Geological knowledge of the Tampico region has been mainly obtained through the search for oil; therefore, a brief history of petroleum development in that area may be of interest. The earliest written reference about bitumen in Mexico appears to be by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún in his work “Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España” (1558–1569), but Hernando de Soto noted an oil seepage in the Gulf of Mexico in 1543. The earliest inhabitants of the country were evidently familiar with the natural asphalt or seepage deposit commonly termed “chapopote.” The name is derived from two Aztec words and was termed by Sahagún as “chapuputli.” The word chapopote is applied today in Mexico both to asphalt from seepages and to the crude oil from wells.
In localities where chapopote was available the pre-Columbian Huastecs used the material in the construction of floors in “mounds,”1 as observed in the neighbourhood of Zacamixtle. Numerous authors have mentioned the presence of asphalt veins and oil seepages in Mexico during the last century. Captain G. F. Lyon2 mentions chapopote (p. 44) from a lake at Chila, being used as a varnish or for covering the bottoms of canoes (1826). Crowther (31)3 visited the chapopote seepages of Laguna Tampamachoco, Túxpan, and reported on them in 1868. Kimball (103) in 1876 described the asphalt deposit at Potrero del Cristo near Tempoal. Many references were made about asphalt during this period by Mexican writers, most of the articles appearing in El Minero Mexicano, a mining journal published from 1873 to 1902.
John M. Muir, "Data on the Structure of Pre-Columbian Huastec Mounds in the Tampico Region, Mexico," Jour. of the Royal Anihropological Inst. of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. LVI (July-December, 1926), p. 233.
Journal of a Residence and Tour in the Republic of Mexico during 1826. 2 vals. London (1828).
Reference numbers in parentheses indicate Bibliography at end of book.