Many people have heard of the Mayan ruins in Riviera Maya region near Cancun, but did you know that Riviera Nayarit also contains significant archaeological sites, too? In fact, Banderas Bay has several important archaeological sites that are believed to have been occupied during the years 200 to 900 AC. Keep reading below to learn more about the Banderas Bay area ruins that you probably didn’t even know existed.

Ancient Civilizations

Several years ago in the northern region of Banderas Bay in Punta Mita, an archaeological feature known as a shooting tomb or “tumbo de tiro” in Spanish was uncovered. The site included human remains, ceramics and utensils that were dated to the Classic period which indicated ancient civilizations existed in the area between the years 200 to 900 AC.  Some historians and archaeologists came to the conclusion that as many as 100 thousand people lived in the Banderas Bay region and operated a magnificent ancient civilization. This was several hundred years before the arrival of the Spanish to Mexico’s mainland. You may be surprised to learn that these remains lay next to the modern and luxury hotel Four Seasons. The hotel was built in the same area in Punta Mita where these important artifacts were uncovered during construction.


What Are Shooting Tombs?

What are shooting tombs? This term refers to a set of interconnected cultural features that have been found in multiple locations throughout Mexico including the states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Colima, Michoacán, Sinaloa and Zacatecas. Shooting tombs sites are believed to be traditional pre-Hispanic burial grounds for indigenous people that lived in Western Mexico. The shooting tombs consist of a well that was typically 2 to 20 meters deep and built as a circular or rectangular tomb.  One or more burial chambers that contain corpses and their offerings are dug off to either side of the tomb. Multiple burial chambers are also inter-connected to one other via small tunnels where ceremonial elements were likely used during the burial ceremony. Once the burial ceremony was concluded, the space would be the social category of the person who was buried had to do with the variations in the types of tombs and the offerings that they contained. Carbon dating of similar shooting tombs indicate they were constructed as early as 200 to 300 BC.

Banderas Bay: Home to 111 Archaeological Sites 

Another area in the neighboring state of Jalisco in the Banderas Bay area contains interesting ancient remains as well. Exploring and excavating sites in the Banderas Bay region since the 1980’s, Archaeologist Joseph B. Muntjoy states that there are at least 111 archaeological sites along the coast of Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit. The most important discovery is a ball game court and a 10 meter high pyramid area that was uncovered near a school and a soccer field in the Ixtapa area 5 minutes inland from the coast.

Community Museum with Local Artifacts

In addition to Muntjoy’s work, local writer and archaeologist Gustavo Espinal from San Juan de Abajo has also studied ruins in the area. He hopes to one day build a community museum to display the many artifacts that have been collected over the years from the Banderas Bay region.  In fact, Espinal said that “Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit have a large amount of cultural and historical resources because of the large amount of pre-Hispanic vestiges that abound in the region.” He also believes that there is a grand opportunity for tourism in the area that has not been considered. Tourism has been difficult because the majority or ruins are in areas that are now urban and developed, which is quite the contract from ruins in Cancun’s Riviera Maya that are isolated and a good distance from modern buildings. Although the ruins in Banderas Bay are surrounded by modern buildings and developments, many researchers believe there is still a chance of preserving the area’s rich cultural history if local government recognizes the importance of protecting the region’s abundant archaeological wealth. Unfortunately, unless the authorities enforce adequate measures to protect these ancient remains, looters can extract these priceless artifacts to try to sell them on the black market.

Now that you know there are important archaeological ruins in the Banderas Bay area, how can you help to do your part to protect them?