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Treasures Retrieved from the Shamans
One of the religious practices the shamans of Baja California were accused of was idolatry, considered to be evil and a great sin during the Vice-regal period, as it was said to be linked to the devil. The indigenous figurines which are exhibited in the museum are material evidence of the religious traditions of the groups of hunter-gatherers in the area of Loreto and San Bruno. They were part of their sacred repertoire as they were used as objects of worship in rituals where it was believed that the presence of a greater spirituality existed. As objects of worship, the figurines used to be hidden with extreme care in secret places. They would be brought out from these places for special ceremonies according to the calendar. That is to say, these ceremonies were planned in advance in accordance with observations of the celestial sphere. Many of these objects of worship, made from stone, were destroyed by the Jesuit missionaries together with the majority of the magical objects used by the shamans. As a result, the pieces take on greater relevance, because they were saved from this destruction and now provide material evidence of what the first indigenous cultures in Baja California believed. It was discovered that, as part of their performance repertoire, the shamans would have carried out dances and songs for many days and nights in the sacred places belonging to them. Generally speaking, these displays were made in front of one of these idols, which represented one of their main deities and were placed on an altar especially built for religious celebrations. These figures, originating from the north of Loreto, are among the few that were saved from destruction.
Donde el pasado merece futuro
Where the Past Deserves a Future
Just two miles to the north-west of Mexico City’s Zócalo or main square, the archeological zone of Tlatelolco is the sole site of convergence for the overarching values of our national history: Mexico Tenochtitlan and Mexico Tlatelolco gave our country its name, and these cities began their lives, grew up, and died at the same time. Tenochtitlan lost its name, but not its face, and today its remains emerge every step of the way as we move toward modernity; Tlatelolco, on the other hand, has preserved its name over the centuries.
The archeological site of Tlatelolco was revealed to us in 1944, thanks to the work of Robert H. Barlow, Antonieta Espejo, and Pablo Martínez del Río. By 1948 this team had already succeeded in recovering the remains of the Templo Mayor’s different phases of construction, scattered across the railyards of Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México, a prison, and an army barracks. Federal laws were enacted in 1953 to protect these remains.
In 1958, Adolfo López Mateos allocated an area of 300 acres—from east to west between Tepito and Nonoalco, and from Eje 2 Norte to Flores Magón—for the construction of the social housing complex that now bears the former president’s name. A total of 130 buildings were constructed, regardless of the fact that their foundations were to be built over the pre-Hispanic remains of Mexico-Tlatelolco’s ceremonial center, and also over the remnants of the Republic of Indians in the capital of New Spain, a blend of cultures which undoubtedly brought into existence the Plaza de las Tres Culturas—now tragically associated with the events of 1968.
Thanks to Francisco González Rul, Eduardo Matos, and Braulio García, we now have 67 pre-Hispanic structures framed by the facade of the church dedicated to Santiago, the saint of the conquistadors. There we can appreciate the magnificent altarpiece and pendentives: the four apostles holding up the church, mounted upon their winged emblems, handmade by indigenous craftsmen using human bones encased in colored stucco.
In the south-western corner of the Franciscan cloister we can see the water cistern of the Imperial College of Santa Cruz, with its display of more than 130 square feet of the first mestizo mural to be painted in New Spain, an allegory of the daily life of indigenous people under the new religious order.
Tlatelolco also contains the replica of the Garden of San Marcos, in Aguascalientes, where in its eastern center a columned obelisk rises up and is topped by a tholobate, the only one of its kind. To round off the impressive cultural complex of Tlatelolco, David Alfaro Siqueiros’ first mural, painted in 1944, can be seen in the remains of the Tecpan. In this work, the sculptures interact with the breaks in the surfaces, creating a triptych called “Cuauhtémoc contra el mito” ("Cuauhtémoc Against the Myth").
In short, the age-old face of Tlatelolco looks to the future with the same vigor with which it has emerged in every chapter of our history.
In pre-Hispanic Colima, funerary entombments and their derivations were largely influential. Underground mortuary architecture and specifically shaft tombs, were a distinctive feature of western Mexican culture. There was a large number of these tombs in the Colima region. They were commonly built among the groups who had settled mainly in the Ortices, Comala and Colima periods, located temporarily around the year 500 BC and the period 500-600 AD.
Their morphological characteristics consist of a half point or elliptical arch located underground. This curved shape matches the structural characteristics of the arch’s architecture and helps to distribute the vertical loads along the building’s base. Access is through the middle of the shaft; a cylindrical tunnel which gives the name to these peculiar graves. These tunnels sometimes vary by means of staircases made from tepetate (a kind of brittle, volcanic rock).
The symbolism of the shaft tombs ties together with being buried in the earth. It is like a space which conceptualizes the underworld as an eternal sleep of the lifeless body. Each element is placed with a specific purpose, determined by the ceremonial formalities which are required for a living body to pass into death. Thanks to the tools found inside, such as polishers, hammers, axes or stones for grinding, we can get an idea of the way of life of the extinct individual, now laid in the tomb, within the earthly universe.
During the Classical period in Colima (especially in the phase called Comala, dating between 200 and 400 AD) these mortuary structures held a wide variety of offerings.
The archeologists managed to rescue the human bone remains, accompanied by skeletons of dogs, for whom these spaces were built. They must have added representations of these animals using ceramic, with a wide variety of shapes, postures and purposes, some accompanied with various belongings or modeled in pairs, but always emphasizing the virtues of their workmanship. The repeated presence of dogs is not only due to their functions as food and company for the ancient inhabitants; their purpose as guides is also emphasized. The polished vessels deserve a special mention. They are finished with a sienna color, as well as different reliefs and tones, and are sculpted or decorated with geometric and organic images. Among many other clay pieces, the collection is complemented by solid and hollow figurines which replicate anthropomorphous and zoomorphic subjects.
Meanwhile, other burials have been discovered which are more dispersed. Vessels and pots were placed inside them, close to the skull of the individual and accompanied by various tools, such as sharp weapons made from obsidian.
Occasionally, some shaft tombs are found dating from the Late Classic and Early Postclassic periods (Colima phase, 400-700 AD and Armería phase, 700-900 AD). They include pieces with elaborate decoration and vessels which differ from the others due to their miniature scale, together with stones for grinding and decorations made of lytic beads. Furthermore, there were objects which would have been used to produce harmonica sounds, such as whistles and ceramic ocarinas, together with percussion musical instruments made from bone.
Many traditions from each phase are amalgamated around the shaft tombs and funerary rituals. The ceramic sculpture found inside acts as an invaluable document which tells us the story of the type of clothes and accessories used through a language comprised of shapes modeled in ceramic. Working technologies clearly show us the ideas of gastronomy and confirm the ceremonial activities and traditions which the natives deemed necessary in the death ritual.
In its permanent exhibition rooms, the Regional Museum of Colima History exhibits a reproduction of a to-scale shaft tomb. The visitor can access its interior and, whilst standing on an elevated glass platform, can observe the range of ritual elements, vessels, cranial deformities, canine figures, shamans, ocarinas and flutes, as well as the bone remains of two individuals and the skeleton of a Mexican hairless dog, a companion in life and a guide in death.
Última capital del Señorío Tarasco
Last capital of the Tarascan state
Located on the banks of Pátzcuaro Lake, the pre-Hispanic city of Tzintzuntzan was undoubtedly one of the most important settlements at the time of the Spaniards’ arrival in the sixteenth century, because apart from being the capital of the Tarascan state, it was also the site where the weightiest political, economic and religious decisions were taken.
Systematic excavations in this important archeological zone began in the late nineteenth century, with works initially carried out by Michoacán-born scholar Nicolás León, and later resumed in the late 1930s by the recently established National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). During numerous research seasons, right up to the present day, these studies have been led by some of the most respected Mexican archeologists: Alfonso Caso, Daniel Rubín de la Borbolla, Román Piña Chan and Arturo Oliveros.
One of the unique aspects of Tzintzuntzan, and the Tarascan state in general, is the fact that we are able to trace a more or less accurate genealogy of the Tarascan rulers. Records begin with Tariacuri, the group’s cultural hero, son of Pauacume and a woman from Xarácuaro (a small island on Pátzcuaro Lake), who finally took over the rule of Pátzcuaro for his people after many battles with the lords of Curinguaro and other lower-ranking chieftains of the islands and around the lake. This initiated a drawn-out period of wars and alliances that brought about the creation of the Tarascan state. After numerous conflicts, Tariacuri, by then lord of Pátzcuaro, summoned his two nephews, Hiripan and Tangaxoan, as well as his son Hiquingaje, to the Thiuapu forest, and appointed them rulers and the heirs of his conquests. He left Ihuatzio to Hiripan, Tzintzuntzan to Tangaxoan and the city of Pátzcuaro to his son Hiquingaje.
After Tanganxoan died, he was succeeded as lord of Tzintzuntzan by Tzitzispandacuare (1454-1479). First of all he set about transporting to the city the principle Tarascan god called Curicaueri. He was the ruler responsible for expanding the state, making incursions into the valley of Toluca and Xocotitlán, as well as into the region called Tierra Caliente, Colima, and Zacatula in Guerrero. His descendant, Zuangua (1479-1520), continued this territorial expansion and consolidated the empire’s eastern boundaries. Zuangua learned of the conquistadors’ arrival in Tenochtitlan, but died shortly before the first Spaniards reached Michoacán. In the end it fell to Tzinzincha Tangánxoan II (1510-1530)—who was a very young man—to receive the Spaniards. He died at their hands.
Michoacán became the base for the Spanish conquistadors’ expeditions in western Mexico, and the city of Tzintzuntzan remained inhabited. It was home to Spanish conquistadors and members of religious orders, who lived alongside the Uacusecha nobility and the Purépecha people. Following the arrival of Vasco de Quiroga, and after taking possession of the Michoacán diocese in 1538, he decided to transfer the seat of the diocese and the capital of Michoacán from Tzintzuntzan to Pátzcuaro, thus gradually diminishing its importance as a seat of political power.
Retrato del venerable don Juan de Palafox y Mendoza
A Prominent Figure in the History of New Spain
A Portrait of the Venerable Don Juan de Palafox y Mendoza
The city of Puebla is engaged in permanent dialog with the figure of Palafox, as this bishop’s cherished episcopal see was the place he loved most, and the prelate’s presence is palpable in many of Puebla’s buildings. As one of the most important figures in Mexico’s history, the Regional Museum of Puebla (MUREP/INAH) cannot ignore him.
All of the moments in Puebla’s history are present in the MUREP’s wonderful collection, from the arrival of the first humans to the creation of the Mexican state, as well as contemporary expressions by the diverse social groups that make up Puebla’s regions. The History Gallery has various exhibits that refer to important figures in regional history, such as mayors, bishops, soldiers and merchants, as well as objects connected with the daily lives of artisans or farmers. One of these pieces is the Portrait of Bishop Palafox as Inspector of the University of Mexico, an oil painting executed by the skillful brush of Joseph de Ibarra, a colonial artist who painted this work in 1739.
Juan de Palafox y Mendoza was born in Fitero (in the southernmost part of Navarre, Spain) and held important positions within the governmental structure of the Spanish monarchy. He served on several of Philip IV of Spain’s councils, was chaplain to certain members of the royal family, Viceroy and General Inspector of New Spain and, above all, Bishop of Puebla. The material results of his activities are now greatly admired, and although he does not deserve all the credit, since his predecessors and successors also participated in these works, he does stand out as the driving force behind Puebla Cathedral, the Palafoxian Library, the Conciliar Seminary, parish churches for numerous towns in the states of Puebla and Tlaxcala, the shrine of San Miguel del Milagro, and for inscribing the name of the city of Puebla in the history of the West. He is a leading historical figure about whom numerous books have been written and perhaps also the most frequently depicted figure in New World art, above all in paintings and engravings.
Notwithstanding his achievements, he was also one of the most polemical figures of his age, whose reforming actions earned him innumerable enemies in the Church, the vice-regal administration and the royal court itself. Palafox was a prolific writer, and texts by him have been preserved on the most diverse subjects, from economics to spiritual matters.
There are several portraits of him, besides the numerous paintings he appears in (as was customary at the time) as a participant in religious genre scenes, such as the Adoration of the Shepherds (in Puebla Catedral). The official portrait of the prelate as bishop of the diocese of Tlaxcala-Puebla hangs in the Chapter House of Puebla Cathedral, which was painted by Diego de Borgraf, and the face it displays was undoubtedly the basis for subsequent depictions, as well as the engravings produced in Spain. The painting displayed at the MUREP was produced almost a century after Palafox’s arrival in New Spain, and is especially dedicated to his work as inspector and reformer of the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico. He held this position from 1644 to 1645 in order to eradicate abuses in the granting of dispensations for obtaining university degrees, and to endow the institution with clear administrative and academic rules of operation.
The bishop is the only figure shown on the canvas, and stands in the center, dressed in his episcopal robes. The coat-of-arms of the Marquisate of Ariza, a title which belonged to his father, appears in the background. Next to the bishop is a table on which stands the image of the Infant Jesus of Prague, one of his chief devotions. His right hand holds a pectoral cross and his left rests on the book of the Royal University Statutes, i.e. the Constitution with which he attempted to regulate that institution. Written by Palafox himself, these Statutes were the result of his inspection of the University (we would call it an audit nowadays). The notice which occupies most of the bottom right-hand corner of the painting attests to this activity. His face bears almost no expression, yet it is at the same time at the absolute heart of all the elements in the painting. This depiction reinforces his role as officer of the crown, which is why it does not display more episcopal attributes (such as the cappa magna shown in Borgraf’s portrait). It does, however, place emphasis on his communication with Philip IV of Spain on matters relating to the University of Mexico, hence the letter and envelope next to the book of Statutes. This canvas could have been painted for the University of Mexico itself, but it is also possible that it formed part of the Conciliar Seminary (now the Palafoxian Seminary). The erection of this study center for priestly education (based on the tridentine model) was the bishop’s work as well, and he also bestowed it with some statutes of operation. Students at Puebla’s seminary obtained their degree certificates from the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico.
The portrait is signed by Joseph de Ibarra, one of the most outstanding colonial painters in the first half of the eighteenth century, who died in 1756. Joseph de Ibarra painted several famous portraits, including the Archbishop of Mexico, Juan Antonio de Vizarrón (now hanging in the National Museum of History). This artist painted the works on the outer part of the choir walls at Puebla Cathedral, among other commissions. Portraits of Palafox multiplied throughout the eighteenth century, due to interest from Puebla’s ecclesiastical hierarchy, many admirers and, at one time, the Spanish crown itself. Containing other elements, themes and pictorial techniques, extant portraits dating from that century are by Juan Patricio Morlete, Miguel Jerónimo Zendejas and Miguel Cabrera, to name only the most illustrious. The depiction of Palafox in art is a well-researched topic by historians from Mexico and Spain.
Due to the importance of the figure, theme and artist, this is one of the MUREP’s most significant works, which reveals the wealth of its collection and how representative it is of Puebla’s history, as well as its dialog with other cultures and forms of expression in Mexico and around the world.
Facsímil del Códice Yanhuitlán
Testimonio arqueológico y artístico de los Altos de Chiapas.
A Tour of Chunhuhub
The first thing to note is that the entrance to the archeological site of Chunhuhub shows visitors a collection of sculptures from nearby Xcochkax; this site is closed to the public, so several of these artefacts are on display in Chunhuhub to protect them from the elements. Some remarkable exhibits include a block with a dancer, jambs that show important figures and corner pieces with the faces of gods. Also there are ashlars with hieroglyphs and the cover of a vault with a relief of the Pop sign—a symbol of political authority and also one used to mark the first of the 18 Maya months.
Architecture was at its most elaborate in the western part of the Yucatan peninsula between 800 and 1000 AD, with Puuc-style buildings such as those found in Chunhuhub among the finest examples from this period of growth. All of the exterior and interior stonework on the monumental Chunhuhub buildings is clearly in the Puuc style of architecture with a commanding beauty that highlights the chiaroscuro effect on the smooth walls, alternating with the openings or entrances to the chambers.
Two excavated and restored pre-Hispanic constructions are open to visitors in the Chunhuhub archeological site: the first is the Palace or Structure 1, built on a platform yet to be explored. This structure formed part of a series of houses for high-ranking members of society. Archeological digs have only restored some sectors that reveal the monumentality and wealth invested by the valley’s former occupants. The quality of stonework is impressive and the skilled assembly speaks highly both of the Maya architects and of the stonemasons who left us this invaluable legacy. The structure has four wide entrances. The second or central one (the first one has not been restored) is profusely decorated on both sides. The frieze features seated sculptures of the sun god Kinich Ahau, in alternation with bats. The construction behind shows chambers with Maya vaulted roofs but no work has been carried out there yet.
Structure 2. Just beside one side of the Palace and with three rooms. The facade is smooth and the half-molding, like the corniche, is decorated with smooth cylindrical shapes. The frieze includes sets of small tambours with joints, but highlight the patterns on the entrance openings, evoking large zoomorphic masks. A partially restored set of stairs is located between both structures.
Los rituales de fertilidad, maternidad y propiciación de lluvias fueron tradiciones centrales de la vida indígena
Rituals for fertility, maternity and rainmaking were traditions that lay at the heart of indigenous life.
Xochitecatl was one of the most impressive settlements during the early periods of the Puebla-Tlaxcala region’s cultural history. Built in the Middle Preclassic (800-400 BC) on raised volcanic ground, it was visible from all across the valley. The site’s most important buildings are the Pirámide de las Flores ("Pyramid of the Flowers"), the Pirámide de la Serpiente ("Pyramid of the Serpent"), and the Pirámide de la Espiral ("Pyramid of the Spiral"). These three monuments were in use until the Late Preclassic, between 100 BC and 100 AD, when a series of eruptions of Popocatépetl devastated the region and forced inhabitants to abandon their settlements in the area. After being deserted for five to six centuries, Xochitecatl was reoccupied in the Late Classic period (650-900 AD), and the Basamento de los Volcanes ("Plinth of the Volcanoes"), the fourth most important building on the site, dates from that era.
One of the most important aspects of Xochitecatl during the Late Classic was its use as a religious and civil space, unlike Cacaxtla, which was the center used by rulers and administrators. Xochitecatl is clearly associated with the feminine aspect of the indigenous world view, as evidenced in the discoveries made by Mari Carmen Serra Puche and Carlos Lazcano Arce at the foot of the Pyramid of the Flowers. More than 350 clay figurines and other ritual offerings such as ceramic vessels, representations of gods, and obsidian knives were placed at this site between the years 774 and 632 BC. Most of the figurines are female, because they are attired in a quechquemitl or shawl with a V-shaped neckline, a garment only used by women. There is an extraordinary variety of these female figurines, who are depicted variously as in a state of pregnancy, offering prayers, and raising their hands to the skies. The collection also includes representations of old women, mothers carrying babies, and finely dressed women. Some have movable parts, or babies and cots with infants inside them.
Juliette Testard and Mari Carmen Serra Puche recently conducted further studies of these figurines. They found that their iconography and decoration, including their postures, expressions, floral motifs, “ollin” circles (referring to movement), and the “flower-blood,” are references to Tlazolteotl and Xochiquetzal, two Nahua deities associated with fertility, maternity and rainmaking. Other feminine objects discovered in the same area as the offerings of the figurines include more than 500 malacates—spindles used for textile-work, an activity normally associated with women. Furthermore, the main facade of the Pyramid of the Flowers is west-facing, an orientation that is also linked to feminine characteristics in Nahua culture.
We do not know who placed these offerings, simply because no written records were left to give clues about their identity. However, they were probably the work of a number of people from various regions, who visited Xochitecatl over the centuries. The main purpose seems to have been to pay homage to the deities of Xochiquetzal and Tlazolteotl on the hill. Perhaps the wide variety of people who came to this area is one explanation for why the figurines have decorative features similar to those found among other cultures, such as those from the Gulf Coast, the Valley of Mexico, and the Maya region of Tabasco. In any case, it is extraordinary that the goddesses were worshipped over such a long time span, at least until the Late Classic period in Puebla-Tlaxcala. By analyzing the cultural importance of Xochitecatl and its role as a sacred space to indigenous people for so many centuries, we can begin to understand the vital need for efforts to ensure their continued preservation.
A Site that Honors its Aquatic Environment
The Dzibilchaltun archeological site has many attractions but two stand out for their beauty and uniqueness. First there is the Xlacah Cenote, a two million year-old geological formation. Its importance as a water source is testified by the finding of over 30,000 ceramic water vessels left as offerings from the period between the mid-600s BC to the seventeenth century. Numerous wooden pieces have also been found, such as a scepter with a point shaped like a hand and labrets (an adornment worn on the lower lip), made from wood with geometric ornamentation. Other objects found include a stingray’s spine used in the self-sacrificial ritual of bloodletting. The offerings were left in the belief that cenotes were the portals of the underworld. Until the mid-1950s it was thought that the Xlacah Cenote was little more than a waterhole, but when it was dived by Jorge Urcelay Gutiérrez and Pedro Castillo Peniche, the pioneers of underwater archeology in the Yucatan peninsula, it was found to be a 130-foot-deep underwater cave.
The Templo de las Siete Muñecas ("Temple of the Seven Dolls"), built in the Middle Classic around 750 AD, is another highlight. It was probably a religious building also functioning as an astronomical observatory. The architecture of the building is in a category all its own. On top of a quadrilateral base consisting of two superimposed trapezoidal shapes there is another quadrilateral structure with a central chamber that rises like a tower to approximately 33 feet. It is surrounded by a walkway which has an overhanging circular vault. This walkway, or peripheral corridor, has four doorways, each oriented to a cardinal point, giving access to the building via wide stairways located on each side of the plinth. In ancient times the friezes on the four facades of the temple bore a decorative stucco relief with water snakes displayed at each side of a central figurehead; the latter are still preserved above each of the doorways. Alongside the snakes may be found aquatic and sea creatures such as a stingray, a heron and various species of fish. If we add to this interesting iconographic concept the fact that on the equinoxes, the sun is aligned with the east and west facades of this building, we might conclude that the temple was dedicated to the watery environment from which the sun rises in the east. During the Early Classic period certain of the leaders of Tikal bore the title of U Naabal K’inich, which translates roughly as “The watery place of the Lord radiant as the Sun.” It would appear that the building known today as the Temple of the Seven Dolls was the symbolic representation of this place.
In the mid-Late Classic period (900 AD), the building was buried by the infill of a new structure which eventually covered it completely. Each of the four sides of this new building also had wide stairways which rose to the top, where there could have been a religious shrine. This structure remained until the start of the Postclassic (1100 AD), although it was soon left in ruins with the abandonment of the site. With the arrival of a new group of inhabitants two centuries later, the building which had been buried reappeared in the midst of eroded debris. Dzibilchaltun’s new inhabitants rescued it and removed part of the filling that had hidden it for more than 500 years. These were the people who left an offering of seven ceramic figures beneath the floor of the old temple, giving rise to the building’s present-day name. It is important to mention that these figurines might represent an ancient rite, namely the power of certain individuals to transform themselves into their spiritual animal known as a nagual or way. This interpretation is based on the fact that some of the figures represent a human being with the features and shell of a turtle, while others do not even have human features. Both structures were abandoned at the end of the sixteenth century, until the 1950s when a group of US archeologists directed by Edward Wyllys Andrews IV of the University of Tulane in New Orleans began their archeological survey and excavations.
The open chapel built by the Spanish at the end of the sixteenth century is also an outstanding feature of the Central Plaza. The enclosed part consists of a great stone apse covered by a barrel vaulted roof housing the Christian altar, as well as a lengthened platform which finishes in a semi-circle before the altar. This platform was covered by a pitched palm and timber roof which ended in a half cone shape. The building also has a side wall which connected to a sacristy. The remains of the temple located at the top of Structure 36 (the pyramid at the northwest corner of the Central Plaza) were dismantled for the construction. This pyramid previously had a temple with masks carved in stone similar to those in the Puuc region, although with more influence from the sculptural tradition of Chichen Itza. Structure 44, one of the longest buildings of the Maya region, is at the other end of the plaza.
A Glance at Everyday Life
Architecture is a valuable source of information for archeologists. A favored research topic is the everyday life of the ancient city dwellers, and how they used the spaces which are so different from those we inhabit in the present day. In this regard, research into the East Group has focused on discovering the various activities which were carried out there, starting from the assumption that around the year 750 this group was the dwelling place of the governing elite and therefore, in addition to religious and administrative functions, completely mundane tasks would also have been carried out there, such as food preparation, eating and sleeping. This begs a question about the types of evidence that might be needed to determine the use of such spaces. In the Kabah project we proposed that function might be reflected in three types of evidence: firstly architecture, or to use a broader term, the built environment; secondly there is the study of the messages conveyed contained in what we now class as the decoration of the buildings, or the absence of it; and finally, evidence from the remains associated with these spaces, such as the pottery, utensils such as knives, the tips of projectiles, axes and other manufactured belongings, whether from stone, shell or other materials.
By studying these aspects of the East Group we managed to find the area where food was prepared for the governing family of Kabah. We found the place where maize flour was prepared for atole, tamales, pozole and other dishes—though not including tortillas, as these arrived in the Yucatan together with people from central Mexico. We also discovered the site where animals were skinned and perhaps precooked, the space for storing food and cooking utensils, the areas where instruments were sharpened and a possible area for waste. The investigation of the Kabah royal kitchen was enriched by the study of various chemical components which impregnated the soil, and which once analyzed allow us to know where the fires were, the areas where the water from the maize flour drained away, or where blood or other types of organic material drained away.
This work has given us a glimpse of the complex world of palace life and has given rise to new challenges, such as calculating how many people worked there on a daily basis to satisfy the appetites of the royalty, or identifying favorite dishes, working out how the supplies were provided, and other similar questions which encourage us to delve deeper into this research effort.
A Mayan City of the Late Postclassic
For many years the excavation and research of the Late Postclassic sites on the east coast of present-day Quintana Roo was dismissed because the buildings lacked the magnificence of the previous periods, and because it was thought that the Maya of later periods had fallen into decadence after the so-called "collapse" of the ninth and tenth centuries. Nevertheless, recent research and new approaches to interpretation have demonstrated that Postclassic society, of which San Miguelito was a part, was highly complex and had an efficient production system.
The excavations carried out on site by Sandra Elizalde in 2011 and 2012 revealed in detail the characteristics of a site of enormous interest for the understanding of the Postclassic history of the east coast, since a significant number of residential structures were excavated, as well as the dwellings of the elite, administrative buildings and a pyramid, which together make up the principal elements of Mayan settlements in the northeast of the Yucatan peninsula during the period between 1300 and 1550.
It is interesting to note that San Miguelito would appear to be built in two sectors, one exclusively residential located in the northern part of the settlement, and the other in the south with masonry dwellings, administrative facilities and a plinth which appears to be more closely related to the structures of the El Rey archeological site than to the rest of San Miguelito. These elements seem to show that the internal configuration of the site changed at various times within the Late Postclassic. If this hypothesis is correct, the oldest buildings in the first phase of the San Miguelito site were contemporary with the buildings of the neighboring site of El Rey. The following structures would have been built shortly afterwards: the palace, the buildings for the elite and finally the residential platforms of the north sector which supported houses made from perishable materials.
This conclusion does not imply that the older areas of this archeological site would have been abandoned. On the contrary, we think that the whole of the site was inhabited until the end of its pre-Hispanic occupation and that its inhabitants made various changes to the structures, reusing and dismantling parts of them to adapt them to the changing circumstances and the growth of the town. The large quantity of molluscs, turtle bones and weights for fishing nets found on the residential platforms of the north sector of San Miguelito show that their inhabitants were strongly dependent on the produce of the sea for their living (Elizalde, 2015). Nevertheless an analysis of skeletal remains by Allan Ortega (2016) seems to point to a deterioration in people’s state of health, especially the youngest, as well as significant deterioration among adults from exposure to tough working conditions. Since the majority of the burials of this description were found in the northern sector of the city, it is probable that these homes were built when the Spanish were already present in the peninsula, which would explain the deterioration in the quality of living standards of its inhabitants and the presence of a prismatic blade manufactured with pre-Hispanic technology, but using European glass as the primary material (Elizalde, op cit).
In the light of this evidence, a visit to San Miguelito is very enriching, and encourages us to find out more about a period in the history of the ancient Maya which far from being one of decline, is of great interest for our understanding of the social and economic structure of Mayan civilization at the time of the conquest, as well as the responses of its inhabitants to the failed attempts at subjugation and colonization by the Europeans.
Examining Tula’s Complex Urban Layout
The Tula archeological site is one of the most important of the Toltec culture. This monumental complex of buildings is located on an artificial terrace, upon which various administrative and ceremonial buildings were erected. A large central plaza has a shrine in the middle. Toward the north, the Palacio Quemado ("Burned Palace") and Pyramid B were built, the latter structure being separated by a wall known as the Coatepantli ("Wall of Snakes"). Building J and Pyramid C are located to the east, the elongated Building K to the south, and a Tzompantli ("Wall of Skulls") and Ballcourt 2 (see the site map) to the west.
Located at the fork of the Rosas and Tula rivers and at the crest of a hill (El Tesoro), Tula’s shape and plan is intimately connected to the local relief and topography. The site is bordered by the Magoni peak to the west and by another rocky prominence (El Cielito) to the southeast. The city’s rectangular shape has irregular contours at its edges, where the Tula river provided the north-south oriented axis of layout during the initial phase of Toltec construction. Evidence of two renovations can be seen during the second phase of Toltec construction: one when the city began to be oriented toward the northeast, and the other when it expanded in a northwesterly direction.
In the second stage of urban development, the city of Tula reached seven square miles, corresponding to its maximum expansion during the Tollan phase (900-1150 AD). It measured 3.7 miles from north to south, and 2.5 miles from east to west. Due to the area’s topography, the slopes, hills, and part of the valley between 2,005 and 2,060 meters above sea level were developed. The site is flanked to the east by the modern-day towns of San Lorenzo, Tultengo, and El Llano, as well as by the hill called El Cielito; to the west, by the present-day city of Tula and the Malinche and Magoni hills; and to the south, by the town of San Marcos.
The site’s numerous neighborhoods with clusters of houses and a main temple suggest a highly complex urban life outside the ceremonial center. Specialist craftsmen who produced ceramic, stone, shell, bone, sculptures, fabrics and other handcrafts worked in some of the neighborhoods. To the north, outside the urban sector, there was farmland as well as housing units linked to intensive agricultural systems that used watering and a network of canal-irrigated terraces.
The archeological city of Tula was a very complex urban center, even without taking into account the processes of decline and reoccupation that took place, with the arrival of Nahua peoples, and subsequently during the Colonial period.
A Look at the Palace-Temple
The Palace-Temple of Tabasqueño has eight chambers on the first level, two of them just beneath the flight of steps. This is notable, because there are very few examples of steps being built over two rooms. The north-facing temple chamber is on the second floor; the one looking south collapsed some years ago.
The north façade of the Palace-Temple is a prime example of the Chenes architectural style, with the image of a large, stone mosaic mask representing the Earth Monster (Itzamná) with its jaws agape. Its upper central incisors are T-shaped and thus show the sign “Ik”, associated with the sun god and meaning breath, life, and germination. Its large mouth is also T-shaped, but inverted. The deity is also replicated on both corners with eight stacked or cascading masks with hooked noses. Highlighting the building’s monumentality, on the roof there was also an openwork wall or roof comb with stucco figures, although today this is only partially preserved. Teoberto Maler reported that the entire mask and roof comb were painted bright red. This expert on the Maya people worked on the architectural records and calculated its total height at just under 49 feet.
In his study of this chamber’s orientation, Abel Morales López (Autonomous University of Campeche) indicates that during the summer solstices the light at sunrise and sunset illuminates the interior walls. Morales López also reported finding graffiti—drawings engraved into the wall’s stucco coating—depicting stars, a seated figure and what appeared to be a day-count indicated by vertical lines and crosses arranged along two horizontal lines. Ivan Sprajc and Pedro F. Sánchez Nava, of the INAH, indicate that the orientation of the Palace-Temple is indeed connected to the position of the sun, while Structure 3 (near the Tower) probably indicated the position of the sunrises on February 19 and October 22.
According to Maler’s report, on the first level of the Palace-Temple, the façade of the chamber located at the western end had, as part of its decoration (at the same level as, and on both sides of, the lintel) two human figures in molded stucco, positioned horizontally, as if they were swimming and at the same time escaping the arms of a monster emerging from a small house. Unfortunately, both the graffiti and the stucco images have since been lost, particularly as a result of the damage caused by Hurricanes Opal and Roxanne in 1995. That year most of the eastern side of the upper chamber of the Palace-Temple collapsed. Eight years later, the construction was restored under the supervision of INAH’s Ramón Carrasco.
Several first-floor rooms of the Palace-Temple still preserve traces of painting inside. On the lower sloping surface of the vaulted roof there were apparently scenes painted in red and framed by thick blue bands. The two rear chambers have stone benches, indicating that they might have been used as the residence of the elite.
During the excavations of the northern side of the Palace-Temple and the adjacent building (west side; Structure 1A), various grinding stones and fragments were recovered. These utensils offer evidence of the daily preparation of foodstuffs, an activity that evidently took place near the spaces occupied by the rulers.
Los edificios representaban y cumplían funciones mixtas que aseguraban el control político y económico de la comunidad por parte de la élite.
The buildings symbolized and carried out mixed functions which secured the elite’s political and economic control of the community.
In Xpuhil, the buildings are concentrated in groups demarcated by opened and closed courtyards and, inside, the rooms show evidence of having been arched and fitted with benches at different levels. Occasionally, the central opening of the façade was marked by cascades of serpentine stucco masks.
The lack of a clearly-defined central area in Xpuhil, together with the presence of various structural groupings, suggests that the community was under the control of a number of local noble houses, who answered to the authorities in the neighboring site of Río Bec. This situation was probably similar in other occupied settlements in the region, always under the control of Becán.
The distribution of the larger mounds in Xpuhil span a surface of at least nine square miles, a figure broadly similar to the area of the Río Bec site. The concentration of buildings on these mounds is limited. In practically every cluster there is a structure with prominent qualities, which could have performed several functions, from housing for the elite to public use, whether political and administrative or religious. Later on, the outlook changed drastically as the regional connections began to break down.
The cultural heritage which still survives around the regional center of Calakmul provides an excellent opportunity to create greater awareness of its historical and cultural value, and for the INAH and the wider public to jointly adopt a commitment to respect and protection. In their daily lives, the local population coexists with this legacy developed by our Mayan ancestors in the south of Campeche.
Un encuentro inusual con el pasado y la naturaleza
A singular encounter with the past and the natural world
The Yaxchilán archeological site’s special attraction is the way it combines natural and cultural heritage, that is, pre-Hispanic buildings with the tropical forest. Of course, this can be seen in practically all the Mayan archeological sites, such as Calakmul and Palenque, but Yaxchilán is sensational nevertheless. There are no roads to the site, no parking, or buses full of tourists and vendors, and this is because of its location: it can only be reached by river on a motor boat. Prior to disembarking, visitors see a little mound on the river beach, a mound which retains its original shape despite being buffeted by the strong currents of the Usumacinta for more than twelve centuries.
Then, after walking along the trail and traversing the dark passages of Building 19, or the Labyrinth, visitors are awed by the Great Plaza, where they find the temples, ballcourt, palace, altars and stelae, all framed by the green of the trees, including a huge kapok, the sacred tree of the Maya. When reaching the center of the Great Plaza, on the right side there is a stairway which leads to the Great Acropolis, with Yaxchilán’s emblematic Building 33 and its monumental roof comb.
All the lintels, stairways, hieroglyphs and the seated sculpture inside Building 33 are monuments to Bird Jaguar the Great, winner of the power struggle with the jaguar dynasty of Yaxchilán after the death of Shield Jaguar, his father in 742 AD. As Bird Jaguar the Great was not the son of his father’s legitimate spouse, he had to pass his childhood in the shadow of an antagonistic segment of the dynasty, until he annihilated his political rival and succeeded to the throne in 752 AD. Because of this, the majority of the monuments to bird Jaguar the Great are accounts of his legitimacy and the love of his mother, represented by stela 35, where the original carbon from the incense that was burnt more than thirteen centuries ago in Building 21 is still preserved. When climbing the West Acropolis, the lintels of Building 44 commemorate the military victories of Shield Jaguar, and Bird Jaguar is represented in the central entrance of Building 42 with his deputy.
Visitors will feel immersed in the struggle for power, honor and family of Mayan warriors 1,000 years ago. And if we stay quiet for a moment, we can hear the sounds of the tropical forest... also the voices of the children playing, the chatter of young couples, a court discussion, the cries of war and finally the message of the ancient Maya to us. The causes of the Mayan collapse were the same as what we are now facing: ecological destruction and war. We should not succumb to the same mistakes as the ancient Maya, for we are them and they are us.
Peralta Archeological Site
The south of Guanajuato is characterized by extensive grasslands which are irrigated by the Lerma River and known as El Bajío. Rich in fertile land, a large number of farming towns were established in this territory which maintained trade relationships with other sites in Mesoamerica.
The Peralta archeological site is located to the east of the town of Abasolo, on the northern side of the hilll of the same name, and stands out among all of the archeological remains in El Bajío for its complexity and size. The site comprises 20 buildings distributed from the top of the hill down to the lower ground near the river. The first records of the site date from the 1970s and 1980s, but the archeological project officially began in 2002.
To date, two buildings have been excavated and restored, and are suitable for public visits: La Mesita ("The Liitle Table") and El Divisadero ("The Lookout Point"). Both share a simple construction system based on a dry core of black basalt with a cladding made from the same material, bonded together with clay and vegetable fibres, adobe walls for residential areas, and staircases reinforced with blocks of red or yellow cantera stone. Some traces of clay stucco were also recorded.
The scale of La Mesita is notable: its base measures 482 by 426 feet and it is 40 feet in height. Efraín Cárdenas named this building the Recinto de los Gobernantes ("Governors' Enclosure") as it is considered to be a palace building, and inside there is a large plaza connected to a circular structure, similar to a stage. A little to the south of this circle there is a smaller plaza with graded seating and to the north there is a series of rooms. The Governors' Enclosure has two entrances, the main one being a stairway on the western wall, which leads to the circular structure, probably used by high-ranking individuals. The other entrance is simpler and is comprised of a narrow corridor located at the centre of the southern facade, believed to have been used by the rest of the population.
El Divisadero is found to the north-west of La Mesita, on a platform measuring 285 by 259 feet. This complex is comprised of a plaza and two pyramidal bases which delimit it to the east and the south. These plinths have a height of nearly 33 feet. The outline of these structures recalls the shape of those in Xochicalco: a large sloping wall topped with a small vertical wall. It can be observed at different points that the building was extended on more than one occasion. The entrance to El Divisadero is via a simple stairway of yellow cantera stone located in the northern facade, which ascends and descends the perimeter volume which demarcates the square. A combination of materials can be seen in the stairways of the two plinths, including cantera stone on the sloping sides and tezontle (volcanic rock) used on the raised slopes flanking the stair.
During the excavations, offerings were found behind the plinth: five obsidian knives and one made from flint; a small alabaster mask and fragments of arrowheads. Upon studying the materials, it was discovered that they are from a later period and were deposited after the site was abandoned. It is possible that certain groups remembered the building as a place to worship their ancestors and so they continued to visit it.