasnis 1975) readings, across mounds and plazas, along an east-west profile beginning 4 meters north of the site datum. This electrode geometry was selected because it has proven useful in identifying shallow air-filled voids in limestone of northwest Ohio (Chaffee et al. 1994). One anomaly was further examined using Schlumberger soundings. This is the location excavated to 50 cm depth. Subsequent analysis showed that the variation in subsurface conditions occurred between 0.5 and 2.0 meters depth. Analysis of magnetometer results also provided information useful in improving the signal/noise ratio during later field work.

     In June of 1996, two rectangular areas and 3 profiles were surveyed with the magnetometer, this time in the gradiometer configuration with sensors set 80 cm and 160 cm above the ground. One survey block measured 20 metersmarble and ceramic vessels east-west and 50 meters north-south, with measurements taken at one meter spacings along profiles 1 meter apart. This block covered a plaza in the northwest corner of the site. A second survey block 10 m east-west and 40 m north-south (1 meter station spacing along profiles 1 meter apart) crossed several small mounds west and south of the site datum. Data were collected along several additional profiles, some to measure the geophysical signatures of known features and others to characterize parts of the site that could not be covered in detail during this field campaign.

     The dipole-dipole array, selected as an optimum strategy in view of measurements made during reconnaissance in 1995, was used to measure variation in electrical resistivity along 4 profiles, restricted to plazas and some very low rises, between 20 and 40 meters in length. A combination of "a" spacing = 1 meter and dipole separations from n = 1 to n = 6 provided good resolution of lateral and vertical variations to an effective depth of 2 meters.

     The UNLV team explored some 370 linear meters in seven arrays, using both resistivity and seismic methods. The arrays were positioned to traverse three adjoining mounds of different sizes. Equipment was configured to target depths of 1-2 m.

     Electrical resistivity measurements were conducted using the standard Wenner array, with the Lee modification (e.g. Burger 1992). These measurements are sensitive to the tendency of the earth to transmit electricity, which will vary, for example, with changing soil moisture. Abrupt changes in soil resistivity over a short distance might be caused by buried archaeological features.

     Seismic surface wave measurements were conducted in an adaptation of the Spectral-Analysis-of-Surface-Waves, or SASW, method which is well known in geotechnical engineering (e.g. Stokoe et al. 1994). These measurements respond to variations in soil stiffness in shear. Significant stiffness contrasts will exist, for example, between soft saturated soil and rock buried beneath it. The technique involves a pair of ground motion transducers connected to a dynamic signal analyzer, which has the capability of performing frequency-domain transformations and calculations in real time. In this measurement, the transducer pair is placed on the ground surface and a stress wave is generated a prescribed distance away. For anomaly detection, the difference in phase of the response between the two transducers was compared for source energy traveling in opposing directions. Anomalies were indicated by distinct differences in phase over appropriate frequency ranges.

     The seismic and electrical surveys netted some 25 notable anomalies, which were then ranked for potential archaeological significance. Points where electrical and seismic anomalies coincided were of particular interest. Several of the more promising anomalies were targeted for excavation.
 
Archaeological Excavations

     Archaeological work at the Talgua Village commenced in 1996 with a series of shovel probes, designed to located areas of high artifact density. Previous fieldwork in eastern Honduras (Begley 1995) has demonstrated that even large sites often exhibit extremely low artifact densities, making the initial probes necessary and valuable. Following the probes, excavation units were selected based primarily on anomalies identified by Luke and Stierman.

     One geophysical anomaly was located at the base of a small mound at the edge of the main plaza. The homogenous clay mound fill, excavated to a depth of 80 cm, contained large quantities of ceramics. At about 70 cm, just above the termination of the clay layer, a discrete area demarked by a layer of round flat pebbles of uniform size (about 5 to 7 cm in diameter) was encountered. On removal, this layer of rocks was found to cover a burial. The remains, excavated by Nick Herrmann from the University of Tennessee, were identified as those of a female over 30 years of age. The burial was partly disarticulated and no grave offering were encountered. The outlines of the original burial pit could not be detected, although it probably coincided with the horizontal dimensions of the layer of flat pebbles which was approximately 1 m x 1.3 m and about 30 cm deep.

     An anomaly near the top of the tallest (slightly more than two meters high) mound at the site led to the discovery of a stone monument. This piece is noteworthy in being one of the few monuments from eastern Honduras for which there are solid contextual data. The monument, recovered from the southeast corner of the excavation, is a fine-grained, green stone, measuring 56 by 83 cm and weighing about 250 lbs. The rock is probably a hydrothermally altered volcanic rock and the primary green mineral appears to be epidote. Given the symbolic significance of green stone throughout Mesoamerica and lower Central America, one must suspect that the stone had been selected for its green color. This boulder is rounded to well rounded and was probably carried from the nearby Talgua River, where a cobble of similar composition was collected in 1996. One end was broken off, forming a flat side, and chisel marks visible along that edge show that this modification was deliberate. A crude face has been formed by the grinding of three cupuals and augmented by several pecked valutes [Figure 9]. This monument appears to have stood vertically, as a sort of stela, adorning the tallest structure and possibly facing into the central plaza. A slab of quartz-rich metaconglomerate about one meter square is exposed at the crest of this mound. It appears likely that this stone, also unique among rocks examined thus far at Talgua village, served as the base upon which the monument was erected.

     Excavations associated with the discovery of this monument also revealed a 40 cm thick strata of homogenous orange clay overlying a layer of river cobbles. These cobbles seem to be remains of a veneer which originally surfaced at least part of the mound. The soil overlaying the cobbles is probably mound fill washed from the summit. Three additional test units found that a nearby anomaly was corrolated with a cobble pavement along the side of this mound. This pavement may represent a ramp centrally located on the east side of the mound, or may be part of a more extensive facing.

     The one strongly magnetic anomaly (Stierman 1996) was due to a large fire-pit located near the base of another large mound. Upon excavation of approximately half the feature, which measured 170 cm in diameter, the pit was found to be filled with broken rock and contained animal bones and ceramics. Burnt clay from this feature was tested and found to exhibit a magnetic susceptibility approximately 10 times that of the surrounding lateritic soil. It was not determined if this feature was prehistoric.

     The most interesting anomalies were not initially recognized as significant. In two places in the main plaza, excavations investigated electrical resistivity anomalies. The first of these was located in 1995 by Stierman and excavated at that time to a depth of 45 cm. That excavation was halted when a layer of river pebbles was encountered underlying the topsoil and overlying apparently sterile base clay. The structure responsible for this anomaly was located at a depth of two meters, so the feature was assumed to be geological in nature. After the initial radiocarbon dates for the village, indicated an occupation around A.D. 800, the decision was made to excavate to the source of the anomaly in the hopes that it represented a feature associated with the Middle Formative settlement which may have been covered by repeated flooding of the Talgua River.

     When the excavations were opened in 1996, the first indication that our entire thinking about the site might be flawed came with the discovery of a probable hearth accompanied by sherds at a depth of nearly a meter and a half. Further excavation revealed an occasional sherd mixed in among the stones. It became clear that this mixture of sand, silt and rocks was not naturally deposited but rather represented imported fill. These small cobbles are unsorted and do not exhibit Ladder painted in caveimbrication characteristic of a fluvial deposit. The anomalous readings in the plaza might be explained by the contrast between electrically resistive stone fill and the less resistive natural soils marking the original ground surface. The entire plaza, an area at least 1000 meters square and probably much larger, had been filled to a depth of over two meters with stones carried from river.

     Of all the information gathered during the 1996 excavations, this is by far the most potentially significant, with important ramifications for our identification of labor input at a site. One of the primary correlates for the identification of complex social organization is public or monumental construction, general defined as "organized productive activities which transcend the basic household group...One is the construction of monuments which, because of their size and complexity, require both planning and a large labor force" (Peebles and Kus 1977: 432). In Mesoamerica and its periphery, this is normally thought of in terms of visible architecture. At the Talgua Village, a great input of labor was expended on an activity that left no surface trace, and which would have been missed without excavation. In fact, had the decision not been made to excavate to the depth of the anomaly, in this case over two meters, it is unlikely that the artificial nature of the plaza would have been discovered. This may be the most promising area in which geophysical measurements could be utilized. If artificial fill is characterized by geophysical signatures clearly distinct from those of naturally developed soils, its lateral and vertical extent can be mapped in a relatively rapid and non-invasive manner. This may enable us to remotely identify filled areas, allowing these invisible public works to become accessible.

     An analysis of the village ceramics suggests a Period V (Late Classic) date consistent with the radiocarbon determinations. Ceramics of the 'Chalky' group, first defined by Healy (1993) near Trujillo, account for approximately 10 % of the assemblage from the excavations, and have been dated to the Late Classic period there and elsewhere in the region (Begley 1995). Polychromes, similar to types identified at Chichicaste, Olancho, were present in small quantities, also dated to the Late Classic (Gómez 1995; Beaudry-Corbett et al. 1997). A single small sherd of Ulua Polychrome, Contador type, Red Group, was identified, reinforcing this date. The lack of incised ceramics such as the Abstracted Scroll type prevalent in Early Period VI (Postclassic) sites in eastern Honduras suggests an end to the occupation of Site OL 33 prior to 900 AD.

     Evidence of complex social organization has been reported for eastern Honduras, possibly as early as AD 300 but certainly by AD 550-600 (Begley 1992, Healy 1992: 90). This period of increasing complexity continued at least until early Period VI, or the early Postclassic. Excavation to sterile soil in several parts of the Talgua Village indicate a single occupation late in Period V (Late Classic). The date of AD 600-900 for the siteskull from ossuary, therefore, corresponds to the beginning of the fluorescence of complex societies in this region. Although the mounds at Talgua Village are not massive, the settlement is fairly large for the area and represents a large nucleation of population. Architecturally, evidence of cobble-covered structures topped with superstructures of bajareque, or wattle and daub, are consistent with that observed throughout eastern Honduras (Begley 1995). The mounds appear to have been constructed with sloping sides, at least part of which were paved with cobbles. It is also interesting that there is no evidence at Talgua Village of stepped mounds with vertical retaining walls as these are common throughout central and western Honduras. Perhaps because of the limited nature of our testing, no evidence for significant intrasite variability in any aspect of material culture was found.

 
CONCLUSIONS
    The Talgua Archaeological Project was formed to investigate an Early/Middle Formative cave ossuary reported to the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia in 1994. The study was expanded to include what was thought to be a contemporaneous occupation site and several additional cave sites in the area. The results of the work have implications for our understanding of the immediate area and wider issues in Honduran archaeology.

     The investigation of three cave ossuaries in a relatively small area has been instrumental in clarifying a number of issues concerning this poorly understood cultural form. First, it permits us to underscore an observation made by Doris Stone (1957:56) more than forty years ago that a pattern of cave burial is widely distributed in the country. In addition to the ossuaries reported by Gordon (1898) in Copan and Healy (1974) in Cuyamel, Stone mentions burials in the caves at Guapinole (1957:56), El Sitio (1957: 53-54), Guanizale (1957:112), and the Cave of the Devil (1957:113). Second, while both Gordon's Cave #3 at Copan and the Cuyamel Caves have produced Early/Middle Formative ceramics, the Talgua ossuaries are the first that have provided solid radiometric dating of the ossuaries. Although the data are very limited we are tentatively advancing the idea that cave ossuary burial is an Early to Middle Formative trait that disappears by the Late Formative. Clearly what is needed is a restudy and dating of the Copan and Cuyamel ossuaries. Third, the discovery of three ossuaries in a relatively restricted area also suggests that the form was far more common than the few reported examples would lead us to believe. If additional study does show that cave ossuary burial is an Early/Middle Formative trait, it would vastly expand our evidence for this early period in Honduras.

     The investigations at the Talgua Village site, utilizing geophysical prospection techniques, uncovered an array of architectural enhancements to surface architecture. First, and most importantly, the construction of a huge artificial terrace for the architure demonstrates that the site is far more of a "built" environment than previously believed. Second, the limited data suggest that pavement with riverine cobbles may be quite extensive within sites. Finally, the discovery of a stone monument provides a solid archaeological context for analyzing the nature and role of this art work. The recovery of the monument at a relatively small site is somewhat surprising and suggests that such monuments may be a standard feature of sites in this area.

     The findings also underscore the nascent stage of our understanding of how to approach sociopolitical complexity from an archaeological perspective. The virtually invisible labor investment represented by the plaza fill forces a reexamination of our assessmeDr. Brady's crew 1996nt of sites based on visible monumental construction alone. Labor on a large scale was clearly being mobilized but the uses or concerns to which it was being put differed from those in polities to the west. Very importantly, it must be remembered that the limited investigation at the Talgua Village, nevertheless, represents the most archaeological excavation carried out in east-central Honduras. In all likelihood, further work will find these sites to be more sophisticated and more complex than we now imagine.

     Assumptions about the ways in which material culture relates to complexity is also problematized by the cave materials. Sumptuary goods, including items like marble vessels which certainly required incredible labor investment, were associated with individuals dating from the Early/Middle Formative. Unfortunately, we have no evidence of occupation, much less evidence of a complex sociopolitical organization, from this period in eastern Honduras. A major disappointment of the Talgua Archaeological Project was its failure to find habitational data associated chronologically with the cave ossuaries. It may be that the sites are located along the river bottoms and are deeply buried by alluvial muds as they sometimes are in riverine environments in the Southeastern United States. Future research in the area needs to focus on the location of Formative Period settlements, the nature of which may shed light not only on the enigmatic cave materials but also on the assessment of sociopolitical complexity through material culture.

Acknowledgments: The project's 1996 season was made possible by a generous grant from Dole-Standard Fruit which was arranged by Laurence August, CEO of Geoventures, Inc. The sponsorship of Nissan Pathfinder was critical to the success of all three expeditions from 1994-1996. The authors would like to thank Dra. Olga Joya Sierra, director of the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia for her support the project. Dr. George Hasemann has been an integral part of the project from its inception and has guided both the field program and the interpretation. Special thanks is due Pastor Gómez who worked as an archaeologist on the project and has helped in innumerable ways in the excavation and analysis.

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