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The ballcourt group is one of the most important sections of Malpasito. Such courts were widespread in the southeast region of Tabasco and the northwest of Chiapas, with a particular predominance of this type of construction in the Late Classic period.
The Malpasito ballcourt was the first to be investigated and conserved in the region. It is notable for its size and the complexity of its architectural features, which identify it as an example of the trend to move from open to closed courts. The former initially had recreational purposes, while ideological connotations predominated in the latter during the Late Classic from 600 to 900.
The ballcourt consists of eight rectangular structures and one access stairway marking out the entrance to a sloped “T” shaped court, closed off at the western end and open in the east. The space between the parallel structures measures 112 feet long by 20 feet wide, and is nearly 60 feet by 13 feet in the goal area. Access to the court is via three stairways, from the main plaza and from buildings 21 and 22. The latter is smaller than the others and it was designed for access by fewer people. There is a network of drains four to eight inches below the level of the court, built with sandstone to form a rectangular-section pipe. Each of the lines of this drainage system leads underneath buildings 18 and 22, as well as the southwest staircase, and slope eastwards.
On the top of building 18 there was a structure used by the ancient people as a steam bath. It is a rectangular underground facility measuring 37 feet 5 inches long by 12 feet 6 inches wide, with a maximum height of 6 feet 4 inches, and with entry by stairs in the west side. The steam room in the center is provided with side benches and a burning chamber on the east side. A fire was lit inside this chamber and water was thrown on the east wall to produce the steam.
Ballcourts represented a place of confrontation with the forces of the underworld, whose purpose was to ensure that plants would regrow after the end of the dry season. Unlike the region’s other courts, the Malpasito court has three stages used for ceremonies. The first can be seen in Building 22, with a wide stairway which closes off the far northwest end of the court, giving access to a 926-square-foot space at the top of the building. It appears that an elite group directed the course of ritual ceremonies prior to the game from this space, as well as the ball game itself. Meanwhile, building 18 on the south side and building 21 in the northeast corner served as ritual stages prior to the game.
It is important to mention the research by Gerardo Cepeda Cárdenas analyzing the ritual process. He indicates that the ceremonies prior to the ball game began on the previous day, with a morning purification ritual. At Malpasito the scene for this ritual must have been the steam bath located in building 18. Subsequently, after midday, a ceremonial vigil would take place which involved the isolation of the players until the starting time. This ritual could have taken place in a space in Building 21 consisting of two rooms and linking to Building 22 via a side patio, and with the court via a staircase: the narrowest of the three entrances. Also, the largest quantity of pottery was found inside these spaces.
The importance of the ball game in the region goes beyond the special buildings for this purpose. It is common to find rock carvings with representations of groups of people including “I” shaped designs identical to the courts. To date there is insufficient evidence to be certain about the nature of this ritual function. It is likely that, as in other Mesoamerican contexts, the game served ritual functions to propitiate fertility and rebirth, whose complexity would be proportional to the social, political and economic importance of each settlement.
The Mesoamerican Ballgame
Several sculptures have been found in the Los Melones archeological zone, the highlight of which are two Mesoamerican ballgame rings. We should first take a moment to analyze the role of the ballgame to Mesoamerican culture, as evidence of rubber balls dating back to 1600 BC has been found on the Gulf coast, while architectural remains dating back to between 1400 and 1250 BC have been found in Chiapas.
Archeological and ethnographic evidence can be found throughout Mesoamerica in different forms. Courts for the ballgame had different shapes, as we can see depicted in certain mural paintings (e.g. those of Tepantitla and Teotihuacan), as well as in codices. Chief among these are the codices of Selden, Nuttall and, above all, Xólotl, which portrays Nezahualcóyotl playing the game. There are also illustrations accompanying the works of chroniclers and certain monolithic sculptures, such as that of San Miguel Ixtapan in the State of Mexico, or those carved in the panels of El Tajín, together with decorated pottery beakers and sculptures, such as those of Colima, which show the game and its players.
Fray Bernardino de Sahagún tells us: “...the ballgame was called tlaxtli or tlachtli, the court for which consisted of two walls twenty or thirty feet apart, forty or fifty feet long and about three yards high. Both walls and ground were painted very white. A line was drawn for the purpose of the game in the middle of the court. There were two stones like millstones, pierced in the middle, halfway up the walls in the middle of the court. These faced each other and the corresponding holes were wide enough that the ball could pass through each.”
It is possible to find up to 18 variants of ballgame court, from different floor plans and two parallel constructions to whether they were open or closed, or included end sections or not.
In the case of Los Melones, the first ring (which is smaller than the other one) incorporates a flange and circular perforation. It is carved on both sides, and the top shows the head of a person who appears to be wearing a helmet. This ring probably comes from Huexotla.
The second ring is also carved on both sides. It depicts someone dressed as a player who is kneeling around the hole in the middle. This was found near the river in the neighborhood of La Trinidad in Texcoco.
The Museum of an Exceptional Site
The Jorge R. Acosta Museum was inaugurated on November 16, 1982. It is named after the principal archeologist who led the project from 1939 until 1960 in the area of the monuments known as the Tula Archeological Zone and revealed the main buildings and pyramid-like structures that are now open to the public, such as Ballcourt 1, the Coatepantli ("Wall of Snakes"), Pyramid B, the Palacio Quemado ("Burned Palace"), Pyramid C, and the central altar of Tula Grande’s plaza.
The exhibits in the museum are divided into nine thematic spaces that examine the site’s cultural history. It shows a range of artefacts made out of everything from ceramic, bone, shell, and obsidian, to basalt rock and stone. Most of these objects were discovered by Jorge R. Acosta himself during his work on Tula Grande. (Figure 1. Map of the Museum, showing the number of galleries and the layout of displays, information boards and platforms).
There are also objects found during various explorations carried out by other Mexican archeologists, including Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, Roberto Gallegos, Juan Yadeum, Guadalupe Mastache, Alejandro Pastrana, Enrique Fernández, Susana Gómez Serafín, and Blanca Paredes. Other items were discovered by US researchers working on projects, led by Richard Diehl, Robert H. Cobean and Dan Healan, among others.
The Templo Mayor Museum
The Templo Mayor site museum houses the results of excavations carried out on the most important religious building of the Mexica people. Since it was first opened, its eight galleries have been divided into two main sections, in imitation of the dualistic worldview reflected in the two shrines that crowned the Mexica temple itself. The galleries on the south side correspond to Huitzilopochtli, god of war, while those to the north are centered on Tlaloc, god of rain and sustenance. Like Templo Mayor itself, the museum faces west.
The first indication that we are heading into the shrine to the war god is found in the museum’s entrance lobby: a wall of skulls rises up, with rows of stone craniums, one after the other, stretching the limits of our imagination. Mostly found on the south side of the Templo Mayor, these perhaps formed part of a rack of skulls, an altar known as a tzompantli.
The first gallery orients visitors on the long history of archeological discoveries about the Mexica, from the discovery of the two monolithic stones—Coatlicue and the Sun Stone—until more recent findings thanks to the work of the Urban Archeology Program. Exhibits include three ritual “deposits,” better known as offerings. Most of the artefacts on display in the museum originally formed part of these offerings that constituted the Mexicas’ most treasured possessions, including green stone beads, masks, human remains, vessels, as well as a strong presence of flora and fauna, all left in the Templo Mayor in order to communicate with their gods.
Death is the subject of the second gallery, where we find the oldest objects relating to the second stage of Templo Mayor (1390 AD), and unsurprisingly they are connected to death: on display are funerary urns discovered inside Huitzilopochtli’s shrine. The first is made of travertine stone with an unusual obsidian lid. This contained burnt bones, two pieces of green stone and a gold rattle. Nearby, a discovery was made of another small urn, made completely out of obsidian, a material that is difficult to carve, and great experience is required when creating such objects. As in the case of the other urn, this one also held burnt bones that must have belonged to someone from the highest social rank.
The route through the museum galleries shows us the Mexicas’ area of influence during their greatest territorial expansion; they were a people who came to dominate central Mexico—only a handful of areas escaped their rule. Toward the south, they also exercised power in the modern-day states of Morelos and part of Guerrero. From these areas they acquired fruit, cotton and other important products. The Mexicas’ sphere of control even extended to part of Oaxaca’s Mixteca region, the Gulf Coast, and they were already in the advanced stages of preparation for an incursion into the Maya region. Michoacán was one area they never succeeded in bringing under their yoke, and they suffered major defeats there.
Many artefacts have been left to us by the Mexica in the Templo Mayor, most significantly the stone masks that were placed on the mortuary bundle. The masks in different offerings come from different regions, though most frequently from the area of Mezcala, in the state of Guerrero. These have been the subject of interesting studies. One of the most outstanding Mexica masks is made in travertine, with the stone’s white color giving it a unique appearance; it makes a very striking impression with its shell inlays and red pyrite used for the eyes. The teeth, also made out of shell, were found incomplete although we still have parts of them.
The Mexica were able to control other groups by waging wars. The two major military orders, the “eagle” and “jaguar” warriors, consisted solely of members of the nobility. They could receive distinctions, own land, and dress according to their military rank. War would allow any individual, even if he was a macehual—from the working class—to enjoy social mobility and rise up the social hierarchy, although never attaining the level of nobility. This is significant because of the grandeur of the “eagle” warrior sculpture standing proudly in front of us in the site that bears the same name, on the north side of Templo Mayor; this exquisite ceramic figure is the maximum expression of Mexica power.
Entering the part of the building devoted to Tlaloc we leave behind the world of war and are welcomed by the god of water, rain and fertility. Yet this god also had his dark side: he could also send down hail, ice-storms, and other weather that damaged crops. He needed to be appeased and hence the entire northern side of the Templo Mayor was devoted to him.
He has an unmistakable face: his goggle eyes are, like the nose, made of snakes. This is how he receives us into the gallery, with his forked tongue barely emerging beneath the mouth, and two protruding fangs. The representation is striking because, apart from revealing the typical features of this deity, he is shown as part of a blue vessel that is immediately connected to the function of the god. This is the pot or vessel used to pour water onto the earth. It was highly symbolic as a kind of uterus containing water—amniotic fluid—where life is created. By contrast, the pot could also contain the dead, who thus return to their mother’s womb. One of the offerings that contained most elements dedicated to Tlaloc was number 41. It was located beneath the platform of the stage IV-b (circa 1470), and was found very close to the altar of the frogs, beside the water god.
In this gallery visitors can admire a truly extraordinary work: the stone shell. Whoever created this sculpture not only created life through form but also joined volume and rhythm with lines that gently spread out in a pulsating, constant and eternal movement. In its infinite beauty the conch shell evokes water, rain, fertility, indeed everything that forms part of life.
Moving on through the exhibition, the grandeur of the Mexica people can be seen as we observe the sheer profusion and variety of fauna found as part of the offerings made at the Templo Mayor. Specimens come from Mexico’s highland, tropical and coastal regions, as well as from the sea itself. The various animals left in these offerings display a symbolism that is essential to consider if we are to understand their meaning in context. Animals are not just a part of the offerings but they are notably also represented in stone and clay, alongside the remains of flora, which is inherently harder to preserve. The eagle head sculpted in stone still retains some of its original coloring and stands out for its realism and the quality of its carving. It was found inside the Red Temple, located toward the south, and the bird of prey has locks of hair hanging down from its head, thus linking it in some way to war.
Music also played an important role in rituals, from birth to death. Many musical instruments, both real and sculpted, were found in the offerings: flutes, rattles, small drums, teponaztli slit drums, conch shells, and others all point to the importance of music in the daily lives of the Mexica.
Continuing the museum tour, at the entrance of chamber II a polychrome pot was found representing Chalchiuhtlicue, wife of Tlaloc, surrounded by sea shells. The goddess’s face and feet are depicted in relief on the pot, as is the folded paper adornment behind her head. She is shown wearing a shawl-like quechquémitl. The piece also features two superimposed circles on the chest, possibly indicating breasts.
On the topic of gods and animals related to water and fertility, we must also mention the god Xipe-Totec and his relation to the rites of the regeneration of life. Here Xipe is shown wearing another skin, as he is customarily portrayed. The cord that attaches and stretches the flayed skin, and the mouth that converts into a double mouth at the front, is reminiscent of rituals where the priest would wear the skin of the sacrificial victim, suggesting the connection of the ceremony with fertility. The facial expression is clearly visible, and once again death is the form that gives life in the endless cycle of opposites and complements, always of such importance in pre-Hispanic Mexico.
The last gallery in the museum is dedicated to the Spanish conquest, an event of enormous significance. With the Europeans came two types of conquest, one military and the other ideological: the triumph of the Spaniards’ weapons over the Mexica, on August 13, 1521, was followed by a spiritual conquest.
What was the fate of the Templo Mayor? In common with the other buildings in this ceremonial complex, it was destroyed. Some of the conquistadors’ houses were erected on top of the site where the great Templo Mayor once stood. No trace was left to pinpoint the location of the Templo Mayor, leading to numerous speculations about its location. This was precisely what the conquistadores had intended: no evidence was to be left of the conquered indigenous people and all that they considered central to their universe, which they called the Navel of the World. The remains of the Templo Mayor which we have found, hundreds of years later, correspond to the most historically remote stages and as a result are the smallest constructions. This is what allowed them to survive to this day as a mute witness of that legendary, almost mythical time.
Mexico is made up of two historical strands: pre-Hispanic Mexico and colonial Mexico. One wanted to deny the existence of the other, but failed. The former Mexico is ever present and emerges out of the earth at every corner. They are the gods who refused to die...
The Cuauhnahuac Regional Museum in the Palace of Hernán Cortés in Cuernavaca
The Palace of Cortés in Cuernavaca (as the Spanish conquistadors transcribed the original name of Cuauhnahuac) is a historical building of great interest from different points of view, as it is one of the oldest sixteenth-century buildings and the only one of its kind on the American continent. It occupies a former pre-Hispanic Tlahuica settlement that functioned as a Tlatocayancalli (in Nahuatl, “the house where streams converge”), the role of which was to gather tribute from the towns within the domain of Cuauhnahuac (“near the trees”). This was destroyed by the conquistadors and a monumental palace-castle was built on its foundations. It is perhaps one of the best examples of the architecture of power, of one of the most powerful jurisdictions after the Conquest, the Marquisate of the Valley of Oaxaca.
Part of the platforms, sloping staircase frames and steps have been preserved at the front of the palace and beneath it, as well as a few circular stone and stucco structures that formed part of the pre-Hispanic plaza, all of which was razed and burned when the indigenous city was taken.
Una residencia real en construcción perpetua
The term “palace” has traditionally been used in a general sense to describe buildings with many rooms. In the Puuc region, however, the concept of a palace has been extended, since they not only have numerous rooms, but also courtyards, terraces and plazas. In particular, note must be made of the walkways, such as passages, some of which were roofed, and the stairways which enabled or hindered access to the various parts of the building complex. Palaces are architectural complexes where various functions relating to the exercise of political power and the organization of the city were carried out, but they also accommodated more mundane activities such as food preparation, sleeping and eating.
We can learn about the history of a people through architecture. In the case of the Maya, the architecture was dynamic and was constantly being modified to fit the needs of the society, the wishes of a new governor and even adopting new design patterns which originated beyond the local elites.
In the case of the Palace of Labná, we know that its final form is the result of two important periods, which are associated with the two "Throne Rooms," allowing us to assume that they were ordered by two governors. The persistence of patterns of design and the way in which they were built tells us that there was a continuity of political power and that very probably they were commissioned by members of the same lineage.
The Palace of Labná has more than 50 rooms distributed around five patios: three at the lower and two at the upper level. There are also two plazas situated in the upper part, which were linked by a small bridge. This architectural complex was built over at least 250 years in the Late/Terminal Classic (750-1000).
Each of the different areas making up the Palace had one principal function. Undoubtedly the Central Courtyard, with its elaborate buildings, was the focus of political and ritual activity, because it was there that the two throne rooms may be found. The East Courtyard was dedicated to the preparation of food for the royalty, while the upper level patios with their very restricted access and discrete locations, were residential areas.
The Palace was never completed. Its inhabitants had to abandon the site at some point, and hurriedly, but not without carrying out complex ceremonies for the ritual destruction of the main entrances to the buildings, which left their mark.
The Governor's Palace is the Greatest Work of Architecture in Uxmal
The Governor’s Palace is without doubt one of the most important buildings of the whole Mayan world, and it is considered by many as the most extraordinary example of the pre-Hispanic architecture of the Americas. It is a genuine wonder that perfectly merges religious and political symbols.
The facade is impressive because of its delicately worked stone, which has been compared to filigree. On different planes, there are lattices, masks of Chaac and representations of the governors.
There is a sculpture of a governor seated on his throne in the main entrance. He bears an exquisite headdress and is framed by two-headed snakes, a symbol used to represent royal authority. It is probable that this personage is none other than Chan Chak K’ak’nal Ajaw, also known as Lord Chac, one of Uxmal’s most important kings. Significant architectural developments including the Governor’s Palace and the Nunnery Quadrangle are attributed to his reign in the tenth century AD.
The masks of Chaac are a recurrent motif in important Puuc buildings and these are usually presented in cascades. In the Governor’s Palace however, we also find other forms of presentation. In addition to cascades of masks the representations of the rain god cover the whole facade in a zigzag pattern which recalls the twisting movement of a snake.
Throughout the whole Palace we also find representations of the planet Venus, which was the planet most closely studied by the Maya. This planet governed the lives of the ancient Maya, since the priests could tell from empirical observation when the rainy season would begin, or how long the dry season would last. Nonetheless it is impressive that the entire Palace is oriented to recording the movement of Venus and the maximum declination of the sun at the solstices.
All the elements which make up the Governor’s Palace are brought together perfectly in a building which is an immaculate representation of the Mayan system of government. On the one hand we have the representations of Chaac, god of the rains and storms; on the other we have the governor, the master of knowledge, since it was he who gave the people the information they needed about the harvest. In the Puuc, he who controlled the water, controlled the world.
The Blom Plate
The Blom Plate is a pre-Hispanic ceramic piece which came from the Bay of Chetumal in the south of Quintana Roo. It shows a scene from the mythical past when the earth was inhabited by supernatural beings, before the arrival of humankind. The events portrayed were described in the Popol Vuh, the best known literary text of the K'iche' Maya, which is a collection of mythical narratives and stories possibly dating as far back as 300 BC, to the origins of the Mayan cultural tradition.
The plate’s iconography is in two sections. In the center of the first there is a representation of Itz’am Yeh, known in the Postclassic period as Vucub Caquix or Seven Macaw, which in the Mayan tradition was a monstrous bird which usurped the sun by attempting to outshine it with its brilliant jewels. Tired of such trickery, the twin brothers Xbalanque and Hunahpu decided to kill it, picking up their blowpipes and heading to the nance tree where the bird sat to eat its fruit every day. This was the precise moment captured by the piece.
In the lower part there is a glyphic inscription of a type known as a Primary Standard Sequence (PSS), in other words a sequence of glyphs which is commonly repeated in Mayan funerary polychrome ceramics of the Late Classic. This class of inscription was discovered by epigrapher Michael Coe, and other researchers such as David Stuart have used this to carry out further analysis of Mayan pottery. Thanks to these specialists we know that the PSS refers to historical figures, almost always to governors or nobility, who were the owners or users of the pieces in question. Hence the Blom Plate says: “Dedicated... on 8 muanil writing [of] Ch’ak Ch’ok Kelem [Great Young Prince]...” (William Mex, personal communication). It was certainly in reference to the person who was buried together with the piece, which appears to have been used to serve tamales.
It is worth mentioning that this exceptional object was found in the 1940s during the construction of the city of Chetumal’s first runway, at the foot of a beacon which is still in use. All that is known is that the machinery used to level the land destroyed the mound covering a tomb containing rich offering. Roy H. Jones, an American engineer who worked on the construction team, was impressed by the quality and good state of conservation of the piece, which persuaded him to keep it. Years later Jones went to live in the city of Oaxaca, where he met Frans Blom, the celebrated Danish archeologist and ethnographer and allowed him to examine his treasure. In 1950 Blom published an article which brought the plate to the attention of the international academic community, and that is how the Blom Plate came to be named.
Despite the recognition which it acquired as a result of its rich iconography, the plate remained in the hands of Jones until 1985, when he decided to donate it to the Palacio Cantón Regional Anthropology Museum in Merida. It was received by Peter Schmidt who was the director at the time. It finally returned to the state of Quintana Roo upon the inauguration of the Cancun Maya Museum in 2012, and that is where it is currently held.
en un libro de visitas del Museo Regional de Guadalajara
Saving our History:
a visitor’s book from the Regional Museum of Guadalajara
A fundamental part of the task of museum research is the recovery and preservation of historical documents, documents which provide information for the analysis of the past. Documents are our primary source, and without them it would be impossible to write history.
To be able to reconstruct an institution’s past, it is therefore fundamental to refer closely to the primary sources. Such is the case with the collection of documents which reveal the origins and evolution of the Guadalajara Regional Museum, which opened on November 1, 1918, thanks to the tireless work of the Guadalajara-born artists Juan “Ixca” Farías and Jorge Enciso. As we approach the Museum's centenary, we set ourselves the task of completing the work of cataloguing and analyzing the document collection which makes up the building’s Historical Archive.
By way of background, I will point out that in the year 2014, I imagined that this work, which had taken me almost five years, was finished. However, during the upheavals arising from the refurbishment of the building, six more boxes of documents “appeared” in a corner of a storage room. They were stacked in damp conditions and mixed up with old administrative files.
We therefore set ourselves the task of recovering them, and among these documents we unexpectedly found—in good condition despite the time passed and the circumstances—the Museum’s first and only Visitors’ Book, used for the comments and signatures of people who visited the establishment from the day of its opening and up until 1923. It is unknown why it was removed from the main entrance in this year. The volume contains the signatures of all the well-known figures from Guadalajara society of the day, together with artists, intellectuals and politicians who supported “Ixca” Farías in his grand undertaking of creating the first museum dedicated to the fine arts in the city of Guadalajara.
The book underwent a process of preservation, with the support of the Restorations department, which included fumigation, deodorization and cleaning, as well as stabilizing the paper and ink. It is currently found in the “Museum of Yesterday” exhibit.
Portrait of a Viceroy
One of the masterpieces of the museum’s collection is the portrait of Fernando de Alencastre Noroña y Silva (1641-1717), second Duke of Linares and Viceroy of New Spain, a work that clearly demonstrates the imposition of the Spanish monarchy's order in these lands.
Franciso Martínez, the artist of the work, was born in Mexico City on an unknown date and, like other artists of the eighteenth century, was a very prolific man who, as well as being a great painter, practiced other artistic professions for which he enjoyed great prestige. Among his most notable works from these other professions are the gilding of the largest altarpiece of the Cathedral of Mexico (1743), the construction of the temporary funerary architecture for the death of Philip V in Guatemala (1747), and the subsequent construction of ephemeral architecture for the swearing in of the next king, Ferdinand VI, in Mexico City (1747).
The Viceroy, the Duke of Linares was born on April 15, 1662 in Madrid. He was the son of Agustín de Alencastre Sande y Padilla, Duke of Abrantes and Marquis of Puerto Seguro, and Juana de Noroña y Silva, sister of Miguel de Noroña, Duke of Linares. He was a named Knight of the Order of Santiago, an important honorary and military honor granted by the Spanish crown, and he also acquired thereby the title of Knight Commander of this congregation in Portugal, where his family came from. In 1703, upon the death of his maternal uncle, José Antonio de Noroña, he inherited the Duchy of Linares. Furthermore, he was given the titles of Marquis of Goubea and Count of Portoalegre, and the positions of Gentleman of the King’s Chamber and General of the King’s Armies.
He governed as Viceroy of New Spain from 1711 to 1716 (having previously been Viceroy of Sardinia and of Peru). One of his first tasks was the reconstruction of the Municipal Palace or City Hall in the capital, whcih had been destroyed by a fire in 1692, specifically a fire caused by a popular riot. From this fire, Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora was able to save, at great personal risk, the historical documents of the City Council. The new viceroy had to face very serious natural disasters, such as an earthquake which shook Mexico city on August 16, 1711, causing serious damage. A couple of years later, there was snowfall over the city, a very rare event, which caused great losses for crops all over the region, and led to hunger and illnesses. It is said that the viceroy distinguished himself by his philanthropy because, like the Archbishop José Lanziego, he was very generous with his own funds during these disasters to help the victims and rebuild the capital of the Viceroyalty.
With regard to culture, the Duke of Linares founded the first public library, as well as the first museum of animals and plants of New Spain. He arranged the writing, composition and staging of the opera "La Parténope," with music by Mexican composer Manuel de Sumaya (1678-1755), which was successfully premiered in the Viceregal Palace on May 1, 1711. This was the first opera performed in North America and the first on the continent by an artist born in the Americas.
He ceded authority over the Viceroyalty in 1716 due to his precarious state of health, and died in Mexico City in June 1717. He was laid to rest in the Church of San Sebastián, then known as the Carmen Monastery.
Nineteen years after his death, readers of the Mexican Gazette read a profile which not only remembered him as a governor, but also as a man who was “very kind, caring and liberal, and so charitable that, in one of the epidemics which infected this kingdom during that time, he appointed four doctors and the same number of pharmacists for relief and recovery of the needy. And most of the churches preserve gifts of his magnificence, several of them being dedicated in the time of his rule.”
The painting which depicts the Viceroy, the Duke of Linares reveals significant features in its quality and style. Baroque easel paintings continued to use, as in the Renaissance period, the technique of oil on canvas. As with the other arts, Baroque painting in New Spain was used to uphold political and religious power. Painting was also used to demonstrate the victory of the monarchy over any attempts at resistance or rebellion, and to highlight the splendor of the Church. This communicated a clear message to the viewer: one sole religion, Catholicism, and one sole king, the King of Spain. This gave rise to what we call the official portrait, when the main figure appears in a rich scene surrounded by drapes and symbolic elements. In this case, the painter recreated a space in which we can see a stained glass window, as well as the shaft and base of a column which served as an architectural backdrop.
In the present painting, the Duke of Linares appears as a man of over fifty. In this full-length portrait in three-quarters profile, the viceroy stands out as the central figure, out of which he stares fixedly at the viewer. The expression of his blue eyes and the pearl tone of his skin mitigate his personality and paleness of his face, which also emphasize the great realism as well as his age and his aquiline nose.
The governor bears a white, puffy, cascading wig, which he was obliged to wear during noble and court ceremonies. This emphasizes and gives a greater sense of realism to his demeanor. He wears a dark red velvet dress coat, closed at the waist, which reaches down to his knees. The rich gold thread embroidery and mixed golden buttons that decorate the front of his attire and back of the sleeve stand out. Due to the influence of French fashion, the Duke of Linares also wears a frilled cravat of fine lace which complements the delicacy of the cuffs.
A little lower down, in his right hand he holds a handwritten document which begins with the abbreviation Exmo Sr (“your excellency”; the form of address for Spanish viceroys), while in his left hand he holds a glove which he has removed from his right hand. Under the left arm, he holds a three-cornered hat with an ochre edge crowned with small white feathers along the border, an accessory which sits close to the straight hilt of a sword. In all of these details, the painter’s ability to reproduce the quality of textures and materials is clear. They have a tactile quality, also noticeable in the embroidered silk stockings, as well as the French-style shoes with red heels and a slender silver spur.
Among the formal characteristics of the Baroque painting, a fondness for realistic naturalism and the use of theatrical scenery resources are notable, meaning the artist perhaps depicts the Duke of Linares in one of the rooms of the Royal Palace of Mexico. In this case, the painter recreated part of one of the rooms by highlighting the opulence of the red drapery on which he displays the subject's coat of arms among the folds of fabric, which descend to the floor where the shaft and base of a column act as an architectural backdrop. Beside him is an inscription offering biographical information, describing the death and burial of the viceroy in June 1717.
The convergence of European elements not only showcases the cultural world of the eighteenth century, but also opens up interesting possibilities for deciphering colonial art.
Chalcatzingo is one of the most important pre-Hispanic settlements, as shown by the iconographic elements depicted on the sacred stones of Cerro Ancho, also known as Cerro de la Cantera ("Quarry Hill").
Monument 1, colloquially known as “The King” and officially as “The Giver of Water,” is the site’s most emblematic depiction. Discovered in the early 1930s thanks to a natural event known to the locals as a “water snake” (waterspout), The King has been an enigmatic character ever since. In fact, specialists started studying it even before the Olmecs in Mesoamerica had begun to be defined. This carving shows us the water cycle in its mythical representation, with naturalistic and geometrical elements that refer to clouds, raindrops, water vapor or speech scrolls, together with exotic birds and plants, which depict the cave this character emerges from. Also of note is the eye with a (strongly Olmec) flaming eyebrow and the double horizontal scroll, a repeated iconographic element which can be seen in the vast majority of bas-reliefs carved into the side of Cerro Ancho, as well as on some stelae and altars.
The King therefore represents the synthesis of a discourse developed through the other bas-reliefs, from Monument 5 (“Creation”), which exalts the birth or emergence of man, to Monument 2 (“The Fertility Procession”), in which human characters wear the dress and masks of the zoomorphic mythical beings depicted in previous carvings, including mythical representations of felines who wage a struggle for domination over human beings. This discourse occurs during the arrival of different ethnic groups from both the Gulf coast and the center of Mexico, whose worldview was integrated into the one held by the local inhabitants of the time.
In this way, The King bears the entirety of the symbolic weight which is partially expressed in each of the monuments that come before it on the slopes of Cerro Ancho. This is the oldest Olmec carving on the Central Mexican Plateau, one where we can read the icons that will become central to the Mesoamerican worldview in such distant periods as the Postclassic.
El único monumento histórico arquitectónico de Chilpancingo
Architectural Balance and Symmetry at Sayil
When we think about Puuc architecture, the elaborate stone mosaics which the Maya used to decorate their building facades inevitably come to mind. However one of the main features of this architecture was the use of lime mortar, which made it possible to build wider vaulted buildings, as well as buildings with a number of rooms, some of these on two and even three levels. One of the best examples is the North Palace at Sayil, which entrances viewers with the beautiful lines of its facade, and whose columns beg comparison with structures built by ancient western civilizations.
Nevertheless, detailed observation of the buildings at this site allows us to deduce that the local handiwork in fact left much to be desired. We do not find here the delicate carvings evident in neighboring cities such as Uxmal, Kabah or even Xlapak. Also, the quality of the local stone hardly facilitated such refinement. The nearby hills were surrounded by deposits rich in iron oxide, which mixed naturally with the limestone, led to a rapid deterioration of the stone.
This was to a large extent compensated for by the planning of the city and by the design of the structures. The architects of Sayil sought to give their buildings a formal harmony. This is clearly visible on the second floor of the North Palace, an enormous building of 97 rooms which is seen as a single unit despite the fact that it was erected in different periods. The different periods of construction were hidden thanks to the main staircase, which becomes the focal point, emphasizing the symmetry achieved on the facade of the second level, through the use of repeated columned porticoes, simulated entrances, friezes of columns and descending masks of personalities, flanked by lizard-like animals.
Scene from the Life of Saint Francis of Assisi
Saint Francis was born in Assisi in Umbría (Italy) in 1181 or early 1182. According to various documental sources and oral traditions, from being the son of a wealthy trader, he turned to a frugal and simple life.
He became a gentle and patient man who was generous to the poor, who frequently visited hospitals, who would serve the ill and kiss the sores of lepers. The scene created by the New Spanish painter Luis Berrueco (a painter from Puebla from the start of the eighteenth century), represents, in the same painting, two moments at the same time: At the forefront, we see the moment when he was praying before a crucifix in the church of Saint Damian, on the outskirts of Asís, where he appeared to hear a voice coming from the image of Christ, who said to him three times, “Francis, go forth and repair my house, which you see collapsing”. The saint, seeing that the church was very old, thought that God was ordering him to repair it. He went with his father to the bishop, relinquished all his clothing and surrendered to the world.
To rebuild Saint Damian, Francis carried the stones and repaired the church. However, the meaning of the phrase which he heard, according to tradition, was something much deeper. It did not refer to a merely physical reparation or to only repairing this temple. In other words, it was not literal, but metaphorical, and referred to a reform of ideas and way of life, which were closer to those of Christ, of the clergy of the church at this time.
Berrueco represents the voice of God in the piece through an inscribed band or inscription in latin: VADE FRANCISCE REPARA DOMUM. MEAM, QUELAVITUR (Francis, go forth and repair my house, which you see collapsing).
The colors and complexity of Saint Francis of Asís' attire are highlighted, which are painted in the tradition of the French aristocracy in the eighteenth century. We can see in the background, on a much smaller scale, almost to the upper left side of the picture, a type of embrace from Saint Francis of Asís to another person (a leper or poor person). However, more than an embrace, it is the representation of the stripping of his rich clothing and the beginning of his new life dedicated to prayer, in retreat.
Only two of Berrueco’s paintings have been located in the current territory of Aguascalientes so far. One of these is the piece which is part of the Regional Museum of History’s collection. The other is a large work which represents the Virgin of Guadalupe and is found in the Temple of Rosario (better known as the Temple of Mercy), located in the same street and a few steps from the museum. Both paintings are signed with the surname Berrueco and it is exactly the same signature.
The professor, historian and journalist, Enrique Cordero y Torres, who is from Puebla, has an interesting opinion on the work of Luis Berrueco. In his Biographical Dictionary of Puebla, he states: “he was a mediocre painter but with a certain odd, picturesque flair.” In this regard, although it is clear that Berrueco did not reach the level and skill of his contemporary painters, such as Miguel Cabrera or Cristóbal de Villalpando, he did find sufficient esthetic and composition factors which were fundamental in bringing the religious themes significantly closer to the inhabitants of New Spain. An example of this are the various works of his which are found in the temples of Puebla and probably in other parts of Mexico.
Museums open windows to possible worlds, including a better one. The Regional Museum of History of Aguascalientes is continuously researching, preserving and spreading the cultural history of Aguascalientes and Mexico and therefore helping to strengthen cultural identity, the sense of community and the creative development of strategical projects to create more participatory citizens who actively collaborate on the creation of an environment in which people can fully develop.
Julio 2016, Feria de las Flores.
Cristóbal de Villalpando Exhibition
July 2016, Flower Festival
It is certainly surprising that the temporary exhibits here, as well as those held in the monastery’s sacristy, such as furniture, decorative plaster works and other paintings, sculptures and documents, have been preserved almost in their entirety since it was decided to place them there almost 400 years ago by the Carmelite friars. Despite the difficult periods in its history, the building is now home to what is surely one of the finest collections of art from the vice-regal period. The building has been pillaged, neglected, and damaged over the years. Yet the Convento de El Carmen’s sacristy remains an example of a space preserved almost exactly as it was intended, following a series of renovations carried out in the last third of the seventeenth century in order to give a new sacristy to the church of El Carmen. Of the various works created in this space, the series of wooden ceilings, finely carved and painted by Mexican craftsmen, is of extraordinarily high quality, with depictions of winged angels and other decorative touches. The space was formerly used as a dressing room, and all the objects used for officiating Mass were kept in the commodes and built-in store cupboards.
Particularly remarkable is a magnificent, leather-trimmed wooden chest of drawers, complete with sgrafitto bone inlays, and iron fittings, which was used to keep the vestments used for church services; above this piece of furniture, five oil paintings exalt the values of penitence and depict the most important Carmelite mystics: Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross, intermixed with dramatic scenes from the Passion of Jesus. These five magnificent works of art were created by one of the most important painters of the vice-regal era, Cristóbal de Villalpando, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Unfortunately, not everything was preserved intact: for example, inside the chest of drawers there should have been a space covered by two carved wooden doors (a “Mariana door”), also dating from the late seventeenth century, representing different elements that allude to the Virgin Mary.
Another of the paintings shows Saint Teresa of Avila, the great reformist theologian of the order, and it bears a close, symmetrical resemblance to the work described above: Saint Teresa is also kneeling down in a self-flagellating position by an altar in front of a crucifix, and she addresses it with the following words: “misericordias tuas Domini in oeternum cantabo” (“I will always sing of your mercifulness, O Lord”). In common with the painting of Saint John, a nun can be seen in the background, observing the scene. In this art work, it is also important to note the careful brocade work depicted on the altar’s tablecloth, and the lace on the white pieces of fabric, as well as the two glass flower vases decorating the table.
The art work showing the most iconic moment of the Passion of Jesus is the dramatic scene of “Oración en el Huerto” (“Prayer in the Orchard”), hanging on one side of the sacristy. In this work, Villalpando recreates the biblical passage narrated in the Gospels of Matthew (26: 36-46), Mark (14: 32-41) and Luke (22: 39-46). In this work it is important to note Jesus’s anguished facial expression, and the central role given by Villalpando to the angel consoling him. This attractive and elegant figure must surely correspond to the Archangel Michael due to one of the most characteristic aspects of the figure’s iconography: the star-studded breastplate. We can admire the luminous quality of the magnificent folds in the cloth rippling over his body, adding contrast through their movement.
Placed at the center of this series of works, Villalpando painted a scene of Christ tied to the column. This work is inspired by a very brief passage from the Gospel of Saint Matthew (27:26) in which Jesus Christ is flogged by order of Pontius Pilate. The main figure looms out dramatically from the shadows of the dungeon, surrounded by a weeping group of compassionate child angels. One of them carries a torch to illuminate the scene. Villalpando was surely inspired by the painting held by the Carmelites in the monastery’s crypt, where it remains to this day and in which we can see, stuck into his left shoulder, a thorn from the brambles used to flog him.
This group of paintings is completed with the scene of Jesus being mocked. According to Matthew (27-31), immediately after Jesus was flogged he was stripped of his clothes and given a scarlet cloth and a crown of thorns. They placed a fishing rod in his right hand, as if it were a scepter. A group of three angels accompany him, offering solace and looking anguished. Many symbols traditionally related to the Passion of Jesus complete the image. The intense scarlet of the cloth covering a part of Jesus’s body and the clothing worn by one of the angels are striking, as this boldly emotive color represents blood and Christ’s imminent demise.
Xochicalco nos recuerda que cuando se pone el bien común por encima de las diferencias particulares, todos salen beneficiados.
Studying the Heavens Solved Problems on Earth (Thanks to the Xochicalco Observatory)
Xochicalco reminds us that everybody wins when we put the common good before our individual differences.
Xochicalco is famous for two buildings: the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpents and the Observatory. Experts have identified a glyph on the Pyramid depicting a total eclipse of the Sun which occurred in 743 and was perhaps the reason for building the pyramid (and the city itself). This glyph is repeated throughout the Pyramid, which shows how important it was. However, there is another important depiction. It shows a figure pulling one calendar date with its left hand towards another date below its right hand. Although there is no consensus on the meaning of this depiction, experts appear to concur that this means an adjustment to the calendar. All calendars, even modern ones, have a margin of error due to leap years and small inaccuracies in the measurement of time that lead to a shift in the long term. This means that an important ceremony or agricultural task would not occur on the correct day. Our own calendar had to be adjusted 400 years ago because it was so inaccurate that Jesus Christ’s birth date no longer coincided with the real one.
The calendar was even more important in the pre-Hispanic world. It dictated people’s fortunes from the day they were born; it specified the date on which certain rituals had to be performed to maintain balance in the universe and it indicated the most appropriate times to sow and harvest. Even auspicious dates for getting married or starting a battle had to be exact.
Why was it adjusted at Xochicalco? Because of the Observatory. It is a vertical tunnel or shaft excavated in the stone towards a “cave” yards below, which allowed the position of the sun and stars to be tracked. The cave is fully illuminated on March 14 and 15, and is illuminated to a lesser extent from April 19 to August 16 every year. This precision instrument makes Xochicalco special.
Why at that time? Probably because the solar eclipse, being cyclical, marked a special day: it only happened on that date. It allowed the cumulative error to be corrected. This is why the figure who is pulling the dates is interpreted as a depiction of that adjustment.
It is rather surprising because it happened over 1,300 years ago. However, what is even more surprising is that the Pyramid of Feathered Serpents depicts figures from other regions, some very far away, several of which were in full competition (if not direct conflict) with Xochicalco and amongst themselves, to the extent that they are in defensive positions (such as hilltops). If this interpretation is correct, their presence in Xochicalco on the event of the eclipse shows that they could put their individual differences aside to achieve something that benefited everyone: correcting the calendar that controlled their lives.
This is why Xochicalco is key. It reminds us that everybody wins when we put the common good before our individual differences. Visiting it responsibly and participating as citizens to preserve it will enable Xochicalco to endure as a permanent reminder of this important idea.
Northwest corner of the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpents
The glyph depicting the total eclipse of the Sun can be seen at the top, as a jaw biting a circular disc divided into four parts. The depiction of the calendar adjustment can be seen at the bottom.
Entrance to the Observatory
The steps leading to the entrance of the Astronomical Observatory can be seen to the left of the picture.
Glyph of the eclipse: the earth devouring the Sun
A total eclipse of the Sun occurred in 743 AD. It could be observed from Xochicalco and was depicted in the frieze decoration (at the top of the facades) of the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpents. The entire pyramid appears to have been built to celebrate this event.
Depiction of the date adjustment (northwest facade)
Sheltered by the Feathered Serpent, the depiction of the date correction appears at the center of the facade: one hand pulls a glyph to substitute another one.
Simplified drawing of the adjustment
In this drawing, it is easier to see how a figure is pulling a glyph depicting one date with the left hand towards the other below its right hand. The figure itself is a glyph with a date.
Depiction of foreign figures
Figures can be seen on all sides at the bottom of the Pyramid. Some of them bear physical features and dress associated with regions of Mexico, as with this example, which experts identify as a Mayan figure.
Simplified drawing of a foreign figure
This drawing allows us to see the headdress, attire and profile of the figure, which are very similar to characteristics of the Mayan culture.
Inside the Observatory cave
The Observatory cave is fully illuminated on May 14 and 15 every year. The beam of light points to specific positions at other important times in the agricultural cycle and certain stars.
The ruins of the Great Pyramid and its surroundings are a challenge to those interested in studying such a formidable settlement. The great mass has drawn the attention of leading researchers and travelers such as Guilliame Dupaix, Hubert H. Bancroft and Baron Alexander von Humboldt himself, who even took some very accurate measurements and published dimensions very close to the real ones. He described the base as the biggest in the ancient world, including Asia, Africa and Europe.
Many years later, in 1931, an archeological excavation was authorized in Cholula, grounded in the desire for Mexico to reclaim its cultural roots. The architect and archeologist Ignacio Marquina was commissioned to plan a novel and intelligent system based on tunnels to explore the core; these reached an approximate length of five miles.
What began as an exploration technique (which allowed several substructures and architectural elements to be identified) became a tourist attraction. Today, visitors arrive eager to enter these passages. Although they do not reveal much, they are fascinating.
The project lasted until 1971 and facilitated the discovery of attached structures, parts of the Great Pyramid, a multitude of al fresco paintings and, of course, many ceramic, stone and other materials. All of this enabled a fuller understanding of the Sacred City.
At almost a third of a mile on each side, the base is only the heart of the ancient city, as its ancient streets, plazas, palaces and residential areas lie below the surface of the entire region. It is therefore essential to undertake rescue archeology to avoid the destruction of significant remains, whenever there are public or private works involving excavation.
Research at Oxtankah
Archeological research carried out by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) during the last two decades in the pre-Hispanic city of Oxtankah and neighboring areas has had the objective of reaching a closer understanding of the social processes of the ancient Mayan groups who lived in this region of southern Quintana Roo. The scope of the research has been defined from a perspective which covers a wider geographical area than the footprint of this city.
The social processes experienced by human groups in pre-Hispanic times must be visualized within the context of the physical environment of the region which they chose to settle, since it was precisely the physical characteristics of the geography and its biological diversity which determined the variations in the natural resources which they could access, and their opportunities to exploit them.
The permanence and social development of a human group depended to a large extent on the systems or strategies which they could apply to the exploitation of the natural environment, by methods which made use of nature and the means of production which they used for its management. Natural resources could be conserved if used rationally. The basic needs of subsistence of the group and access to regional market systems for excess production, could have been achieved by harnessing nature in a multiplicity of ways, based on clearly established production systems.
The tropical ecosystem of the Mayan region lowlands is still of special importance on account of its biological diversity. The evidence indicates that the region’s inhabitants achieved a high degree of ecological sustainability which allowed them to diversify the local economy, supported by the exploitation of natural resources from the sea, coasts and lakes, also from agriculture, hunting, gathering, bee keeping and salt production. Since Oxtankah was inhabited and developed for more than 1500 years at various periods of pre-Hispanic history (Late Preclassic 300 BC to 150 AD, the Early Classic 200 to 600 AD, the Late to Terminal Classic 600 to 900 AD), it achieved significant political and economic power, mainly from its absolute control of the coasts.
The group that settled in Oxtankah in the Middle Preclassic (900-600 BC) was of a moderate size. The utensils discarded in everyday life indicate that they came from the western lowlands, possibly from Ceibal, Altar de Sacrificios or Uaxactun in Guatemala, from Chalchuapa in El Salvador, or from Chiapa de Corzo in Chiapas, Mexico.
During the second half of the Middle Preclassic (600-300 BC), the groups inhabiting the region maintained a certain degree of social cohesion. At this point, the inhabitants of Oxtankah were the focus of power supported by secondary centers in the town of El Cocal (known today as Luis Echeverria Alvarez) and in the south of the island of Tamalcab. The utensils thrown away by these communities indicate that they maintained a close relationship with the Mayan communities of the Central Peten of Guatemala, a situation which continued throughout their history. The strategic position of the sea port located in the town in the south of the island of Tamalcab made it possible for the inhabitants of Oxtankah to interact and link themselves with the groups settled in the channels and in the bay, but also with those situated on the shores of the Yucatan peninsula. From this time onwards it should be assumed that there were well established long distance water trade routes which operated in an exchange system for products including foodstuffs, prestige items and primary materials.
In the Late Preclassic (300-150 BC) the economic sustainability model of the previous period was strengthened, since in the population density increased and the sphere of activity expanded. The inhabitants of Oxtankah continued to hold onto power, supported by the communities settled in El Cocal and Nohichmul. The settlement pattern of the groups which participated in the economic model established by the people of Oxtankah shows a degree of dispersal, as evidenced by the presence of 17 settled areas, and they were certainly linked to particular activities, for example the salt producers established their residences in areas close to bodies of water. The maintenance of social cohesion, as well as the unity and discipline of these groups reflects the presence of authorities of a certain rank in the residential areas, who made use of pyramid structures built from stonework, and who were accustomed to performing the religious ceremonies necessary for this purpose. Water transport continued to be developed using the sea port on the south of the island of Tamalcab, whose population continued to increase.
In the Early Classic (200-600 AD) the region’s inhabitants enjoyed a flourishing culture. The apparatus for social cohesion was handled by Oxtankah’s dominant group, which set the guidelines for the society as a whole, supported by the populations settled in Cocal, Nohichmul and Tamalcab-Estrecho, which functioned as secondary centers of power. The groups settled on the shores of the Guerrero lake and the surrounding channels were fully engaged in salt making, and production continued to develop solidly in this period. Maritime business activities based on fishing and the exchange of goods via the waterways were strengthened and the port communities were very active. It is possible that the population settled in the pre-Hispanic city of San Andres shared power by some means. This is a possibility on account of the very high population density and monumental buildings at San Andres at this time. It is important to mention that at this time the city of Ichpaatun had a reduced population, which initiated the construction of Structure II.
Oxtankah was at the peak of its power at this time. From then onwards it would decline. The population had tripled in the previous period and economic success made it possible to construct magnificent buildings. The proportions of the buildings commissioned in the core area of the city were double the size of the existing ones. Construction in the plazas of Iguanas, Wild Boar, Toucans, Manatee and Armadillo to south of the city brought significant expansion. Nevertheless it is evident that in order to maintain hegemony in the region it was necessary to establish a strong control apparatus, which is clearly reflected in the settlement pattern of the social groups participating in the established economic model. It is a pattern that demonstrates the rigidity of centralized power which kept the population settled in nine areas, where the ruling powers had their residences, which helped to strengthen cohesion, unity and the discipline of society members, celebrating traditional collective rituals of a religious nature which they customarily held on the stonework pyramids.
In the Late Classic (600-800 AD) the inhabitants of Oxtankah continued to dominate the region, but now they were more rigid in their manner of and they were supported solely by the people settled at El Caracol, which continued to function as a secondary center. The evidence indicates that in order to preserve control of the society it was necessary to strengthen the model, by imposing it as an ideological dogma, making use of one of the facades of the main buildings of Oxtankah, where stucco murals were placed exhibiting a message conveyed visually by signs and symbols to the members of the community who participated in the ceremonies carried out in the center of the city. The message conveyed by myths and rites told of the continuity of the cosmological narrative as a cohesive force which maintained the unity of the community, but above all it legitimated the dynasty in power, justifying its status as the dominant group and as the guide of all social and political activity. Architectural activity continued at Oxtankah. Some of the buildings from the earlier period were covered by larger ones. Several of the rulers were buried in tombs. However the evidence suggests that at this time people migrated from the region, and there was a drastic reduction in population density as a whole. El Cocal, Nohichmul, Tamalcab-Estrecho and Tamalcab-Sur were lightly populated, nevertheless, the place where the city of Ichaatun would later be built attracted a significant number of inhabitants, who continued building notable structures.
The settlement pattern of the groups suggests that the group in power succeeded in levying tributes from the thin regional population which was concentrated solely into five areas, and controlled by a lesser number of rulers who monitored the unity and disciple of the people. The population distribution indicates that the production of salt and the inland activities continued, as did long distance water trade on the routes established in previous periods, making it possible to continue the relationship with other Maya groups settled in the peninsula, as testified by the utensils coming from these places. At the same time a local pottery tradition started.
Subsequently during the Terminal Classic to early Postclassic (800-1100 to 1200 AD), the evidence points to the disappearance of a centralized power and the rise of shared government. The settlement pattern from this time indicates the existence of a social pattern in which the population concentrated in ten areas, although with a low density. The core area of the city of Oxtankah was abandoned at that time and the few inhabitants preferred to use the plazas located to the south. The ancient secondary centers of power at El Cocal and Nohichmul had reduced population levels, but this was not the case in Tamalcab Estrecho, which experienced an increase, and the fact that it there was a custom of leaving offerings on the buildings points to a possible religious importance. The evidence indicates that the inhabitants of the region started to merge with the cultural tradition that was growing in Calderitas and that contact was maintained with the settlements of the Peten in Guatemala, the north of Belize, the east coast of the peninsula, Coba and Mayapan via the established water routes, however these activities did not continue in the port situated in the south of the island of Tamalcab, which was abandoned at this time.
The overall settlement pattern shows that the groups dedicated to inland activities such as bee keeping, hunting, gathering and farming as well as those focused on the shores of bodies of water such as salt production and water transportation continued to increase. The ten population groupings must have shared government with local authority figures whose role must now have focused on domestic ceremonies rather than subjugation, since at this time authority figures were not only to be found in the vicinity of population groups, but dispersed, associated with settlement areas dedicated to production, which suggests that the traditional collective religious rituals which had been carried out on the stonework pyramid structures by the elite were now shared by individuals of equivalent status. The general government of the region might well have been rotated among the areas.
Everything appears to indicate that this form of shared government developed a model which incorporated the ten dispersed population groups, maintaining balanced production relationships in which the mainland and shore activities were maintained, indicating that the communities worked together in an organized and united fashion, enabling the producers to break with the centralized control imposed by the dominant groups settled in Oxtankah. Maybe at this stage the economic model focused on the production of everyday goods were required to satisfy the utilitarian needs of the population, rather than emphasizing the production of goods with exchange value or elite goods, such as the sumptuary goods used by the group in power. It seems that the application of this model did not come to polarize the society as a whole during this period, however, the fact that a considerable number of individuals settled in the territory between Calderitas and Ichpaatun and because the region’s inhabitants began to accept the traditional pottery culture which came from the town of Calderitas there is a suggestion that this area began to exercise control of the region.
During the Late Postclassic (1200-1450 AD) foreign Maya groups arrived in the region and imposed a centralized economic model on the inhabitants. Evidence indicates that the external systems were imposed by force, with an attitude of domination rather than negotiation. The model must have been clearly exclusive and it seems that it was not easy to subjugate the population or to impose and formalize the government structure since the new elite established their residences behind a wall in the city of Ichpaatun. The population began to regroup in this period, now centering on 13 areas, whose spatial distribution suggests the strengthening of activities relating to the sea and the continuation of the inland activities. The apparatus of social cohesion was managed by the dominant social group which lived in Ichpatuun, supported by the people of Calderitas which played a very important role in the power structure, taking responsibility for the internal order of the groups settled in their vicinity. It must not have been easy to maintain centralized power in Ichpatuun since a greater number of authority figures would have been required to dominate the inhabitants settled in the vicinity of the walled city, whose population was very high.
At this time the city of Oxtankah remained abandoned and it was only visited sporadically by people accustomed to worshiping the ancient gods, who left offerings at the foot of the buildings. Raudales, Nohichmul and Tamalcab Sur remained equally depopulated. The evidence suggests El Cocal continued to be lightly populated and that contact was maintained with the settlements of the Peten in Guatemala, the northeast of Belize, the east coast and Mayapan via the established water routes. Tamalcab Estrecho was also thinly populated but the city was a preferred site for offerings.
The new pottery traditions brought by foreign groups were of a very poor quality compared with previous times. The new economy produced crudely finished goods which seem to have been finished in a hurry, without dedicating sufficient man hours to the work, a deficiency which is also evident in the buildings they erected.
The Ancient City of Tamtoc
This site in the present-day town of Tamuín, in the state of San Luis Potosi, is located in a meander of the Tampaón River. It is surrounded by lowland rainforest, with an abundant variety of flora and fauna. This was a great advantage for the exploitation of diverse animal species, for agriculture and for gathering food, all of which significantly contributed to the survival of numerous settlements established in the region. As well as being an important and constant source of food and water resources, the river was the axis which enabled the exchange of goods and interaction with other regions.
The archeological evidence allows us to deduce that the inhabitants were very dynamic, with a diversified economy, a complex social organization, funerary rituals and commercial trade with distant provinces. The city of Tamtoc has captured the attention of experts. It has even been said that it is “without a doubt the most important monumental center in the north-east of Mexico” (Dávila and Zaragoza).
Based on carbon 14 dating, the oldest settlement identified to date (90-150 AD +/-30) is located in the northwestern sector of the site known as La Noria (“The Waterwheel”). It belongs to the pre-urban period, organized by a leadership. The society was organized around a complicated religious structure, with an economy based mainly on agriculture, hunting and fishing, but with a marked increase in the use of prestigious goods, such as sculptures and ornaments made from stone and shells.
The cultural manifestation of this early society is represented by the construction of a complex system of canals and water cisterns. This form of distributing and using the vital liquid which springs in different spots is associated with the worship of life and death, as manifested in the striking monolith known as La Sacerdotisa (“The Priestess”). At the foot of this, there is a spring or water trough where an elaborate offering was placed, including the extraordinary sculpture of La Mujer Escarificada (“The Scarified Woman”).
During a second period (450-900 AD), the city took shape and the public and private spaces were clearly demarcated. Guy and Claude Stresser-Péan (2001) recorded architectural structures in the Main Square from this period. An offering placed at the base of a sculpture, which contained nine seashells, was dated to 482 AD.
In 2015, we excavated a residential complex from this era. Its large size and elaborate finishing touches suggest that this dwelling may have belonged to a group of artisans who specialized in lapidary and shell work, and who occupied a privileged place in the social hierarchy.
The temples located on the east-west axis, El Cubilete and El Tizate, as well as the Great Courtyard and the El Gobernante (“The Governor”) sculpture, belong to this period. An architectural layout was achieved during this period which could be considered the plan for the first city.
The final period of occupation, between 900 and 1525 AD, is characterized by a significant population increase and intense building activity, suggesting a society which was even more powerful and complex. The city reached its greatest urban expression and the institutions of state were strengthened.
Finally, it is important to note that funerary rituals were of extraordinary importance in Tamtoc, to the extent that an architectural complex was built characterized by temples, walkways and burial mounds. From these, 105 individuals were recovered dating from between 1251 and 1522 AD, placed in seated positions and looking towards the east. These people had a green stone (quartzite) bead originating from Motagua, Guatemala as their sole grave good. One tomb in particular contained an earring made from turquoise, which came from Arizona, United States (Melgar et al., 2012).
The Architecture of Paquimé as an Archeological Indicator of Social Process.
Generally speaking, we define social process as a combination or succession of phenomena associated with the inhabitants of Paquimé, during a historical process which represents a much larger group of events. Our study covers a period of around 800 years, whose subsequent phases led to the development of one of the most impressive towns in the northern region of Mexico.
In this analysis, we consider the environment and the successive phases of transformation of the architectural forms, in order to correlate these with the interaction between individuals, groups or institutions linked to the process. This is grounded in the idea that indicators of change are reflected in the use of building materials, construction systems and architectural designs over time.
The first small villages were founded by groups of clans who migrated to the area of Casas Grandes from the northern regions of the Grande, Mimbres, Gila and Colorado rivers, which were also their sources of life. Together with Casas Grandes, these regions make up the cultural area known as Oasisamerica.
The small villages of this era, known as the Old Period (600-900 AD), were comprised of a dozen trench houses, also called Pit houses. These were made by digging a trench in the earth, imitating animal burrows, to which a structure of branches was added and later covered with mud. It has been demonstrated that these living spaces were comfortable and thermally efficient. They were warm in winter and quite cool in summer, so activities could be carried out inside such as sleeping and preparing or eating food. The small village of semi-underground houses also included a house with a circular floor for community meetings.
The archeological remains include simple monochromatic brown ceramic vases and stone milling tools.
The attire of the inhabitants of these small villages appears to have been limited, and the personal adornments found include a few objects made from shell and turquoise.
Around the year 1100 AD, neighbors from the north arrived with new building technology. In Paquimé, the old village of semi-underground houses was abandoned and in some cases the inhabitants began to build multi-family units on top of them, made of mud walls and roofs constructed from beams, brush and mud. The architectural revolution included the use of a “formwork” technique to shape the walls, and roofing them with beams. The concentration of rooms allowed courtyards to become enclosed and to shape squares, and many were used as workshops and work areas inside the units. Despite changing the architectural design of the room layout, the tradition of a community house was not lost during this period. It now appears in the new buildings as a large rectangular room intended for the same use: community meetings.
The innovative building techniques determined new forms of social organization, and new domestic spaces were created, an issue which is later reflected in the urban renewal of Paquimé. At the end of this period, hydraulic infrastructure was developed and knowledge of earthen architecture techniques grew stronger. Furthermore, the settlers entered a market network of objects which were brought from distant regions, such as the desert, the coast or Mesoamerica.
Around the year 1200, their skill with building materials and the wealth gained from irrigation agriculture led the inhabitants of Paquimé to set themselves the task of building a town of monumental characteristics. It included large houses with rooms to accommodate the most prestigious clans. These dwellings had storerooms, meeting rooms, courtyards, bedrooms, dining rooms, living rooms, hallways and porches for accessing each house. In each one, specific activities were carried out, such as raising macaws and turkeys, cooking, etc. This singular architectural fabric is what earned the site its place on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The inhabitants also constructed a hydraulic system which provided drinking water to the village, which was transported by canals from three miles further north. They built temples honoring their deities too—totems represented in the ceremonial mounds, in the shape of birds, Venus, the Great Serpent—which appear in the iconography of the well-known polychromatic ceramics of the Casas Grandes Culture.
Another aspect to consider is the importance of the trade in goods. The city had market squares where products such as corn, beans, chili, fish, rabbit, venison, turkey, macaw, ceramics, fabric, sandals and objects made from copper, turquoise, shells and wood could be found, as well as stones for milling and a wide variety of utensils made from local and foreign materials. Today these are exhibited in the Museum of Northern Cultures.
We have seen how the process of social changes in Paquimé was reflected in the development of its architecture. The site first emerged around 600 AD with the construction of the semi-underground houses in the valleys of Casas Grandes, and continued with the development of building technology which allowed its inhabitants to design large architectural spaces to inhabit. Development concluded around the year 1200 AD with the farming and urban revolution, characterized by the construction of farming irrigation systems and civil, public and religious buildings of a monumental character, typical of a developing society.
Knowledge and evaluation of this cultural legacy will help us to respect and consider options for its preservation. The site is open to the public year-round. Visits includes a tour of the monumental part of the site, and of the Museum of Northern Cultures, where the archeological materials from the excavations carried out in 1956 by Dr Charles Di Peso are exhibited.
The Tepozteco Bench
Rectangular in shape, the bench in the temple of Tepoztecatl (the shrine’s main structure) runs along its north, east and south interior walls. It is decorated with reliefs and possibly functioned as an altar or seat where the effigy or sacred bundle of Tepoztecatl was placed.
Like the pillars, the bench is a clear example of the nonverbal communication system used in the Postclassic, as an entire discourse is constructed through the different signs. Some refer to the god Tepoztecatl, others speak of sacrifice and yet more allude to the responsibilities and power of the rulers. Here, we can see streams of water and blood, the “atl chinolli,” i.e. the burnt water which symbolizes the union of cold, earthly, feminine forces with hot, celestial, masculine forces that gave life to the universe.
Chief among the signs directly related to the power of Tepoztecatl are axes, pot of pulque, the shield and headdress. As regards sacrifice, of note are a skull from the tzompantli (skull rack), sacrificial rope, paper ornaments, bag of copal, round shield, blank flags and a decapitated head. Finally, the elements associated with the power of the rulers are the jaguar with feathers, claw of Tepeyollotl (“heart of the mountain,” the jaguar god), royal diadems (with signs for turquoise and flags), penitence and maguey thorns.
Sign 2. This is the first element of the bench that can currently be seen, although it is missing its right edge, which showed half of the sign of the jaguar. It depicts an extremity (a paw or a foot) decorated with five spots like those of a jaguar or ocelot. The paw or foot is injured at the level of the ankle, from which blood spurts. The stump is decorated with a line of four feathers. To the left are three streams of water that “push” or “pull” the sign. This is also a god, who is a man and a jaguar at the same time. This symbolizes the telluric forces that are part of the hill of Tepoztecatl.
Sign 3. This consists of two concentric circles, like shell or jade beads. From these hang a garland composed of a curved bar, like an inverted eyebrow. Below this motif are five shell beads. Further down hangs a larger bead than the previous five which is slightly smaller than the central one. It looks like two feathers are hanging at the bottom (it is impossible to be sure, because they are very deteriorated). Behind this sign are eight streams of a liquid with shell beads at the ends. Based on its shape and the fact that it lacks the central line for the depiction of water, this is a stream of blood pulling all the elements visible on this face of the bench towards the center. The central element (chalchihuitl) refers to a jade bead and is therefore something precious, so the sign could be interpreted as “precious blood.”
Sign 4. This consists of the left side of a skull, with an eye and an eyebrow at the top. We can see a perforation from which spurt three streams of blood, also decorated with shell beads. This perforation corresponds to the one made for placing skulls on the tzompantli. One of the streams has an additional motif of four small feathers that hang from the bead.
Sign 7. A stone ax whose handle is decorated with four paper bows, forming a single arrangement. We can see a stone wedged through the top of the handle, which is the axe blade. This tool was carried by the gods of pulque and is part of Tepoztecatl’s attire. Above and below, we can see two scrolls around it, and blood pulling it towards the center of the bench.
Sign 8. A rectangular shield on which we can see a U-shaped element that simultaneously represents a pot, a bone and, most importantly, the body of the moon. The ancient inhabitants believed that the moon was a pot full of water and a hipbone, and that a rabbit lived there. Both the moon and the rabbit are closely associated with pulque. This is why the gods of pulque wear a moon-shaped nose-ring and bear a moon on their shields. There are two rows of feathers decorating the shield at the bottom of the outer rectangle. There are four darts or arrows behind this, which indicated the god’s warrior status. We can see a pennant edged with long feathers at the top of the shield, as in the picture in the codex.
Sign 9. A paper ornament like a tassel with a loop at the top. Once again, this is a decoration carried by people who were to be sacrificed.
Sign 10. A bag of copal with a knot in the drawstring. This object was used for priestly activities. There is a water current edged with shell beads on the right-hand side of the sign. We can also see that blood is gushing from the bag, which indicates the atl-tlachinolli, a union of opposites that generate life and movement.
Sign 11. A pair to sign 3. In this case, this is a shell or jade bead from which nine streams of water gush. It is simpler than the other one, as it lacks the garland from which the bead hangs. The blood and water pull all the elements on the bench towards the center.
Sign 13. Only half of this sign is preserved. It consists of a round shield or chimalli which is blank (bearing no device). There are two different elements behind it: a small flag (pantli) which is also blank and a group of four darts pointing downwards with their feathers at the top. The round shield belongs to the set of elements that speak of sacrifice.
Sign 14. This depicts a head that has probably been decapitated, with half-open eyes, a very prominent nose, a half-open mouth and possibly a labret. Two lines are included, which may indicate face paint or even that the head is made of stone or some other rough material. Two streams of blood gush from behind the head.
Sign 15. A flint ax with a cosmic eye at the end of the handle. The latter is decorated with a quadruple bow from which two tassels hang. This is the ax carried by the god Tepoztecatl, behind which we can see at least four streams of blood.
Sign 19. An ax with a very wide head and a cosmic eye at the end. As with the previous cases, it has a paper adornment with four bows and a garland at the end. There are three streams of blood and smoke behind this sign.
The Head of "The King"
The monument commonly known as Cabeza de El Rey (“Head of the King”) is a unique and special sculpture, not only for the site but for the whole region. The site of El Rey (“The King”) is itself named after this sculpture.
The earliest references to this Mayan site were by John Stephens, who in 1842 recalled having seen stone buildings on the island of “Kancune.” A few decades later, Alice Le Plongeon (1889) wrote a detailed description of the site and the sculptural elements visible at the time, naming the site Nizucte. A few years later, in 1895, William Holmes described approximately 12 mounds of stone, columns and stairways, while in 1909, Arnold Channing and Frederick J. Tabor Frost produced a schematic plan of the main group with reference to the general characteristics of the buildings and their state of preservation, including the first published photograph of the anthropomorphic monument which we know today as the Cabeza de El Rey. In 1911, Raymond Merwin toured the site and took a new photograph of the sculpture.
Thomas Gann and Samuel K. Lothrop, members of the expedition organized by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, visited El Rey once again in 1918. In their 1924 publication, Lothrop made a brief mention of the site, but it was Gann who wrote a lot more about it in his book “In an Unknown Land” (1924). Gann was the first to refer to Structure 3, which is one of the principal structures of the site, as "the Palace of the King." Also, in terms of the sculpture which concerns us here, he wrote: “In a recess in this cornice, just between the doors, stood the stucco figure of the King of Cancuen, ‘El Rey de Cancuen’ which gave the building its name” (Gann, op. cit.: 150). This military doctor related how shortly before his visit, the figure of the personage was complete, including “relatively shrunken” arms and legs, and that it sat at the entrance to the palace, but that a “mischievous Mexican peon” had pried the king loose and tumbled him to the ground, breaking the limbs and the lower part of the body without any possibility of repair, preserving only the head and the headdress (Gann, ibid.).
The author added that he was informed that the perpetrator of the destruction “had died very painfully within two weeks of his act of vandalism, his death being looked upon by the other laborers as a direct visitation of the wrath of the ancient god for desecration of his sanctuary.” (op. cit. 151). Fearing that what remained of the monument would also be destroyed, Gann made arrangements with the owner to take the sculpture on his ship, but this was hindered by the bad weather, therefore “El Rey still rules over his ancient kingdom of Cancuen.” (ibid.).
Gann’s detailed description of the sculpture’s features is compelling: “The face, which is very well (though roughly) modeled, is cruel and malignant in expression; the nose is large and broad, the mouth wide, and the forehead high, by no means typically Mayan in cast. The headdress consists of some broad flaps which fall to the side of the large circular earplugs, attached to two bands which come down to the center of the forehead.
Above these is seen the head and the upper jaw, with projecting teeth and the large eyes of some mythological animal, attached to the forehead [of the personage] with a tenon that is now so weathered as to be unrecognizable. The whole figure had been painted in various colors, but these are now almost entirely obliterated by time and exposure.” (ibid.).
Gann’s interpretation was not so wide of the mark. The “Cabeza de El Rey” does indeed appear to represent a high status personage, wearing an elaborate headdress with a fantastic animal, possibly an evocation of Itzamnaaj, the Mayan god of creation, who was enormously popular in the Late Postclassic.
It is worth mentioning that the upper part of the headdress of the sculpture has a small gap, which could have been used to insert a part of the monument which has now disappeared, but which still appears in the photograph by Arnold and Frost, as well as that taken by Merwin. It could also have been used to leave a small offering, a common practice at the altars of the region.
After the visit by members of the Carnegie expedition, El Rey was not visited by specialists again until 1954. In that year William Sanders carried out stratigraphic excavations with the aim of dating this and other sites in the region. The creation of the new touristic center in Cancun in the 1970s set the scene for INAH commencing archeological excavations of the site under the direction of Pablo Mayer Guala. The archeeologists Ernesto Vargas and Akira Kaneko also worked there later on, as part of a UNAM project. It was during the 1980s that it was decided to transfer the “Cabeza del Rey” to the Archeological Museum of Cancun, which at the time adjoined the Cancun Convention Center. In 2012 it was taken to the new Cancun Mayan Museum, where it is currently a central piece in the Mayan archeology gallery.
In 1993, the archeologists Enrique Terrones and Luis Leira carried out new excavations and major maintenance work at El Rey, given that the weather and hurricanes had practically reburied a good part of the site’s buildings under the sand. The work of both archeologists continued in the residential area of the site in 2007. Three years later Sandra Elizalde carried out a season of major maintenance, conservation and improvement of some of the major buildings.