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Who is El Diablito?
In the El Vallecito archeological site, located in La Rumorosa, the El Diablito site owes its name to a full-length human figure depicted using only the color red. Two horns have been added to its head, which explains why it has been known popularly as “El Diablito” ("the Little Devil") for decades. However, what does this enigmatic character really represent? It has no connection whatsoever to Catholicism and, what is more, each winter solstice it plays a starring role in an archeo-astronomical phenomenon in which it is illuminated by the rising sun, marking the end and the beginning of different life cycles for the ancient Kumiai nomads.
The book ‘Historia de la Antigua o Baja California’ (“History of Old or Lower California”), written by the Jesuit Francisco Xavier Clavijero in the eighteenth century, offers an account that helps us to understand this figure. Clavijero, referring to how the indigenous people of Baja California used to hunt, writes: “They adopt a curious strategy for hunting deer. An Indian takes a deer’s head, which is kept for this purpose, and putting it on his own head, hides behind some bushes so that only the false head is seen, which moves as if it were alive. Upon seeing it, the deceived deer come closer and are easily killed by other hunters who lie in wait.”
It is therefore clear that El Diablito really represents a hunter wearing a deer’s head as a headdress. We should also mention that they aren’t just any old antlers which are represented in El Diablito. They are characteristic of the deer known as “alesnillos” (“spike deer”), which are specimens with single-pointed antlers, they do not branch off or fork. Rural people and hunters know them as “venado alesnillo” (“spike deer”), the name coming from “lesna”, the Spanish word for an awl. In accordance with the information provided by Alberto Tapia Landeros, in Baja California there are only mule deer of the sub-species Odocoileus hemionus fuliginatus, to which the “alesnillos” belong. It is believed that they only inhabit specific areas based on the nutritional conditions of the vegetation cover. They are not seen as hunting trophies and some hunters even scorn them. However, others say they have to be killed, which has led them to become an endangered species.
The ancient indigenous people of El Vallecito did not hold the same beliefs about these deer as today’s hunters. Back then, the purpose of hunting them was to eat them, not to use them as trophies. It is highly likely that before the hunt, they used to carry out rituals in the El Diablito shelter in order to bring success. It is also likely that the “alesnillos” were highly valued by the ancient Kumiai, which explains why they were depicted in their paintings.
The deer approach the El Vallecito area and may seen there from October to December. Their presence there ends when the snowfalls begin, precisely around the time of the winter solstice, a phenomenon which is astronomically marked each year in El Diablito.
For the ancient Kumiai, the color red (kwar) was linked to the north, where the winter comes from. In this way, the red El Diablito with its “alesnillo” deer horns represents the end of the deer hunting season, the start of winter, snowfall, the rainy season and, with it, a plentiful hunting season to come.
El patrocinio de la Virgen de Guadalupe
The patronage of the Virgin of Guadalupe
The Fide Propaganda Schools were conceived for the purpose of carrying out various tasks, such as centers for learning native languages, a seminary for novices, living areas for priests who were passing through and shelters for sick or elderly missionaries. In short, they were centers for education and spiritual retreat.
The apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe was, for the inhabitants of much of New Spain in the eighteenth century, irrefutable proof of the Mother of God’s favor for this land and its children. In the 1750s, Bishop Manual José Rubio y Salinas promoted even more fervent devotion in the Virgin and, among other actions to try and strengthen the Mexican people’s faith in her, he asked Miguel Cabrera to analyze the peasant tilma or cloak that bears the image of the Virgin with the intention of determining if it was miraculous or human. The painter assembled a group of reputable artists and in 1756 he published the book “American Marvel and Set of Rare Marvels Observed in Accordance with the Rules of Painting in the Miraculous Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.” Following meticulous inspection of the tilma he concluded that this painting was made by miraculous hands. This book is a descriptive and meticulous analysis of the different technical and aesthetic aspects of the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, from her inexplicable preservation to the crude material of the support, touching on the quality of the drawing, the figure’s proportions, the pigments, the coloring, her beauty and symbolism.
A Few Conclusions
After nearly three decades of research involving meticulous analysis of the finds and monuments at Boca de Potrerillos, it has been possible to identify some of the region’s cultural patterns and features, and to draw some reliable conclusions on the social and economic organization of the indigenous population, which was based on fishing, hunting and gathering. This form of subsistence continued from the arrival of the first people some 12,000 years ago until the early nineteenth century.
Comalcalco la ciudad de los grandes alfareros
A distinctive feature of El Cóporo is the earthen architecture which is part of its construction system. Remains of this are seen in the walls of the structures which are made with adobe (sun-dried mud bricks) and also in the stucco, which used to be decorated with bright colors.
An example of this is the Salón del Ocaso (“The Sunset Room”), which takes its name from the colors of its floors and walls, which shift from red to orange, imitating the color of the sun when it is setting. The structures had flat roofs over 15 inches thick made from dried mud and branches.
Another material used was the rock known as rhyolite, which the inhabitants gathered in the immediate surroundings.
La longeva tradición de construcción de tumbas y el complejo tratamiento a los muertos.
Funerary Architecture and Rich Offerings
A longstanding tradition of tomb construction and complex treatment of the dead.
The Tingambato archeological site is one of the few in Michoacán to have been excavated extensively. However, we still know very little about it. Only recently have we been able to date it more accurately through controlled stratigraphic excavations and radiocarbon dating, which place it at between 450 and 700 AD.
Based on this timeline, we now believe that the oft-cited presence of talud-tablero decoration influenced by Teotihuacan must have occurred in Tingambato after the collapse of that city in 575 AD (as shown by the most recent studies). We must therefore discount the idea that it is a trait directly inherited from Teotihuacan as had originally been supposed, but is rather an echo of said metropolis. However, we do have data indicating simultaneous occupation of Tingambato and Teotihuacan, although there is as yet no archeological material that could link them.
Of note among its main buildings are two quadrangular-based pyramid bases, which are stepped with sloping walls, one great platform leveling the entire archeological site, plazas, sunken courtyards, altars and rooms arranged around the courtyards.
Another significant element worth mentioning as regards Tingambato is the presence of the I-shaped sunken ball court with marker rings. This is an architectural feature appearing in 650-900 AD and is one of the most valuable to have been found in the west of Mexico, which reflects the importance of this city.
As we know, Michoacán has a longstanding tradition of tomb construction and complex treatment of the dead. At Tingambato, we have found significant examples of chambers constructed underground that were used for depositing their dead accompanied by rich offerings. Its funerary architecture is undoubtedly one of the aspects that has most drawn attention to the site of Tingambato, as well as the offerings it contains.
The first news we have of these tombs is in the newspaper La Voz de Michoacán on May 26, 1842, which reports the finding of three tombs aligned from south to north, apparently contiguously, at a distance of approximately half a mile from the town. Another two tombs have been excavated at the Tingambato site. The first was discovered on March 8, 1979, by archeologists Kuniaki Ohi and Román Piña Chan (tomb 1), and the second more recently, in 2011, by Melchor Cruz and Olga Landa (tomb 2). Thanks to geophysical methods, we are currently certain that there are at least another two in the archeological zone.
We know that the bones of at least one individual were extracted from the tombs discovered in 1842. However, the article states that they were destroyed, turning into dust when removed. Only one person was found in tomb 2, excavated in 2011. This person could have been aged between 25 and 30, and was found on a platform made of slate.
Tomb 1 is a completely different case, in which a large number of bones were discovered scattered throughout the tomb. 15 complete skeletons could be identified. Based on the remains found, we conclude that between 50 and 124 individuals had been buried in this chamber. Of these, we could determine that 108 were adults (59 males, 47 females and 2 undetermined), 8 were children and 8 were infants. Tomb 1 was the richest in offerings, as more than a hundred complete pieces and thousands of stone and shell beads were discovered.
Although we still know little about this great city, which covered more than 247 acres at the height of its splendor, excavations performed over the past decade have allowed us to gather more data on this settlement, which was undoubtedly one of the most important ones in Michoacán during the Classic and Epiclassic periods.
Architecture and Sculptural Style in La Venta
In the first millennium before the Common Era (1200-400 BC), La Venta, located in Huimanguillo, Tabasco, was a first-class city in ancient Mexico. It is characterized by its monumental sculptures, its planned urban layout and its magnificent jade offerings.
Situated on a natural elevation of around 65 feet in height, the ancient Olmec city covered an area of at least 500 acres. It was surrounded by lowlands which still flood every year, as well as streams, rivers and lagoons of fresh and salt water. The sea is found 10 miles to the north. Small settlements were scattered on the banks of the rivers dedicated to farming, fishing and hunting. They also gathered diverse natural land and water-based resources which supplied the main settlement. The rivers were not only an important source of nutrition, but also served as primary communication channels. The city’s architecture is made mainly from earth, that is, a mix of compact clay and sand. Stone was seldom used, as it had to be imported from sites located from 30 to 60 miles away.
The site’s settlers built a pyramidal base of 100 feet in height—the largest at the time in 400 BC—and platforms which exceeded 1000 feet in length in some cases. These buildings were constructed creating lines with a north-south axis of more than 1,100 yards in length.
Monumental stone sculpture was an important part of the architecture. The Olmec altars—rectangular prisms with a seated human figure emerging from a central niche—were built in pairs and were linked to pyramidal structures. By contrast, at the northern and southern ends of the city, trios of monumental structures were located (among them, three colossal heads); they probably denoted the main entrances. At the base of the main building, six tombstones engraved in low relief were discovered, which show the connection between historical events and supernatural beings.
In the small ceremonial enclosure, to the north of the main pyramidal base, 50 offerings were found, many of which were jade objects, as well as five massive offerings. The latter comprised tonnes of blocks of serpentine—imported from Oaxaca—in cavities measuring 50 by 63 feet and 23 feet deep, located under certain structures or in the small squares or courtyards. Groups of votive chisels made from jade or serpentine were placed in the clay and sand inflll which covered these blocks.
The famous Offering 4, with its 16 figurines and six chisels made of serpentine and jade, was located inside Massive Offering 3.
Finally, figurines, ear spools, bead necklaces, burins and small canoes, among other artifacts, were some of the wide variety of funerary objects.
Habitación y circulación de sus habitantes
The Great Urban Infrastructure of Cantona
Residences and movement of its inhabitants
Cantona is unique in its class with regard to its residential units and internal thoroughfares. There is no other pre-Hispanic settlement—or at least we know of no other at present—which has a similar layout of residential units (for both the elite and the general population) and manner of moving between them and the rest of the city as that of Cantona.
In Cantona, the entire population, except for high-level dignitaries, lived in residential units surrounded by periphery walls and/or defined by topographical irregularities adapted to this end with retaining walls. We do not know of a single residence outside of such an enclosed or delimited space. We do know that the Southern Unit had at least 2,700 of these residential units (32 percent of the city's total area) and, based on this, we can infer the existence of at least 7,500 residential units for the entire city.
Moreover, all of these residential units, as well as the entire settlement itself, are connected by a complex, yet efficient, network of built thoroughfares, and there is not a single part of the city which cannot be reached by one of these thoroughfares. These are paved streets that either elevated above the terrain, supported on it or even sunk into it. As with any modern city, there are causeways, streets, side streets, cul de sacs, sidewalks and passageways, the latter being inside the residential units.
Visitors may walk down these causeways, streets and cul de sacs and admire the interiors of several residential units, as well as many other architectural elements on their visit to this once-great pre-Hispanic city of Cantona.
The Aranzazú chapel is found in the upper floor of what used to be the Convent of Saint Francis, and what today is the Regional Museum of Potosí, located in the Aranzazú Square in the Historical Centre of San Luis Potosí.
The tour of the Aranzazú Chapel begins at the staircase which leads to it. Before entering, we can observe the skylight in the upper section which illuminates and ventilates the corridor leading to the chapel. Once upstairs, an arch can be seen which is adorned with an octagonal window and a “Caravaca” cross in the upper section.
Passing this arch, we find ourselves in the vestibule or atrium of the chapel, which is distinct as it is the only part which is overcast. This space has a dome with four windows, and the figures which adorn it symbolize the mourning for the death of Saint Francis of Asís.
This vestibule originally ran from north to south. The right corridor connected to the cloister, and the left, where there is a Franciscan crest with five crosses, pointing towards the Curator of the Holy Sites of Jerusalem. This is where the funds collected by the Franciscans were focused for the shelter and maintenance of the holy places.
The façade of the chapel, carved in pink stone, is one of the pieces of artwork which best represents Baroque Potosí. It has an exquisite decoration of vegetal motifs. It is made up of two bodies: the first is comprised of the door opening and two small, shallow alcoves at its sides. In the upper section of the door’s arch, there is a key which is carved with the crest of Aranzazú, in which a dog and a tree with a bell are represented. On this, a face of an angel appears. At the centre of the fine moulding and the small cornice which separates the two bodies, there is a carved monogram of Mary.
In the second body, there are two painted Franciscan crests; the one on the left represents the transmission of Christ’s stigmata to Saint Francis of Asís, and the one on the right represents the five wounds of Jesus. Above these, in the centre, the crest is found which symbolizes the death of Saint Francis of Asís. The group is finished with two embossed cherubs.
In the threshold of the chapel’s door, there is a worship element of the Franciscan convent which can be associated with the purity that is restored through baptism.
To the right of the door, there is a beautifully decorated framework. In former days, it was a door - it is currently walled - for worshippers to access the chapel. It was created so as not to infringe upon the intimacy of the Franciscan cloister. Passing through this door leads to a small room where the former holy water pool can still be appreciated, from where one would exit via a staircase onto the courtyard, the current Aranzazú Square, and exit the complex via what is known as the “false door”, which is currently located in the same square.
A variety of features are found in the inner walls of the chapel which have a double function: to both structurally support the space and to decorate and embellish it. These elements, which are characteristic of the Baroque period, are created in the shape of a truncated pyramid with the smallest angle downward. These are known as trunk pilasters.
In the first right pillar of the four which support the chapel, the wooden pulpit is found. It has a pentagonal shape and simple decorations and can be accessed through the east section of the right wing of the chapel.
In the upper section of these pillars, a different medallion with biblical symbolism is found in each column: The Tablets of Testimony or Commandments, basis of the Judeo-Christian faith; the Ark of the Alliance, guard and recipient of the Tablets of Testimony; chalice with the host, a climactic moment of the eucharist, and finally the instruments of the crucifixion: the cross, the nails, the whip, the spear and the sponge.
There are eight windows in the circular dome separated by eight small trunk pillars and at the centre there is a medallion which, like the small pillars, is abundantly decorated with vegetal motifs.
The Neo-classical style altar stands in the presbytery, which was possibly built at the start of the 19th century to replace a Baroque one. In the altar there is the Basque Virgin of Aranzazú, which was given to the Museum by the Vascongada Society of Friends of the Country. It is a true copy of the one worshipped in Guipúzcoa, Spain.
There is a large window behind the presbytery which rises over the Aranzazú Square. It has become one of the most representative symbols of the city of Saint Luis Potosí.
In the left wing of the chapel cross, there is an door to access the sacristy, where the pitcher carved in stone is found. Priests used to wash their hands in it before celebrating the eucharist.
As part of the restructuring work, Gutiérrez Cantú focused on the extension of the “Manuel Muro” Library - which shelters, among other collections, that of the historian and liberal journalist from Potosí - and the photographic library, created four years ago.
Possibly one of the most controversial topics which has arisen among Chichen Itza scholars is the presence of certain features and elements which could be typified as “foreign,” and which are associated with what is known as Toltec culture.
This was first noted in the nineteenth century by the French photographer and scholar Desiré Charnay, and the debate has continued ever since (Charnay, 1885). Initially the presence of these traits was explained as the result of conquest and invasion by Toltec-affiliated groups arriving from central Mexico (Piña Chan, 1980). Nevertheless, as several authors including Baddeley (1983), Cohodas (1989) and Jones (1995) have indicated, this view is based on a traditional model from Europe which proposes a dichotomy between “civilized” and “savage” people, in which the Maya would be classed as a culture with peaceful tendencies while the Toltecs were a culture which excelled in warfare.
This perspective has changed over the years with the increase in archeological, iconographic and textual studies, giving us a deeper knowledge of ancient Mayan society. Now, for example, we know how important warfare, captive-taking and sacrifices were to the Maya; as well as the power struggles between different elites. A notable case is the study of royal dynasties using textual analysis (Schele, 1990).
With the benefit of these discoveries, authors such as Wren and Schmidt (1991) have characterized Chichen Itza as the result of the coming together and convergence of two regional cultures which essentially shared the same world view, although with certain differences (López Austin, 1999). According to the authors mentioned above, this process did not come about as a result of the Toltec conquest of the Mayan lands, but rather from the cultural accumulation of different ethnic groups, which formed part of wider processes of social, political, economic and religious transformation that correspond to and define the period known as the Mesoamerican Early Postclassic, between 800 and 1100 AD.
In the final room of the Mayan People Museum at the Dzibilchaltun archeological site there is a display of an imposing cast iron machine imported from Europe to manufacture henequen twine, a product which came to be known as “green gold.” Henequen is a plant which grows easily in the wild under the difficult climatic conditions of the north Yucatan peninsula. Chelem and sisal are the principal species of henequen. This type of maguey, or agave, which is known as ki in the Maya language, needs little water; it can withstand high temperatures and its roots are adapted to the limestone soils of the peninsula. Henequen fiber is extremely strong, making it highly suitable for rope-making as it is strong enough to stand extreme marine conditions. For this reason the imperial British navy became a principal buyer of henequen rope, leading the henequen haciendas of Yucatan to become part of a highly successful global industry. Close to the twine-making machine we can also see a variety of coins used to pay the peons working on the hacienda, which was so extensive that it once took up the majority of the land of the ancient city of Ich Kaan Ti’Ho, the ancient Cholti’ano name for Dzibilchaltun.
In the mid-seventeenth century, the part of the ancient pre-Hispanic city surrounding the center became one of New Spain’s colonial haciendas. The hacienda functioned originally as a cattle farm. Over the years significant alterations were made to the Xlacah Cenote to house the cattle on its east side, with the building of a stone wall to form a corral. A path was also cut down to the northeast side to enable animals to walk down to the level of the water to drink and be washed.
Therefore the establishment of a cattle farm in the remains of the ancient pre-Hispanic city would not have required many trees to be cut down. This was highly beneficial for the exploitation of henequen. Indeed, nearly all of the seven-square-mile area of the eighth-century city was used for planting this resistant variety of agave. It was thanks to this degree of deforestation, retained till the early twentieth century, that it was possible to draw up one of the world’s first highly accurate archeological maps.
The map made it possible to carry out an in-depth analysis of the settlement patterns, which suggest a differentiated distribution of the social strata in the territory. The evidence presented by the map indicates that in the Classic period, from 600 to 900 AD, the city had 7,560 stone structures distributed over seven square miles, the majority concentrated into compact groups of different sizes. The settlement was organized around two large central plazas by the Xlacah Cenote, connected by five main and four minor sacbeob paths with architectural complexes at the four points of the compass. An urban analysis of the map of the remains reveals various structural types. There were 240 covered spaces with stone vaults, 194 varied chambers without stone roofs, 1,706 single-space unroofed units of which 1,208 were apsidal and 498 rectangular, 5,964 stone platforms without permanent covering structures and 286 miscellaneous small structures, which must have had a variety of functions.
The grouping of structures in wide terraces varies from ten structures in a small area to 100 in a large one. There are 30 groupings of this type, some of which are a long way away from the cenote. The largest are situated in the center of the settlement. The most important ones have sacbeob, or raised roads, which are more or less at the height of the central plaza. The majority have a variety of structures centered on large patios and pyramidal bases. It is clear that this architectural variation must have been related to social organization, based on ancestry and specialization. The distribution of the social strata appears to have followed a concentric pattern, beginning with a 250-acre core, contained in a densely populated area slightly larger than a square mile, followed by a more dispersed area of five square miles, where stone-roofed buildings are still found. In total the population of the site might have reached 20,000.
This information about the form and function of an ancient Maya city is vital, and it was only possible to obtain it because such a large expanse of land was kept free from low dense forest for so many years. In itself, this situation can hardly be described as beneficial. Ecologically, the loss of so many acres of vegetation was disastrous, above all in terms of the constant erosion of the thin soil layer built up over the limestone plate, which forms the bedrock across the north Yucatan peninsula. Nevertheless the scientific knowledge gained about this regionally important Classic Maya city was a positive side-effect of deforestation. All of this is thanks to the henequen hacienda during the Porfiriato period. The great twine-making machine, probably of Belgian or French origin, is a witness to these historical contradictions.
Cosmogony and Dynastic and Divine Legitimization in the Main Buildings of Maya Cities
In the integral zoomorphic facades at El Hormiguero we can admire the representation of Itzamná as a stylized serpent, with jaws and fangs framing the main entrance, above which there is a broad and prominent nose flanked by bulging, spiral eyes. Ear flares on the sides of the head are formed by three parts: in the center, a square geometric design; above, with the form of maize leaves to symbolize the growth of corn and vegetation; and finally, the lower bone-like part, evoking death and the underworld.
Evidence suggests that the facades of the main buildings were painted, both as decoration and to denote symbolic and chronological importance; historical and dynastic information about the elite was possibly recorded here, rather than carved on stelae, as happened in cities of the Petén region such as Calakmul, Uxul, La Muñeca and other sites.
Such buildings are believed to have served various purposes. In other words, they conferred upon the ruling families a direct link with Itzamná, the ancient Maya’s creator god, and this enabled them to access divine power, hence they carried out initiation rites inside the constructions, investing the governor-priests with power.
The INAH’s projects at this ancient site have prevented any further damage and returned the architectural splendor to the pre-Hispanic buildings that are now open to the public. However, much more work needs to be done at El Hormiguero, where the buildings still stand as a physical reminder of what our ancestors bequeathed us and future generations, in order to ensure continued respect for its cultural importance and preservation.
On the Petroglyphs
Monument 3 stands out in the Calixtlahuaca zone of archeological monuments on Cerro Tenismó. It is the best-known monument, owing to its circular shape and because it shows the four stages of its construction, corresponding to the same number of phases of human occupation. Moreover, it is important to mention that the walls of the pre-Hispanic buildings include petroglyphs with cultural-symbolic or religious-ritual meanings. It has been determined that these petroglyphs were executed in the first, third and fourth stages of construction. Their purpose was to communicate the result of a thought, an observation, a unique or recurring occasion, a continuous activity or planning and organization. These carvings were made in stone that forms part of the architectural structures or the natural surroundings.
The archeologist José García Payón reported the presence of the petroglyphs in the 1930s. Many of them have disappeared, necessitating their protection by means of records. More than 50 petroglyphs have been cataloged since 2013, these being found in the Ehécatl, Tláloc and El Panteón building complexes, as well as on the hilltop and in the cave. In all cases, information has been obtained on which period and cultural context they are from, based on their location and phase of construction. The resulting catalogue, prepared by means of a summary table for each architectural complex, includes the following details: monument number, internal petroglyph number, context, phase of construction, geographical location, height above sea level, orientation, type, motif description, drawing and photograph.
A first group of petroglyphs is located halfway up the hillside of Cerro Tenismó. These rock drawings are directly associated with architectural structures from the Classic and Postclassic periods. A second group is to be found on the hilltop.
Owing to the large number of designs, we will only describe a few here that have been identified and referenced with possible astronomical events or heavenly deities:
Petroglyph 3. This graphical representation, composed of a temple with a spiral at the top, belongs to the El Panteón building complex and dates from the Classic period. The spiral was a recurring symbol in almost all cultural periods of Mesoamerica. Helena Barba (2000) refers to this symbolism, reflected in the round structures of ancient Mexico, in which the circular element acts as an archetype referring us directly to a deity. In this case, the deity in question is Ehécatl Quetzalcóatl, who is related to the wind and reminds us of the latent state of the universe before it came into being. The scholar gives us an example with the building known as La Espiral ("The Spiral") from the archeological site of Xochitécatl in Tlaxcala. The importance of markers and petroglyphs have afforded us greater understanding of a worldview linked to the iconographic elements most commonly associated with heavenly bodies, astronomical events or types of human behavior. To this end, the astronomer Daniel Flores suggests that the rows of “notches” are linked to calculation; the “meanders sprinkled with dots” are constellations; whilst the “spirals and double spirals” refer to solar and lunar cycles.
Petroglyph 4. This is a circle with concentric perforation and scrolls. The circle represents a “chalchihuitl.” On this point, Von Winning (1987) mentions that this element is used in Teotihuacán as a substitute for more complex or voluminous signs to symbolize water. The use of different types of scroll is very common in all forms and phases of art from Teotihuacán. This element is often displayed in horizontal bands and in diagonal arrangements. Its shape indicates the water’s wavy surface.
Petroglyph 5. Located below petroglyph 4, this represents an enclosure, the true place for sacrifices related to the planet we know as Venus (the "evening star"). This figure appears in Tláloc’s mustache, and something similar has been found in Cacaxtla (structure A), Teotihuacan, Tetitla (entrance 1) and Xochicalco (stela 1). The composition of the three symbols which make up petroglyphs 4 and 5 (enclosure, “chalchihuitl” and scroll) allows us to infer an event related to water. Given the place in which they are found, it could be the start of the rainy season in relation to the movement of the stars. Ivan Šprajc (1988) also notes that the astronomical alignments of the architecture reflected phenomena relating to the evening star and that these had to do with rainfall and the agricultural cycle. Furthermore, for the Mayas, at least in the Classic and Early Postclassic, the Venus-rain-maize complex was specifically related to the evening star.
Petroglyph 8. This is identified with the description that Von Winning gives of the teeth/lightning bolt B sign, consisting of a row of equilateral triangles. In Calixtlahuaca, it was made with the sgraffito technique and is integrated into the based of the wall dating from the Teotihuacan phase (in Teotihuacan, the design is found on the edge of mural 3, Palace of the Jaguars). The period and context are therefore associated with Teotihuacan.
Petroglyph 14. This has the shape of an asterisk or small star, although Von Winning tells us that the placement of the lines and their length are variable. It has been found in Teotihuacan painted in red or black on plaques affixed to the large censers. It is also related to the knot of a tied bundle. The asterisk is used exclusively in the context of the old god of fire. In Calixtlahuaca, it is found in the first plinth of temple 4 (fourth phase of construction), corresponding to the Late Postclassic of the Mexica group.
Ray of Sunlight. This is located inside a shallow cave halfway up the hillside of Cerro Tenismó. The design carved into one of the walls of the cave is a representation of a ray of sunlight, similar to the four rays of the fifth circle on the Sun Stone described by Antonio de León y Gama (2009). Here we can identify a ring with four large rays of sunlight bordering the spaces in which feathers, flames and precious stones mark the radial expansion of all the paths of the cosmos. The author also calls it the “ring of solar radiance." Yólotl González (1975) notes that the sun could be represented symbolically by the seventeenth sign of the calendar, namely “ollin” (movement), whose association with the sun was surely based on some cosmic movement. Based on the observations of Fray Diego de Durán y González, the glyph found inside the cave is indeed a ray of sunlight. The cave represents the house of the sun or “cuauhxicalli,” where energy emanates from, known as the “tonal.” Therefore, it is possible that this place is related to astronomical observations connected with solstice events practiced by the Mexica in the Late Postclassic.
Ehecacoxcatl. This petroglyph is related to deities of agriculture, agricultural cycles and fertility rites. It is located on a rocky outcrop on the hilltop of Cerro Tenismó. It is believed that this iconographic figure, formed of five lobes, symbolizes Venus. A similar shape is observed on two figures located on the south and north pillars of substructure III of the the Palace of Cacaxtla. According to Šprajc, Venus is related to water and fertility. It also appears as part of the iconographic attributes carried by Quetzalcóatl, i.e. an “ehecacoxcatl” or wind jewel in the shape of the cross-section of a snail, which he uses as a chest ornament. Three of Quetzalcóatl’s principle manifestations also bear this insignia: Xólotl, “divine gem," which represents Venus in its evening aspect; Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, “lord of the house of dawn” or, in other words, Venus in its morning aspect, and Ehécatl, “god of the wind.”
Varias etapas de construcción
Different construction phases
During the archeological investigation work, a hole was explored in building 15, which stands at the end of the first ballcourt. No one imagined that this would allow us to discover a major sequence of activity at the site. It is enough to stand in the center of the court to see that this pyramidal base does not cover the whole width of the space. In fact, the first section is aligned, but the plinth is not. This is because this building was reworked on six occasions, as described in the following paragraphs.
At some point, instead of the ballcourt, there was a courtyard here. To the north, at the end of the court, there was a room which was later demolished, while to the south, on the platform, a circular building of around 10 meters in diameter was found, which can be seen beside the staircase behind the raised sloping wall on the west side of the building (see photo 1).
Years later (we don’t know exactly how many), this space was altered. The shape of the temple was radically altered, giving way to the second major construction phase. The staircase was removed from the building to cover it with a rectangular plinth. The front of the building was kept in the same place, while a double staircase and a niche was built in the center, as can be observed on the circular structure (see photo 2).
With the passage of time, the building was again remodeled. Not only was a wall built to completely surround it, but the height of the plinth was also increased (see photo 3). And at a later stage, the latter was raised even higher (see photo 4).
The building underwent a further significant transformation with the incorporation of two plinths. The lower section, which is taller in height, is formed by an slope of around two meters and an overhanging ledge. A smaller volume was placed above, just one meter in height, on which a rectangular room was built which topped the building. In the four corners an adornment wall was added of approximately one meter and then an overhanging ledge was incorporated (see photos 5 and 6).
The final addition to this construction was in the back section, where the base of a small room which functioned as an annex to the upper temple can also be seen (see photo 7).
This detailed inspection of building 15 allows us to observe the succession of building styles in Toluquilla. Although it is impossible to determine the date of each phase of construction, the pottery fragments found suggest that the last one dates from 1200 AD.
A Rare Example of Monolithic Architecture
Iglesia Vieja was a Zoque capital of the Early Classic (250 to 600 AD). It is located at a strategic point on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, on the Mesoamerican cultural corridor or trading route, in other words east of the flourishing Mayan culture and west of Monte Albán in Oaxaca and Teotihuacan in the Mexican Central Highlands.
The most significant feature of Iglesia Vieja is the use of monolithic stones in its architecture. The extraordinarily large blocks or slabs measured more than 10 feet and weighed over 2 tons. The primary building material was granodiorite, which is logical in view of the nearby quarries of this volcanic rock.
During the work of excavation and restoration, the monolithic stones were moved without the use of machinery. The pre-Hispanic builders only had recourse to human strength and simple techniques involving levers, trunks, ropes and so forth. The question of the choice of tools and techniques used by the ancients inhabitants to cut and smooth these slabs remains unresolved.
For the time being it can be safely said that monolithic stone-cutting was the result of a long tradition developed by the inhabitants of the Tonalá region, since it was here that the evolution of the stone-cutting tradition can be seen in the region prior to Iglesia Vieja.
Los espacios arquitectónicos de La Quemada
The Ancient Cerro de los Edificios (“Hill of the Buildings”)
The architectural spaces of La Quemada
Walking around the current archeological monument site of La Quemada, visitors can appreciate the remains of different buildings from a great pre-Hispanic city. We can identify famous buildings like the Salón de las Columnas ("Hall of Columns"), the Ballgame Court, the Pirámide Votiva ("Votive Pyramid") or the Muralla ("Rampart"). Other structures are also present, which can be distinguished as we begin to imagine what this place was like in its time of greatest splendor. Various questions arise about the form this city took, such as how people moved around the site, who would have walked these streets, how the buildings were decorated, what was the function of each: questions which in turn awaken other doubts about site.
These unanswered questions have arisen ever since the Europeans’ arrival here in the sixteenth century, and continue today among explorers and researchers, who try to understand this testimony to the past. It is not surprising that La Quemada is referred to as the “Cerro de los edificios” (“Hill of the buildings”), since when travelers passed through the Malpaso Valley they saw in the distance a mountain full of constructions from the distant past. Descriptions dating from the colonial period reveal priests and soldiers marveling at the large buildings which were still standing, pointing out the squares, streets, temples, palaces and roads. In the nineteenth century, topographic surveys were carried out and magnificent lithographs were drawn, as well as excellent descriptions of the different buildings which now allow us to envisage the urban and architectural layout of the city. Undoubtedly, the archeological work formally commenced at the start of the twentieth century, and which continues until this day, has allowed us to better understand the form and function of this pre-Hispanic city.
To begin to get to know this ancient Mesoamerican settlement, we must first imagine the hill in its natural state, that is to say, when it still had its original vegetation and topography, and was populated by different species of animals. This space was transformed little by little, from the moment when the fauna were driven away, the vegetation was removed and the land was prepared for the construction of small buildings. The materials obtained in these tasks were reused in the work to prepare the spaces; for example, the soil and some rocks were used to level the land, other rocks were worked for used in construction, and the wood of some trees, such as pine, was used for the structure and roofs.
A visible characteristic in the first buildings is the use of the bedrock of this hill, which was cut into in order to form part of the foundations or platforms. Subsequently, when the pre-Hispanic settlement grew, these original structures were covered by new terraces where private spaces were built, and the first constructions were used as part of the infill.
Based on the above, five phases of occupation can be identified on the hill. In the southern section, where the slope is gentler, a large level terrace was built, taking advantage of the space and easy access. In this space, the public buildings were constructed: the Hall of Columns, the Main Square, the Ballgame Court and the Votive Pyramid. All types of people were able to access these, to observe and participate in the different ceremonies dedicated to the ancient deities, as can be seen by the broad highway which enters the pre-Hispanic settlement via the western part of the main square.
The second, third and fourth levels correspond to the private areas, which only the governors, priests and elite had access to, as well as their servants. On the second level there is a residential area with central courtyards where the principal leaders of the city lived. Others spaces are made up of housing platforms with a central square and pyramidal plinth, occupied by specialized groups such as traders, artisans or astronomers, or perhaps family groups linked to the governing elite.
The third level has a large plaza for private ceremonies; at the center there is an altar, and to the north of the square there is a pyramidal plinth which has a stepped form that is unique to the site, in contrast to the other pyramidal bases, which are constructed as a single volume.
On the north side of the hill there is a private complex known as La Ciudadela (“The Citadel”) because of the wall that demarcates the space, emphasizing its sacred character. A road connects the central section of the hill with the main square, where there is also a large central altar, a pyramidal plinth and a huge hall which when occupied had wooden supports which emulated the Hall of Columns on the first level.
When leaving this sacred space by the north-east side, a large staircase leads to a smaller ballgame court, and nearby there is a building whose function is still unknown. This section is delimited by an imposing wall ten feet in height and ten feet in width, which protects this whole area and disappears where the cliffs block access to the site.
Undoubtedly, these constructions were planned by specialists and duly authorized by a governor who exercised his power over the population, which provided the workforce and resources for subsistence. Important factors in the choice of location were the strategic position of the hill, as the whole valley can be seen from this site; the fact that it is near a water source—the Malpaso River, formerly known as La Partida—and, finally, the religious symbolism of the sacred mountain.
Los mayas de Edzná crearon una ciudad que, a través del tiempo, permite ver el control del ambiente y el desarrollo de varios estilos arquitectónicos.
The Growth of a City
The Maya of Edzná created a city which, over time, has revealed a mastery over their surroundings and the development of various architectural styles.
In around 600 BC a small settlement grew up in a valley with many areas prone to flooding. The inhabitants designed a system to capture, channel, store and drain rainwater; they also filled in many uneven parts of the land to create flat spaces that would then be used to erect various buildings. As a result, today it is relatively easy to explore the extensive flat areas and access the site’s ancient buildings.
The well-ordered division of labor led to the construction of 10 large canals in the northern part of the valley, 31 feeder canals in the area adjacent to the monumental buildings, 84 cisterns of various sizes, and an effective use of gradients to help distribute the water, always from north to south. The system drained water into a large canal located to the south, where the liquid was stored in a type of ditch, and from there the excess water drained again to the south, before flowing out towards the basin of the Champotón river. Furthermore, some families also had underground water cisterns known as “chultunes” which they used to collect rainwater.
Explorations of Edzná’s various buildings and architectural groups have shown that the builders oriented the axes of their main constructions according to astronomical phenomena, due to the Maya’s fascination with the movements of the celestial bodies and their cycles, as well as the associations between these and religious affairs.
The Maya builders also used standard modules or measurements, particularly multiples based on the vigesimal (base-20) system that are equivalent to 80 and 160 meters. The use of multiples of 20 pacess creates approximate distances with which they defined where to place corners, steps, and so on. In the Maya world these were common methods of designing and expanding spaces over time, but the same technique was previously used by the Olmecs and in other ancient Mexican societies.
Edzná’s earliest constructions are built in the Petén style, a type of architecture found around the Yucatán peninsula since the start of the Common Era and until 600 AD. The finest examples include the west steps of the Great Acropolis, the base of the Small Acropolis, the Temple of the South, and the “Vieja Hechicera” building complex.
In the Late Classic (600-900 AD), buildings were erected in the Chenes style, with columns clad in expertly carved stone and the façades surely would have had large-scale representations of the Earth Monster, whose mouth doubled up as the building’s entrance. We know this due to the large stone "fangs" discovered outside their original design context in later constructions.
Almost in parallel, Edzná’s builders also worked in the Puuc architectural style, with fine stonework, austere chiaroscuro façades and decorated friezes. Some examples include the Platform of the Knives, the Ballcourt, and parts of the west side of the Building of the Five Floors (BFF).
In around 900 AD, the alterations to various buildings led to the creation of unusual, convex slopes flanking flights of stairs. The most notable examples are found on the north and east sides of the BFF, but can also be seen in the Puuc Patio and in Building 501. These are the result of modified Petén-esque elements. The circular structure (behind the Nohochná or “Great House”), the buildings of the Patio de los Embajadores (“Patio of the Ambassadors”) and Structure 512 also date from this time.
Finally, late-period constructions from the Postclassic (1000-1450 AD) were built during the final centuries of activity at this site. These are noted for their recycling of stones from pre-existing constructions, and for how they increased the architectural volumes.
The Chromolithograph of the Constituent Assembly of 1916-1917
The building on Río Lerma no. 35, which is home to the Museo Casa de Carranza, was designed as an upper-middle class residence during the regime of Porfirio Díaz. It was built and first owned by a civil engineer called Manuel Luis Stampa Ortigoza, who was involved in constructions in the Cuauhtémoc and Juárez neighborhoods in the final stages of the Díaz’s rule.
In 1919, Stampa rented the house to President Venustiano Carranza, who lived there from November that year until May 1920. After Huerta’s rebellion, in which most of the army rebelled in support of General Álvaro Obregón, Carranza was forced to flee Mexico City for Veracruz, where he planned to install his government. However, Don Venustiano never arrived at his destination, because his convoy of trains was hounded by rebels all along the way; Carranza ended up having to travel on horseback to seek refuge in the mountains of Puebla, before eventually being assassinated in the rural settlement of Tlaxcalantongo, in the morning of May 21. Carranza’s remains were brought back to his house on Río Lerma 35 for a wake, and they were subsequently interred in the Civil Pantheon of Dolores on May 24, 1920.
Venustiano Carranza is one of Mexico’s most illustrious historical figures due to his role as a leader during the Mexican Revolution. After the assassination of President Francisco I. Madero, he was put in command of the fight against the usurper Victoriano Huerta and charged with restoring the rule of law. To this end he published the Plan of Guadalupe, and become the “First Chief” of the Constitutionalist Army. Subsequently he was the man responsible for ensuring that the revolutionary movement crystallized into a strong and stable government, pitting him against other rebel leaders such as Francisco Villa and Emiliano Zapata.
But perhaps Carranza’s most abiding legacy was equipping the country with a new political Constitution, laying the legal foundations for the fulfillment of the Revolution’s social and political aims. Carranza therefore supported the Constituent Assembly in the city of Querétaro, between December 1916 and January 1917.
Therefore, although the Museo Casa de Carranza is primarily focused on preserving the memory of the life and historic achievements of Don Venustiano, from its beginnings it also sought to draw people’s attention to the work of the Constituent Assembly of 1916-1917, as can be seen in many of its commemorative exhibits, such as the large-format chromolithograph (2.20 m by 1.72 m), created by the photographers Pedro and José Mendoza.
The Mendoza brothers served Carranza as official photographers, and hence they covered many of his public and private functions. In the 1950s they helped enrich the museum’s collection by donating the aforesaid chromolithograph, a collage of the photographic portraits of the 217 Constitutionalist deputies, as well as Venustiano Carranza himself, in the central-upper part of the composition. These images are framed by a series of decorations, including some allegories representing the “Patria” or nation, surrounded by Justice, Law (enshrined in the 1857 and 1917 Constitutions) and Labor.
Apart from the portraits, the chromolithograph also includes eight photographs of the most important moments of the Assembly on its lower part, as well as the fountain pen used to sign the Constitution and the signatures of every deputy. This exhibit is complemented by another picture behind it, with the names of each member of the Constituent Assembly. Both pictures have their respective wooden frames, in different styles, and rest on a base of the same material.
This chromolithograph is a unique work. Although it forms part of a series of works by Carranza’s photographers to commemorate the Assembly, it has a number of other special characteristics. There are at least two others in existence. Apart from its historical importance, the work is also technically interesting since it represents the most ambitious work carried out by the Mendoza brothers, and is an example of mid-twentieth century photographic techniques.
This work and others help keep alive the memory of the men who, like Carranza and the Constitutionalist deputies, rose up in arms to defeat a dictatorship with the aim of establishing a fairer system.
Worship in Balamcanché
The classification of the areas of Balamcanche is based on the cave’s ritual activity.
Group I. The cave’s most important group. This is a chamber with a diameter approaching 70 feet and a height of over 30 feet. Right in the center a stalactite unites with a stalagmite, forming a column joining the floor and the ceiling. This geological formation looks akin to the trunk, branches, and roots of a ceiba tree (yaaxche). This sacred tree symbolized the axis mundi for the Maya and it encapsulated the tripartite vision of the cosmos. The roots of the tree sink into the nine levels of the underworld, while the trunk occupies the terrestrial plane and the branches communicate with the 13 levels of the heavens. This is why this part of the cave has the greatest concentration of offerings, most notably including biconical incense burners (shaped from two cones) with representations of Chaac, the rain and water god, as well as limestone incense burners, miniature grinding stones and a variety of small vessels. Also two red ocher hand prints were found on the central column. To these may be added the finds in the roof of the tunnel, which leads to Group II. The marks found here suggest that initiation rights might have taken place in the cave.
Balamcanche, meaning throne or seat of the jaguar, was named after this chamber. This came about because drops of water falling from some of the stalactites have created small holes in the floor, which the Maya likened to the places the jaguars would stand inside the cave.
Group II. This is at the entrance to a chamber where there is a series of columns formed by the union of stalactites and stalagmites. In this space 19 biconical incense burners were deposited with button decorations representing Chaac or Tlaloc, together with some pottery vessels and small limestone grinding stones. The remains of ash, a limestone ax and small bone, shell and jade beads were found inside the incense burners.
Group III. This has a chamber with a pool of crystal clear water, where small fish and crayfish can be seen. It is very likely that it was considered virgin water (zuhuy ha), and hence the reason for the deposits of 15 incense burners, 232 small grinding stones, 17 plates, 25 normal sized grinding stones, a small jar and a few vessels. Notable in this group of finds is a representation of the upper part of a jaguar’s head. The association between the large quantity of small grinding stones and the water suggests that they were offered up for the fertility of the land.
Groups IV, V and VI. These groups are hard to access, which is why they are not open to the public. All three contained the same types of offerings, although in smaller numbers.
The Style of Maya Gulf Coast Architecture
Built on an alluvial plateau devoid of stone, Comalcalco is distinguished by its earth and brick architecture. The site’s inhabitants began building it with foundations of compacted earth covered with thick coats of stucco made using the lime from oyster shells. These staggered platforms were decorated with sculptures modeled in low relief with diverse mythological scenes, as can be observed in the decoration of Temples I, VI and VII.
To protect the buildings at Comalcalco, it is important that visitors stay to the walkways and do not ascend the buildings to take photographs. This cultural heritage belongs to everybody.
Prehistoric Man in Hidalgo
In 1960, during the excavation of the Tecolote Cave, located on the rocky cliffs to the east of the Huapalcalco archeological site, the US expert in prehistoric archeology, Cynthia Irwin-Williams, located a fluted projectile point in a crack in the rocks. This find made it possible to date the earliest human occupation of this cave to the Early Neolithic between 14,000 and 9,000 BC. Human and animal burial remains were also found, corresponding to the Late Neolithic (9,000 to 7,000 BC)—the oldest remains discovered in the Valley of Tulancingo and Hidalgo.
Human skeletons were found in an irregular cavity with a diameter of approximately four feet. They belonged to two males aged between 36 and 55 years old. The skull of one of them is on display in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City (in the gallery with exhibits on the peopling of the Americas). It is dolichocranial, with a long face and broad nose, and shows slight dental wear, indicating that this person ate more meat than vegetables and, therefore, belonged primarily to a hunting society. A dog’s jaw, an obsidian scraper and a Coxcatlán-type projectile point were also found at this burial site. The bones were found in a very deteriorated state, hence it was only possible to reconstruct one of the skulls.
The long bones of the upper limbs are broader than those found among the average indigenous pre-Hispanic population. According to physical anthropologist Neftalí Monterroso, there are “bodily traits in long bones of the lower extremity and skull, which mark a difference between the skeletons found in the Tecolote Cave and those of average pre-Hispanic [indigenous] inhabitants, giving them more in common with the earliest settlers on the continent,” suggesting that they were part of the first wave of people who came over from Asia, and belonged to the Paleoamerican population.
A basic, semicircular grave—measuring 27 inches across and 16 inches deep—was found next to one of the cave walls. This corresponded to the burial site of six medium-sized dogs, one of them without a skull. Their archaic form, and large and relatively heavily set skulls and dental features make them comparable to the Asian wolves who accompanied the first waves of inhabitants of the American continent.
The second wave of human arrivals consisted of Mongol groups who came after the glacial period in around 10,000 BC. This was the time when the smaller-sized dog, with more modern and less wolf-like traits, arrived in the area. Both human and canine remains were found in the same burial ritual.
The prehistoric remains of the Tecolote Cave in Huapalcalco are the earliest to have been located in the state of Hidalgo. For many years they remained in the Physical Anthropology Department of the National Institute of Archeology and History (INAH), until they were studied by Monterroso Rivas, at the suggestion of Enriqueta M. Olguín.