Archaeological Heritage of the Municipality of Puerto Vallarta

The archaeological investigation of the site of Ixtapa and the municipality formally began in 1961 with the expedition of Project A, initiated by the Department of Anthropology of UCLA. Archaeologists and students from this university traveled along the coast recording sites from the mouth of the Santiago River in Nayarit to the region of Chamela Bay in southern Jalisco. On their journey they planned to stop in Puerto Vallarta, where they recorded and investigated several archaeological sites.

In 1987, Dr. Mountjoy began systematic investigations of Ixtapa, starting with the exploration of Structure 1, a large ceremonial mound whose northern half had been completely destroyed by heavy machinery in order to use the material as fill. This cut left a large exposed profile of the entire structure of which photos and excavations were carried out.

Ixtapa is the largest site in the municipality and has an estimated extension of 60 hectares, with a total of 38 structures and 7 areas with artifacts. The archaeological vestiges discovered in the site of Ixtapa were so important that on July 8, 1994 it was declared as Archaeological Monuments Zone by Presidential Decree, starting the process of expropriation and protection of a polygonal area of 10 hectares to preserve the ceremonial and monumental architecture of the site.

At present, progress has been made in the purchase of 3 of the 5 properties involved in the expropriation, which represents 80% of the 10 hectares. But on the other hand, the urban sprawl is growing rapidly and has occupied a large part of the remaining 50 hectares of the site. 

Monumet Zone

The site of El Palmar de Santo Domingo faces the same problem of urban sprawl. This site is located on the tops of some hills to the southwest of the site of Ixtapa, next to the Santo Domingo stream.

In 1991 Dr. Mountjoy recorded three architectural complexes located at different heights dated to the Llanitos phase (600-900), which he called El Palmar de Santo Domingo I, II and III.

The site of Santo Domingo I is the lowest and consists of an architectural complex with two ceremonial mounds associated with several structures and rooms. In 1991 it was affected mainly by the activities of sowing. (Plowing, removal of rocks etc.) and only presented a looter’s pit on mound 1.

In 2018 (27 years later), this complex is seriously affected by recent works for the subdivision of the land. First a road was opened to access the hill, and then they made the lines of the streets to divide, unfortunately the heavy machinery broke in half Mound 2, and also affected several of the structures that were in this set (drone map). In addition, Mound 2 itself has a looter’s pit on the summit that is less recent but was not present in 1991.

Aerial Photograph and Map of the Archaeological Site of Ixtapa

El Palmar de Santo Domingo II is a ceremonial architectural complex with a large palace-like structure associated with a plaza with a mound and central altar, which is located halfway up the hill. It was in good condition in 1991, since it only presented two lootings, one at the foot of mound 1 and at the center of structure 2 (photo and drawing high altar).

In 2018 this set presents new affectations mainly by the construction of electrical lines of the CFE. The northwest corner of the palace type structure and the retaining wall of the terrace is affected by a high tower. A wooden pole was placed on top of mound 1.

As for El Palmar de Santo Domingo III, it is located in the highest part of the hill and consists of a large ceremonial architectural complex, the largest of all, with a plaza open to the north and delimited by structures on three sides. Most of the complex was in a good state of preservation in 1991, only the northwest end was affected by a high-tension electricity tower. In addition, a small looter’s pit was located. 

Currently the site of Santo Domingo is being intervened by INAH, as part of the archaeological salvage project of the Las Varas – Puerto Vallarta highway and they are about to begin their second field season. Due to the importance of the remains found, particularly the architectural complexes, INAH recommended technical and legal protection. It also requested the collaboration of the municipal authorities in order to accomplish this important task, both in the case of the Palmar de Santo Domingo site and the Ixtapa site.

In response to INAH’s requests, the municipality of Puerto Vallarta has reaffirmed its commitment with the cultural heritage of the people of Vallarta. And it is taking concrete actions to collaborate with INAH as an auxiliary body in the protection of archaeological heritage, helping as much as possible to prevent destruction and looting.

In 2017, an Archaeology Coordination was created within the Vallarta Institute of Culture. This coordination aims to manage protection, conservation and dissemination projects in terms of the Federal Law on Archaeological, Artistic and Historic Monuments and Zones, of the respective monuments or zones, as well as the movable property associated with them, so that such heritage can be exploited in a sustainable manner as an attractive detonator of cultural tourism in Puerto Vallarta.

In this sense, it is a priority to give continuity to the process of protection and rescue of the Ixtapa area, initiated more than 30 years ago by Oscar Rosales, Carlos Munguía and Joshep B. Mountjoy. Therefore, several visits to the site have been organized with municipal, state and federal authorities, ejidatarios, academics and community members, with the objective of informing them of the current situation of the site, to “put it in value” and to begin to design protection and dissemination strategies. 

Photograph and stratigraphic drawing of Montículo, Ixtapa.

As a result of these visits and on the recommendation of the site’s archaeologist, we began to work on the creation of an Environmental Archaeological Park in Ixtapa. This concept combines site protection techniques designed based on the reinsertion of endemic grasses, plants and trees, which has the dual function of both containing the deterioration of the site and providing an archaeological landscape that offers the visitor an experience that combines culture with nature.

On the other hand, work has also begun on the protection of El Palmar de Santo Domingo. First, meetings have been held with the ejidatarios and local authorities to help with its protection. Secondly, we are collaborating with INAH in two areas, one is to provide support to the Las Varas-Puerto Vallarta archeological salvage project, which is in its second field season, and the other is that we are working on the possibility of a future restoration project of the site to open it to the public.

In conclusion, the rapid urban growth of Puerto Vallarta is putting at risk the integrity of archaeological sites such as Ixtapa and El Palmar de Santo Domingo. Therefore, it is fundamental that the municipality maintains an active attitude in the protection, conservation and diffusion of the archaeological heritage.

Source: JUAN JORGE MORALES MONROY