The Use of Laja in Construction in Ancient Mesoamerica, a View From the Southern Gulf Lowlands of Veracruz, Mexico

Project Abstract

The archaeology of the southern Gulf lowlands of Veracruz, Mexico is notable for its work pertaining to the Olmec culture (Jaime-Riveron 2016; Loughlin 2012; Pool 2006). The region was home to the Colossal Olmec Heads; large, easily identifiable sculptures crafted from the volcanic rock of the Tuxtlas Volcanic Field. The use of volcanic resources in such grand presentations may instill a bias in the research of some archaeologists, but it is important to consider how similar volcanic resources might have been utilized in everyday life (e.g., Jaime-Riveron 2016: 86). The consolidated volcanic ash in this region is referred to as laja, tepetate, or sometimes caliche (Williams 1972: 618). Occupants in the region exploited laja as a construction material, whether used in a minimally altered form as foundations, or ground into a powder for concrete production (Cook and Rivera 2012: 49). Volcanic eruptions in the region may deposit sediments in the surrounding landscape and leave sections of the ground “paved” with laja. In the summer of 2023, a group of archaeologists led by Dr. Marcie Venter and Dr. Christopher Pool excavated a site along the banks of the Rio Tecolapan, Camino Real Dos Este (hereafter CR2E), located near the modern town of Angel R. Cabada. This site not only featured laja as a natural foundation, resulting from its bedding underneath the occupational layers, but it also had robust evidence for the use of laja in construction as bricks, staircases, and potential laja cement. This study examines the laja used in these site features and situates it within the context of site formation processes and architectural practices in the southern Gulf lowlands and other volcanic regions of Mesoamerica.

Funding Type

Research Grant

Academic College

Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology


Archaeology/Earth and Environmental Sciences


Bachelor of Science




Marcie L. Venter, PhD.

Academic College

Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology

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