The Balsas River valley was possibly one of the earliest maize growing sites in Mexico, dating from around 9200 years ago. Later the area was populated by the Olmecs. Their culture originated at the Alto Balsas region in the Balsas River valley in Guerrero; it had dominated the region and is said to be the root of the Mesoamerican culture. However, nowadays it can only be traced to the archeological findings at Teopantecuanitlan in Capallio municipality, and is not maintained by the present population of Nahua. Teopantecuanitlan is located within the Balsas River basin and is claimed to be over 3500 years old. Though it is known that successive communities of Yop, Coixica, Matlatzinca (Chontal), Tlahuica and Xochimilca with Nahua succeeding in the end have lived in the region, archeological excavations in the area are yet to establish the hierarchical succession of the various communities. During the period of 1100–480 BC, the region between the lower Balsas river valley and the Lerma-Santiago River fell under control of the Tarascan Empire.
According to the 1980 Census, 47,000 people lived along the Balsas river banks, spread over 37 communities, within the six municipalities of the region. Nahua peoples constite 47% of the population, 15% are indigenous people (speaking four different languages), other large communities are Mixtec (23%) and Tlapenc (19%), and the balance 4% are Amuzgo. The population increased to 60,000 in the 1990s. The communities, while retaining their individualities, show close linguistic, kinship, and cultural relationships revealed, for example, when the perform the rituals of patronal feasts.
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