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The few excavations of residential areas carried out so far in Mexico have yielded fascinating details.

In Teotihuacan - one of the biggest pre-Hispanic cities located northeast of Mexico City - some houses appear to have been illuminated by narrow doorways that opened onto central patios with shallow pools that acted as “water mirrors” to direct light inside the rooms. Techniques for building windows were apparently not yet known.

Investigators say similar discoveries could emerge from Amecameca.

“In what has been excavated so far, there are some strange settlement patterns that are emerging,” said Mr. Echenique.

Between one housing compound and another, researchers found an empty area that contained no relics - something that would be unusual in a densely populated area unless it represented a border between neighborhoods, a street, or contained some long-vanished wood structure.

Progress has often trumped history in Mexico, where roads have regularly been pushed through ruins.

In Mexico City, the lava-buried remains of the ancient Cuicuilco culture, with its famed round pyramid, are crowded and partly covered by shopping malls, housing developments, a major freeway and even a college for archaeologists.

Protesters guard site

The Amecameca protesters have set up a camp to guard against construction work or looters and to explain the ruins to passers-by. They are asking the road be rerouted.

“The planned route wouldn’t have to be changed that much,” Ms. Lopez said.

Authorities have not yet commented on the demands, and the builders of the roadway, known as the Mexican Beltway, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

INAH spokesman Arturo Mendez said that “in almost every project of this type, there are going to be discoveries of pre-Hispanic material.” Thousands of years of settlement have left potentially interesting relics scattered across the region.

The Institute normally sends in a rescue project to excavate, recover any significant items, rebury the site for possible future exploration, and then allow the construction to continue.

That is basically what happened in the 1960s to Maya ruins known as “Tortuguero” in the southern state of Tabasco. It was split in half and largely covered by highway construction.

The site happened to hold a stone monolith known as Monument Six, which contains one of only a couple of known references in Mayan hieroglyphs to the date 2012, which some believe marks the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar and a possible apocalypse.

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