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The Ancient Maya Represented their Cosmogony in their Cities
Underneath Plinth 1-A, a substructure reveals the existence of an earlier construction phase. This structure features a molded stucco frieze, and its jaguar motif gave the site its name. Substructure I dates from the end of the Early Classic or start of the Late Classic period (550-600 AD). It is a palace built on a rectangular plinth with rounded and smooth corners and edges. A set of stairs is set into it, and provides access to the three entrances on the principal façade, which in turn lead to two large, interconnected chambers. The lower wall on the façade is smooth, unlike the upper section, since this is the location of much of the molded, polychromatic stucco decoration, a characteristic feature of the central Petén region. The excellent state of the frieze’s preservation indicates that this palace was still used for some 30 or 40 years and that its inhabitants then filled it in with stone, mortar and ceramic fragments until it was completely hidden by a larger building that served a different purpose.
The frieze measures 54.5 feet long and 6 feet high, in addition to 8.2 feet corresponding to the turrets featuring seated figures which extend above the level of the roof. The decoration on the lower part of the frieze and up to the level of the palace roof reflects the underworld; from the roof to the head of the figures the earthly world is represented, and the heavens are depicted through the image of the deity Kinich Ahau, preserved in the headdress of one of the seated lords.
The Ancient Maya Represented their Cosmogony in their Cities
Large stucco masks of the “earth monster” or Itzamná, the Maya god of creation, can be observed on the façades, which are so profusely decorated with scrolls and ornamentation that almost no space is left empty. The masks on the façades display a northern influence, specifically of the Chenes, a region with which Becán had close ties.
This decoration can be one of three types: zoomorphic façade masks that are partial, integral or cascading; in the latter cases these flank the main entrances. For example, in Structures IV and X, there are still clear traces of these masks in stone mosaic, with symbolic depictions of wind, life and germination, as well as the duality of life and death. The ear flares have three elements: the central one is that attached at the upper part in the shape of a sprouting maize leaf, while the lower element shows a small bone.
Palace complexes at each end of Structure X would have been residences for the ancient city’s most important inhabitants. Indeed, in one of them we can see an older structural phase which still retains a stucco mask, painted mainly in red and black, representing a high-ranking official and his existence in the afterworld.
We can also find a pair of parallel structures that form the ballcourt, where life and death were in play, as well as a portal for communicating with the underworld. Also, a 216-foot-long tunnel provides a communication between the two groups of buildings, which may have been the site of processions and ceremonies led by Becán’s high priests.
The ancient Maya city of Becán has a large number of buildings and invaluable cultural artefacts that are particularly representative of the southern area of Campeche known as the Río Bec region. It is the most outstanding archeological site in this area that has been left to us by our ancestors, for people to visit from near or far, thanks to the respect for architectural heritage expressed in its protection and conservation.
The Chichimecs of Xolotl
Tenayuca is closely linked to the Chichimecs, since according to historical sources Xolotl, the founder of Tenayuca, arrived at the site at the head of one of the Chichimec groups.
The name Chichimec is applied generally to the groups of migrants from the north who arrived in the Mexico basin in the twelfth century. They are identified as semi-nomads accustomed to desert environments. Some of the codices indicate that they lived in caves and subsisted by gathering plants: principally mesquite, biznaga, prickly pear and its fruit and other cactuses, which they supplemented with animal meat from hunting. Hunting was a highly valued skill among Chichimec males, who are represented carrying wooden bows strung with fiber and an animal skin quiver over the shoulder to carry arrows decorated with feathers. Hunting provided food as well as skins, which were cut for use as clothing. The men wore capes and the women wore skirts and capes.
Historical eye-witness accounts record many waves of Chichimec arrivals in the valley of Mexico from the twelfth century, but politically these were dominated by the group of Chichimecs who arrived under the command of Xolotl. The Xolotl Codex to which he gave his name notes that according to cultural tradition, upon arrival the Chichimecs established themselves in caves which included the Cerro del Tenayo, also known as Oztopolco, literally the place of many caves. The Codex tells that this hill looked over the settlements on the shores of the Texcoco lakes. Unlike the Chichimecs, these shore dwellers were sedentary and lived from farming. They cultivated corn, beans, pumpkins and chili, enriching their diet and economy with produce from the lakes and rivers. However while these settlements ensured subsistence, the social and political environment was unstable as a result of migration and the rise of new settlements which arose after Tula was abandoned.
These unstable conditions favored political transformation pushed by Xolotl and his descendants, and led to them being lauded as the new lords of the Valley of Mexico. Nevertheless, the Chichimecs are presented as an inferior cultural group, whose social organization was undoubtedly complex, with a tradition of institutional hierarchy, which enabled them to take control of the central Highlands in a short period of time. They underwent a cultural transformation, and part of their strategy was through marriage alliances between Chichimec lords and Toltec women. Their new way of living emphasized agriculture, gradually drawing away from hunting, and their native language which came from Otomi was displaced by Nahuatl; they also changed their appearance by replacing their skin garments with cotton clothes.
At the same time as these cultural modifications, they extended their domain beyond the Mexico basin, by imposing tributes through war and alliances to form the Chichimecatlalli, a political entity which literally means the Chichimec territory. To sum up, this group of Chichimec origin established a new dynastic government traced back to Xolotl, dividing the territory among their families and Chichimec migrants who continued to arrive in the central valleys.
According to historical tradition, Tenayuca was founded as the capital of the Chichimecatlalli at the height of its splendor. However the political center was gradually displaced until Quinatzin, the fourth descendant of Xolotl finally moved to Texcoco in the year 1350. From then onwards Tenayuca was politically sidelined, but it is preserved as the historical city of the descendants of Xolotl.
Ejemplo único en Mesoamérica por sus elementos pictóricos
The Most Significant Places in Bonampak
The images are a unique survival in Mesoamerica
At Bonampak, the ancient Mayan city nestling in the forest, a building measuring 55 feet long by 13 feet wide and close to 17 feet high has been preserved almost intact, despite having been abandoned more than 1,000 years previously. The building is important because of its mural painting. Known as the Building or Temple of the Paintings, it is divided into three rooms, each with its own entrance, numbered one to three, from left to right. Above each entrance is a thick stone slab, known as a lintel, with two carved personages. The lintels of the first two rooms feature an important warrior capturing a prisoner in battle around 789 AD, while the right hand entrance, or number 3, shows an event which took place 50 years earlier. The room 1 lintel presents a portrait of the last known governor of Bonampak, the lord Chan Muwan II; the lintel of room 2 features the governor of the powerful city of Yaxchilán, the lord Jaguar Shield II, who in turn was the brother-in-law of Chan Muwan II, and the room 3 lintel shows a figure who could be the father of Chan Muwan II. Chan Muwan II, who assumed power at Bonampak in the year 776 AD, and must have governed till close to the year 800, ordered the construction of the Building of the Paintings in order to decorate it with a series of events or stories of great importance to him and his city.
No other pre-Hispanic structures have been found to date with such extensive, well-preserved or richly detailed murals for the study of ancient Mayan culture. Generally speaking, it is the forest that gradually destroys these marvelous records of times past, as the trees that grow on the temples tend to pull them down, and even if they remain standing, the thin layer of lime covering the interior and exterior walls is prised away by small roots and humidity, to fall and crumble on the ground. The fact that the murals in the Building of the Paintings have survived is all the more remarkable for these reasons.
On the outside, the upper part of the building has three niches, one at each end and one in the center, inside of which are the remains of a stucco figure of a seated person. Very probably the sculpture in each niche corresponds to the governor referred to in the entrance lintel situated below. Inside the building, each room has a bulky and wide seating ledge on each of the three interior walls. In each room, the murals cover walls, arches, roofs and the sides of the ledges.
The three rooms tell a story which begins in room 1, in which the great Chan Muwan II appears standing together with other important men of his family, his wife, mother and daughters. Chan Muwan II presents a baby who appears to be carried by an assistant; perhaps it was his first male child, and in accordance with the rules of the culture, he would govern upon the death of Chan Muwan. Another part of the room shows Chan Muwan II and two other personages dressed in luxurious clothes, jewels and with an enormous long headdress of green, possibly quetzal, feathers. These three figures head a type of procession including, amongst others, musicians and people with masks of mythological Mayan beings, such as the lizard, an animal associated with the fertility of the land. Among the musical instruments depicted can be seen maracas, trumpets made from large sea shells and turtle shells used as drums. The purpose of this religious procession was to prepare Chan Muwan II and his people to ask the gods for good fortune in the next war and to offer up the victory to the gods so they would watch over his successor.
Room 2 narrates the great battle fought by Chan Muwan II and his brother-in-law, the governor of Yaxchilán, against usurpers in Bonampak allied with the city of Sak´t´zi. Various prisoners were captured, who elsewhere in the story are presented before Chan Muwan II on the great pyramid of Bonampak known as the Acropolis, where they are tortured by having their nails pulled out before being sacrificed.
The story continues in the third room where several personages in eye-catching attire are engaged in some sort of dance on the high steps of the Acropolis in front of the Building of the Paintings. Two of the dancers have one of the victims tied by their hands and feet and we observe how they throw him upwards to where Chan Muwan II is presiding over the ceremony. This is the culmination of the ritual to gain the favor of the gods for the future governor of Bonampak. Finally Chan Muwan II, his family and the courtiers who were depicted in room 1 appear in a calm place, possibly a palace, conversing about the events already described, richly dressed with short skirts and loincloths of beautiful material, and covered with thin and transparent capes. The scene focuses on the mother, wives and daughters of Chan Muwan II bleeding themselves with the spines from the tail of a stingray in honor of the protector gods of Bonampak.
It seems that the heir of Chan Muwan II never did come to power in Bonampak, and that something happened in the city before he could succeed. Perhaps long and severe droughts blighted the corn and other crops needed to feed the region’s towns and cities, which undoubtedly provoked wars, the fall of the kings of this era and the abandonment of their cities. The forest grew over everything and more than 1,000 years passed before these magnificent murals and their history were discovered.
All these events were from the final years of this city, an era in which Chan Muwan II destroyed or buried all the stelae or carved stones referring to previous governors of the city, except for lintel 4 located in building 6, whose carvings show Chan Muwan I, governor around the year 600 AD, nearly 200 years before Chan Muwan II.
Without doubt, Bonampak finds no parallel in Mesoamerica on account of its pictorial legacy, and the people and government of Mexican have a great responsibility to guarantee its conservation and endurance for future generations.
La flora y la fauna fueron indispensables en la vida cotidiana de los mayas de Calakmul.
The Maya and their Surroundings
Flora and fauna were essential in the everyday life of the Maya of Calakmul.
Calakmul offers a prime example of how people in the distant past learned about the natural world and made the most of what it offered. Today, when we see the profusion of monumental constructions built over the course of many centuries, it is worth reflecting on how this was achieved. The Maya in this area worked in close coordination to plan the city, cut millions of stones of various shapes and sizes, prepare mortar, and then transport everything needed to construct so many buildings.
In parallel, they needed to produce food and gather enough water to drink, cook, wash, and prepare the mortar, stucco, paint, and so on. Clays enabled them to make pottery, complementing their woven fabrics and basketry. They cleared fields for farming, and cut reeds, timber, bark, palms and resins; they collected fruit, eggs, honey and insects; they hunted birds, reptiles and mammals. They selected what they considered useful and in this way were able to meet all their needs.
By systematic observation they were able to understand the existence of natural cycles, the dry and rainy seasons, enabling them to use their natural environment to their advantage in different ways, for example with “milpas” [for growing maize, beans and squash], horticultural and sustainable forest management, and terraced plots for growing crops.
In their world view, practically everything in nature was a living entity: caves, trees, animals, the jungle, clouds, the sky, fire, the stars and even the objects they made themselves (such as buildings, pots, weapons, and jewelry). However, there were also supernatural beings (deities, ancestors, “winds” and “nahuales”). Therefore, in daily life it was important to respect the environment and these invisible entities.
The Maya civilization has since disappeared. Nevertheless, the Maya people have survived as an ethnic group and over the course of many generations they have held on to many of those pre-Hispanic ideas that reflect their respect for the environment. They have also preserved many aspects of their traditional knowledge, such as the names of plants and their different uses: as food, honey, medicine, condiments, stimulants, timber and pigments, to name just a few.
When visiting Calakmul we should recall that humans lived alongside nature in this ancient city over many centuries, transforming it and making it part of their everyday lives, and thereby achieving that high level of development which today we call civilization. We are fortunate to have inherited this important historical and cultural legacy, which has also been recognized by the international community with its designation as a Mixed World Heritage Site.
Pequeñas ventanas para mostrar la trayectoria cultural del sitio
The Cacaxtla-Xochitecatl Site Museums
Insights into the site’s cultural development
When visiting the Cacaxtla-Xochitecatl archeological site it is essential to enter the two site museums. With the benefit of a sound curatorial brief and exhibition design, the extensive information presented here gives visitors a good understanding of the development of this important settlement.
The Xochitecatl museum houses an interesting collection of archaeological pieces from the site’s two periods of occupation: the Formative (800-100 BC) and the Epiclassic (650-900 AD). There are noteworthy objects relating to everyday life, the exploitation of human labor and aspects of ritual. Of special interest are the female figurines found at the foot of the Pyramid of the Flowers, which were among the offerings left in the years 632 to 774 BC in honor of the gods Xochiquetzal and Tlazolteotl, as part of fertility, maternity and rain rituals.
The Cacaxtla museum was built with the intention of bringing the public closer to archeological collections and to expose the mural paintings to more detailed inspection. It has two sections covering themes related to the occupations in the Formative and Epiclassic periods. One of the attractions is looking at the life-size copies of the different murals from Cacaxtla including the Jaguar Man, the figures from the Building A doorpost, the aquatic scenes from the Red Temple and the Scorpion Man from the Temple of Venus. Even though the original murals have been preserved for more than 1,000 years, the copies allow visitors to see these great works in much more detail, particularly people with special needs.
A number of finds from the site’s archeological excavations are also displayed, including nearby chance finds. There is a Formative period basalt sculpture from Xochitecatl hill at the museum entrance. Inside visitors can see a variety of ornaments, ceramics, shell and obsidian objects. There are two remarkable ceremonial urns which depict ritual scenes, highlighting the central role of certain individuals as promoters of the cosmological and social order. The robes worn by these individuals include complex headdresses with mythological beings, even though they are surrounded by other personalities, musical instruments, plants and animals. Then there are the Lords of Cacaxtla: 11 clay ritual sculptures from the Epiclassic period who personify gods who are also richly dressed, including representation of Xipe and Tlaloc. Finally there are several copies of maps and codices from the viceregal period.
El Cuauhtinchan y el Cuauhcalli, destino y culminación de la élite militar mexica, guardianes del eterno regreso del sol.
Place of the Eternal Rebirth of the Sun
The Cuauhtinchan and the Cuauhcalli, destiny and culmination of the Mexica military elite, guardians of the sun’s eternal return
For ancient Mexica men and women alike, education formed an important part of the worldview that governed their daily lives. However, the differences between the sexes grew greater over time, as women had to devote themselves to household chores and crops, while men could dedicate themselves to a military career from a very early age. If they did not, social rejection and hard labor would be their only alternative.
In one very special case, when women died giving birth to a boy, they were honored for their physical effort, as it was believed they had “trapped” a warrior for an earthly life who would fight for the sun’s constant rebirth. These were called cihuateteo ("divine women").
As for the start of men’s military careers, they began as helpers from a very early age (at 13 on average), once they could carry the provisions and weapons of distinguished warriors. They could even capture enemies on the battlefield. If they did so, they would be promoted and obtain recognition. Therefore, they had to prepare themselves over the course of different campaigns to obtain captives who would be sacrificed to the sun god Huitzilopochtli. These sacrifices were made so that he could feed and be reborn every day, as it was thought that he had to fight a fierce battle against his sisters, the stars and the moon, when he disappeared in the evening and passed through the underworld at night.
Therefore, a military career provided strong incentives due to the clothing, body ornaments, servants, tributes and lands this social class and their families would acquire through service. The associated religious rituals were equally important, and recognition of brave Tequihua, Océlotl or Cuauhtli warriors was celebrated in a special chamber, above all at the height of this civilization, when they would become prominent generals known as tlacatécatl or tlacochcálcatl, who would command other bold warriors.
The archeological zone of Malinalco, also known as Cuauhtinchan (“the eagles’ aerie” or “the dwelling place of brave men”), acquires its significance in this context. The assumptions about the nature of the activities carried out here proposes the performance of ritual acts by those daring ones who distinguished themselves in battle. They fasted, held gladiatorial fighting matches and participated in a specific initiation ceremony for graduation which involved perforating the septum (the cartilage dividing the nostrils) to insert a particular ornament or jewel, the “yecapapálotl,” or in the chin, where the “téntetl” would be inserted, both symbols of the conferment of their new rank.
The ruins and objects from this place tell a story, above all in the specific case of the so-called monolithic temple or Cuauhcalli (“the house of the eagles”), the construction of which was initially ordered in the year 1501 by the Tlatoani Ahuízotl and continued in 1515 by his successor, Moctezuma Xocoyotzin. Its architectural shape and engraved carvings were carved from a single rock. This complex is an outstanding and unique example not only for Mexica culture, but for the whole of Mesoamerica. Here we can imagine how the priests bore witness when titles were conferred on historic figures, whose function on leaving this place with the rank of generals would be not only to direct the empire’s destiny, but the greater transcendence of living and fighting to sustain the world they knew. They renewed life by obtaining captives who would spill their blood to continue the vital cycle of the sun’s rebirth the next day.
However, this entire organization of political and military power would come to an end. After the siege of the city of Tenochtitlan in 1521, Hernán Cortés sent Captain Andrés de Tapia to Malinalco to conquer it with a few Spaniards and many allies, including indigenous people from the region of Cuernavaca (Cuauhnáhuac). This was because of the threat of the support which the warrior elite who were taught here could provide, as they could eventually command the Mexica army during this terrible episode. Malinalco effectively represented major strategic reinforcements to break the siege suffered by Cuauhtémoc, the last ruler who was fighting to save the imperial city of Tenochtitlan. However, when it fell, Cuauhtinchan fell too, united in this historic event.
The importance of preserving this archeological site is made clear by the character of the place, which functioned as a ritual garrison and therefore dominated its geographical surroundings; its particular architecture, which is unique in the context of monolithic constructions around the world; the stonecutting technique which used stone tools to carve the monument from the rock; and because we do not currently know of another site which enshrines this set of values.
Magnificent Expression of Maya Art
The archeological site of Kanki was originally reported by Harry Pollock, a US researcher from the Carnegie Institution of Washington. He visited in the 1930s but his notes and findings were only published some 50 years later, in 1980. The site remained virtually abandoned throughout almost all of the twentieth century, with only occasional visits by hunters, looters, and explorers, as well as by some scholars of ancient Mexico such as Paul Gendrop (UNAM) and George Andrews (University of Oregon), who recorded the architectural details of some of the site’s buildings in the late 1980s.
The first intervention at Kanki took place in 1990, in an expedition led by INAH’s Campeche office, and partially funded by the municipality of Tenabo. The archeological work was supervised by Renée Zapata and the author. A decade later, in 2001, Florentino García (2001) reported an archaeo-astronomical phenomenon in the Building of the Roof Comb (“Crestería”) and, in 2007, the INAH’s department of archeological records demarcated a protection area for the site’s largest buildings, covering an average area of 21 acres. It is worth mentioning that more pre-Hispanic remains lie outside this area, in the surrounding plains and hills.
In 2009, an INAH program to maintain archeological sites open to the public made it possible to restore the openwork roof comb of Building 1 and various sectors of the building with the “inverted staircase” ceiling—named after the type of Maya arches used for the vault, a type of construction that combines elements of both Petén and Proto-Puuc architectural styles.
As part of the maintenance works in 2013, interventions have also been made in the House of the Twenty Chambers, the Building of the Inverted Steps, the south building of the Southeast Quadrangle and the House of the East, although work was only carried out in small areas of each of these buildings that had suffered damaged due to heavy rainfall the previous year. In 2015, one of the residential platforms at the site entrance was restored, and work began on removing amorphous stones that partially covered the frieze on the Building of the Roof Comb.
The concentration of monumental architecture and the presence of sculptures and hieroglyphic inscriptions strengthens Kanki’s position as an important settlement in the region, given that not all sites enjoyed enough political power to support specialist stone carvers and those versed in the sacred art of writing. Xcalumkin and Cayal, lying an average of 14 miles to the north and south of Kanki, respectively, are sites dating from the same period as Kanki.
Nahua Mythical Signs
There are many mythical signs expressed in the material remains of La Campana. Regarding the regional distribution of political power, we should mention the presence of a kind of Teotihuacan ambassador who was responsible for obtaining certain products, which were seemingly important for the people of Teotihuacan, and delivering them to the Central Plateau. Important ideas travelled with these dignitaries, influenced by their cosmogonic and cosmological principles, which then infiltrated the societies of Western Mesoamerica. This explains why there is a group of religious buildings in the ceremonial-administrative center that stood out due to the height and size of the structures. It is worth noting that the upper structures stand more than ten feet above the lower square, which was achieved using artificial infill.
One of the main enclosures of the ancient city is in the upper part of the complex. It is characterized by its dimensions and its rectangular design, which recalls La Ciudadela ("The Citadel") in Teotihuacan. This was a prototype for the large ceremonial enclosures that continue to be found up to the Postclassic period with the Huey Teocalli of Mexico-Tenochtitlan as an ancestral mythical manifestation of the design of the earth.
It also worth noting the presence of two avenues, built following the east-west and north-south axis. The first reflects an important aspect of Mesoamerican belief about the creation of the universe. That is to say, the rising of the sun in the east and its setting in the west according to the daily cycle. As for the north-south axis, it is associated with the worship of the god of fire. The Volcán de Fuego is located to the north of the ancient city, where the old supernatural spirit lives who was an object of worship. The inhabitants of La Campana created altars and miniature models using the image of the volcano.
Other expressions of Mesoamerican beliefs, although adapted to this settlement’s own identity, are associated with the worship of death as part of the fundamental natural cycle. This explains the presence of mortuary architecture such as shaft tombs and stepped passageway tombs, where remains of the dead were placed in accordance with their social position and importance. The buried people were differentiated from one another by the form of access, via cylindrical shafts or staggered stairways, while in other cases, the bodies are found in holes. This suggests a differentiation in the social stratification and it seems that this has no link to the different periods of cultural development in the region. Evidence also exists of the custom of burning cadavers, with the ashes placed on the walls of certain shafts.
Near Tomb 9 at La Campana, 15 clay models of toads were found, decorated with burnished red paint and arranged around a stone covered in blue pigment. This is a type of ritual which shows the link between these toads and water and fertility. This not only indicates the presence of the tomb, but also that the underworld was considered to be a place of both death and fertility. Furthermore, toads, related with the worship of water and, therefore, fertility, are mentioned in various myths as messengers from the gods, especially the water deity.
When exploring the site, a staircase was discovered which was framed by lateral stone walls covered with mud stucco. On the steps, fragments of human remains and anthropomorphic figurines were found, some of which could be restored. At the end of the stairway, a rectangular entrance was found which was worked into the brittle volcanic rock and covered with metates (grinding stones), metlapillis (cylindrical, hand-held grinding stones) and ordinary stones.
Upon removing the stones and the metates which protected the tomb’s entrance, a sculpture of a female dog was found, who seemed to be guarding the entrance. Due to the presence of offerings and remains of bones inside, it was possible to determine that this space was indeed a tomb, in which these ceramic objects had been placed as offerings.
Of note were various pots painted red and brown, some of which contained food and water or another liquid. Sculptures associated with Mesoamerican myth were also found, specifically the myth of the creation of man. Quetzalcoatl descended into the underworld, in the form of his twin Xolotl (a dog) to steal the precious bones which were found in the center of the earth inside the Dominion of Miclantecuhtli and Mictecacihuatl. Once the witch Quilaztli had grinded them together with the semen of the supernatural spirt, Quetzalcoatl drank the mixture and created man.
Other clay sculptures were discovered, such as the dual image of the spiritual creator spirit par excellence at the moment when he poured his sacred liquid onto the powdered bones to give them life. Two broken skulls were also found which had been covered by two mortuary masks which are different to other Mesoamerican masks. They are long and have stitched mouths to prevent them from speaking. This identified the dead, known as “the mutes.”
In Mesoamerica, there used to be a tradition of covering the faces of important people who had died in order to give them an eternal face which would hide natural decomposition over time. The god Quetzalcoatl himself in his manifestation as the priest Tula wore a mask to cover traces of aging.
Una muestra del máximo refinamiento de la arquitectura zapoteca y el disfrute de la creación estética.
An Examination of Mitla's Architecture
A sample of the highest refinement of Zapotec architecture and the enjoyment of esthetic creation
One of the greatest attractions when visiting Mitla is the varied architectural decoration of the archeological zone’s symmetrical, substantial buildings. This decoration consists of a combination of several elements, including the molding known as “scapulary panel,” consisting of horizontal bands of smooth stone with a few changes in depth, and elements that seem to hang from the corners and in the central areas of certain long walls, or next to entrance openings.
These movements in the panel molding allow gaps to be left between the hanging elements (and inside some of them), which are filled by ornamentation in the form of meander patterns of the most varied designs and different kinds of execution. Some are mosaics assembled from small pieces, forming every feature in the meander pattern; others consist of larger pieces that take up a greater portion of the meander pattern; whilst others are carved in relief in long stretches on very large monolithic pieces, such as the lintels.
For some, these meander patterns are quite simply a synonym for Mitla. However, Mitla is more than just these exceptional panels decorated with meander patterns. The panel itself comes from the influence of Teotihuacan, which spread throughout Mesoamerica in approximately the first five or six centuries of the current era. This ornamental motif comes into its own in Monte Albán, where the molding is doubled and incorporates hanging motifs, but Mitla is where it achieves its greatest level of refinement. It is constructed from perfectly cut and assembled cantera ashlars, whose corners are always finished in a very satisfying manner, highlighting the hanging element without taking away from the meander pattern friezes accommodated within the panels.
Mitla’s meander patterns always form friezes, and the motifs they comprise are very varied, only being repeated occasionally. Consisting of small pieces of perfectly assembled pieces of carved cantera, as mosaics, or carved in very large pieces, they combine with other similar patterns or with different motifs to form very visually attractive shapes of the highest level of decorative quality. These effectively contribute to highlighting the hierarchy of the buildings they appear upon, as well as that of their original occupants.
As regards the origin of this type of decoration, scholars have identified similar motifs in the decorative arts (ceramics and precious metalwork), the codices and the architecture of the Mixtec-Zapotec culture in the Valley of Oaxaca. Originally, all the meander pattern friezes were finished with a thin layer of whitewash applied to the red-painted stone, and some small portions of the original finish can still be seen on some friezes. There is evidence that several of the large monolithic lintels in the North and Stream architectural groups were originally decorated with ornate mural paintings of the same type as the Mixtec codices. Unfortunately, although small fragments of these paintings remain, most of this decoration has been lost.
A Great Deal Still to Learn
The majority of specialist texts which look at the pre-Hispanic history of the San Gervasio site and the island of Cozumel highlight its role as a pilgrimage site and as a trading port, during the Late Postclassic from 1250 to 1550 AD. The information that follows is a brief summary designed to make a visit to the site more rewarding.
According to the chroniclers of the Conquest, when the Spanish arrived on the island of Cozumel it was a prosperous community with various coastal settlements. Bernal Díaz del Castillo referred to at least three important settlements in his True History of the Conquest of New Spain (c. 1568), which are also mentioned by Diego López de Cogolludo and the Chilam Balam of Chumayel. They were San Miguel Xamancab, the present day San Miguel de Cozumel; Santa María Oycib, the town which Ralph Roys linked to El Cedral; and also a third town which was unnamed, but which Roys identified as Tantun. None of the chroniclers left a description which coincides with the site of San Gervasio, perhaps because it is inland and they never strayed far enough from the coast. Nevertheless when Díaz de Castillo wrote of Hernan Cortes’ first encounter with the island’s inhabitants, he referred to the presence of “trading Indians.”
Nor were there any mentions of the site in explorers’ tales from the end of the nineteenth or the early twentieth century. The first documented archeological visit to the site was published by Alberto Escalona Ramos in 1946, who noted ten archeological sites on Cozumel as part of the Mexican Scientific Expedition of 1937. Another member of this expedition was Miguel Ángel Fernández, who published an article on the Cozumel sites in 1945, but only referring to sites close to the coast.
It was not until 1972 that Jeremy A. Sabloff and William L. Rathje arrived at Cozumel to carry out a more in-depth research project. The archeological record began to support the notion that during the Late Postclassic the island had been a trading port visited by the traders from across the Mayan region and beyond. This view had already been voiced by Scholes and Roys in 1968 and by Thompson in 1990 on the basis of strong ethno-historical evidence (see Andrews, 1990). Since Cozumel has neither fertile soil nor products for export, these authors suggested that the source of its commercial success was the presence of a sanctuary and oracle devoted to the goddess Ixchel, who was traditionally identified as the patron of medicine, childbirth, weaving and flooding. Sabloff’s and Rathje’s hypothesis is that the numerous isolated structures built by the Maya along the coasts would have formed part of this system.
From this perspective it might be anticipated that San Gervasio, like the other sites excavated to date on the island, would produce a sample of the archeological material coming from the same regions as the pilgrims and traders who visited it. Nevertheless, investigation of the material found has shown the opposite. For example in 2005 Carlos Peraza published an exhaustive analysis of the ceramics of San Gervasio and found that “the Postclassic San Gervasio ceramics were exclusively of a style and shape identical to the coastal sites of Quintana Roo,” except for a few which came from the Chontal region of Tabasco.
On the other hand, recent research has demonstrated that Postclassic Mayan iconography did not feature the lunar goddess Ixchel, protector of women. Instead there were several female deities with a variety of symbolic roles, as shown by Traci Arden in 2006. This author emphasizes that the archeological record of Cozumel and other areas of the East Coast has not produced any clear association of that goddess with the buildings or representations known today.
And so it is probable that some of the people who lived on Cozumel were long distance traders and that the site of San Miguel Xamancab, which no longer exists today, was the site of an oracle attracting pilgrims from different regions. Nevertheless it is also feasible that the rest of the population of the island had a similar means of subsistence to their contemporaries on the mainland, who were farmers, makers of tools, builders and local traders in subsistence goods, forming part of an enormous and complex socio-economic system which we have still not fully understood.
San Gervasio was built in the center of the island to be above the largest and most permanent aquifer, which certainly ensured the survival of its inhabitants. To date we do not have any evidence allowing us to link any of its buildings with the goddess Ixchel.
Visitors to Cozumel find this site very attractive, as an example of the natural and cultural context of the island’s ancient people, quite apart from its history as a trading, pilgrimage or ceremonial site; aspects which still merit further study.
Walls Concealing the Secrets of Two Periods
Entering the complex across the beautiful, historic park, a project designed by landscape architect Mario Schjetnan, gives the sense of entering another time, another place, where the city’s clamor and traffic are banished beyond the reach of the senses. The cloisters’ silence and tranquility are an integral part of visiting this monastery.
The grisaille-decorated walls in the upper cloister show the skill of the sixteenth-century painters (Gorbea, 1959). Inspired by Renaissance art, they reveal outlines of figures depicted in each fresco: stylized facial traits with a sense of depth and movement. The themes designed for the friars residing in the upper part of the monastery were centered on the Augustinian saints and biblical episodes that accompanied the daily meditations of the temporary occupants of the cells.
Present in every frieze of the lower cloister, as if in a cave, the order’s symbols are in plain view yet remain hidden from the uneducated eye: the grape, the acanthus flower, the reeds, and the fantastical figures combine plants and animals with fluidity and exuberance, creating a feast for the senses. Colored medallions are dedicated to the saints of various religious orders who are given attributes, distinguishing them almost perfectly. More than thirty well-preserved cartouches reveal the traits of every figure: a diminutive soul hangs from a set of scales, held by the Archangel Michael and painted in surprising detail; figures saying prayers emerge from the jaws of an animal at the feet of St Nicholas of Tolentino; a child asks for bread from a bishop known as St Nicholas of Bari; a young man wounded by arrows alludes to St Sebastian. These attributes are contributions established in the Council of Trent that was held shortly before the Conquest.
It is interesting to identify the pre-Hispanic symbols also depicted in the friezes: the glyph of Culhuacan’s arched hill, the “atlacuezona” or solar flower, and also the fusion of different environments, such as the Tebaida, whcih clearly shows the lacustrine landscape around this colonial-period construction, set against the desert backdrop identified by a palm tree, thereby reflecting on the origin of the order and its withdrawal into the desert.
Inside the complex itself, we have the further opportunity to witness the “fusion” of two cultures, with a major pre-Hispanic collection from the slopes of the Cerro de la Estrella: archeological artefacts and remains from the first, second and third Aztec periods, which also show us the close connection with Teotihuacan 4 and confirm 670 AD as the date attributed by Chimailpain to the foundation of Culhuacan (Séjourné, 1970).
The original church shows some architectural vestiges such as the three naves, with arches running along the sides, which used to support the wooden roof made of carved timber beams that collapsed after years of neglect. Also on view are the confessionals, attached to the wall, one of the features exclusively designed for evangelical work in Mexico (Kubler, 1982).
El Tajín nos recuerda el respeto y el equilibrio en un bien común: la conservación del medio ambiente y la subsistencia del hombre
Our Ancestors Sought a Balance between Man and Nature
El Tajín is a reminder that respect and balance is for the common good: care for the environment and humankind’s continued survival.
El Tajín is very well known for four buildings and a sculpture: the Edificio de los Nichos ("Pyramid of the Niches"), the South Ballcourt, the Xicalcoliuhqui or stepped-fret motif, and the Edificio de las Columnas ("Building of Columns"), as well as for the god Tajín (representing thunder), located at the center of Building 5. All of these iconic constructions face toward the Cerro del Oriente (“Hill of the East”), also called the Cerro de los Mantenimientos (“Hill of Sustenance”) by specialists, in allusion to the ancient world view of the hill as a sacred site, a divine being that contained the primordial waters, a place of magical force and supernatural powers. This message was also applicable to these aforesaid emblematic buildings, with the divine hill as their backdrop or frame, so that they have an implicitly sacred language full of symbolic meaning.
A total of 21 ball-courts were built in El Tajín, 13 of which are located within the area of monuments. The game seems to have been played as a ritual exercise to ask the gods to preserve harmony with nature and prevent severe meteorological phenomena.
Their main deities were Quetzalcoatl / Tlaloc as a duality, each one under the auspices of Venus as the morning or evening star, due to this planet’s connection to changes in the weather. The name Tajín itself was imposed by the Totonacs when they reached the region in the thirteenth century, and it means “thunder” or “powerful smoke,” attributed to the “Hurricane God.” With its location on the Gulf Coast, a region often buffeted by strong trade winds known as northers, it was known as the city of the Hurricane God. Documents show that between 850 and 1150 AD the earth underwent a period of climate change that researchers in Europe have called the Medieval Warm Period. Droughts were recorded in some places in central Mexico, and in the basin of the Gulf of Mexico, the region where El Tajín is located, there was intense rainfall, atypical hurricanes, and the rivers swelled up to four meters higher than their normal levels. The plazas in the city of El Tajín were flooded by water up to two-and-a-half meters deep. From this period we have references to Thirteen Rabbit, a central figure who acted as a social agent to transform the city and to line the buildings with niches as a symbol of Quetzalcoatl as the god of wind and movement.
El Tajín is a city in which the buildings are connected to astronomy, understood as the observation of the trajectory of the Sun and the Moon through the sky, as well as certain stars and planets such as Venus. These observations were linked to nature and climatic phenomena, such as the rainy and dry seasons, and in turn were connected with crop cycles. During the period known as “year-quarters,” which mark the Earth’s movement around the sun, these “quarters” take place in the months of March, June, September and December, and some coincide with changes of season. In the Pyramid of the Niches, a solar phenomenon takes place that it has only been possible to record in the quarter corresponding to the days falling between 17 and 25 of March. Therefore, as in ancient times, we can marvel at how the sun appears precisely from behind one end of the Cerro de los Mantenimientos and, on reaching the center of the hill, shines light onto every part of the Pirámide de los Nichos. What is impressive is that the rest of the site remains covered in darkness, and the light is only reflected for one minute on each section of the building before descending to earth, at the moment when it touches the central altar of the Pyramid of the Niches. This phenomenon lasts seven minutes and afterwards the entire site is lit up.
Why does this happen in El Tajín? Because of the nearby hill. And because the place chosen for the city’s construction is connected to its world view, hence El Tajín is considered a sacred and symbolic city, a quality not necessarily shared by all cities in ancient Mexico.
This is truly remarkable because more than 1,100 years ago sacred spaces were already being planned, with temples and buildings erected using lightweight concrete (an early type of cement), and because today we know that inhabitants came from many places, such as the Maya region, to gather in these sacred places. In those periods palaces were built using all the features of the corbel-arch construction method. If we are correct in our thinking, this means that pilgrims would have traveled from various parts to visit the sacred and symbolic city of El Tajín, crossing rivers and the sea, and coming by foot along roads, all in order to petition the gods for balance in the universe, and for the sudden climatic changes to cease so that harmony might return to their lands and their crops, in order to ensure mankind’s continued survival.
This explains why El Tajín is key: it reminds us of the importance of protecting and preserving our environment, and of the awareness we require as humans living on this planet. We must visit the site with the greatest respect, in the understanding that it was a sacred city for many years; we must protect and preserve it as the place where the gods communicated with humanity.
Observers of the Sky
A fundamental part of the set of beliefs in Cañada de la Virgen was the observation of the sky, the knowledge of the celestial bodies and their different cycles. It has been confirmed that certain celestial positions are related to the cycles which mark the times for different economic activities, such as farming, and for carrying out ceremonies, such as the possible ancestral worship.
Orientations and alignments of the buildings, structures and landscape features such as peaks of hills and mountains have also been identified. The main astronomical phenomena observed were recorded from the peak of the pyramidal base, the entrance gateway and the interior of the sunken courtyard. Research has focused on the study of the Sun, the Moon and the planet Venus.
One date of note is August 25, when the Sun is aligned with the principal axis of symmetry. This imaginary line divides the main architectural elements and Complex A in particular into two equal halves. The other important date is the winter solstice, which is observed from the portico of the sunken courtyard of this complex. In this case, the Sun appears to hide in the northern base of the second body of the pyramidal plinth.
Orientation and Astronomy
Orientation and Astronomy
Crossing the San Bernardino River from the town of San Luis Huexotla and following a dirt road that leads to Coatlinchán, we come to the Circular Temple of Huexotla, which displays two stages of construction, as shown by the differences in alignment of its stairways. It is approximately 156 feet wide and 13 feet tall. The stairway, which is flanked by inclines, measures 6.5 feet by 33 feet and faces east. We can see another incline corresponding to the first stage of construction in the middle.
The astronomical alignment differs as regards other constructions within the pre-Hispanic settlement. During his explorations in Huexotla, Leopoldo Batres (1904) recorded changes in the alignment of various monuments and insisted on a hypothesis of overlapping sections. García and Díaz (1979-80) confirmed two stages of construction in the Circular Temple stairway. Based on pottery fragments, Teresa García (1987) dates the first stage to between 1150-1350 AD and the second to between 1350 and 1515 AD. Taking these dates into consideration, Ivan Šprajc proposes that the changes in alignment correspond to different astronomical references. The first stage, related to the evening star, faces towards the Tres Padres peak, which marks Venus’ northern limit. The second stage, referencing the Sun aligned with Cerro Petlécatl, coincides with the sunset on May 6 and August 7. The hypothesis regarding Venus is reinforced by the archeological material that Batres discovered in the temple: “fragments of an enormous clay idol wearing a headdress of five flowers placed horizontally on the forehead” (Batres, cited by Šprajc, 1998: 80). Moreover, “the shell pectorals, predominant motifs in pottery found in the surrounding area by Batres, confirm this association, which supports the hypothesis of Venusian orientation.”
We have been able to determine that the circular platforms in the central zone of Mesoamerica are oriented towards the east or, in the case of the Mayan zone, towards the west.
Furthermore, the temples were depicted in pottery and small “prototypes,” as well as in codices, besides being described in colonial documents, which tell us that they had conical thatched roofs.
El Templo Mayor nos enseña que el pasado es razón de ser del presente y cimiento del futuro.
The Navel of Mexico City: Origins
The Templo Mayor teaches us that the past is the reason for the present and also the foundation of the future.
Dedicated to Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli, the Templo Mayor takes us back to the origins of Tenochtitlan. According to Mexica traditions, after glimpsing the powerful sign with which their god Huitzilopochtli indicated to them the place in which they were to settle, they made a small and modest shrine to mark the place and make it sacred.
Over time it became the city’s most important building and symbol of Tenochca power.
Given its location, the Templo Mayor acted as a symbolic “navel” and point of convergence in the day-to-day lives of the city’s residents. Such was its importance that it was built at the virtual intersection of the two main causeways that joined the small island to terra firme: the Iztapalapa route (modern-day Pino Suárez and San Antonio Abad streets) to the south, and Tlacopan (now called Guatemala and Tacuba streets) to the west. This led some scholars, such as Alfredo Chavero, Alfred Maudslay, and Manuel Gamio, to infer its true location, and it was Gamio who eventually found the first remains in May 1914.
Furthermore, the Templo Mayor presided over the sacred precinct of Tenochtitlan, the very heart of the city where people would gather to celebrate religious feast days. These were moments mainly to commemorate events that took place during mythical times and that gave everything its reason for existence: the earth, the sun, the moon, man and corn, among other things. The portentous birth of Huitzilopochtli on the hill of Coatepec, for example, was marked on the “panquetzaliztli”—a twenty-day period—this explains why the circular monolith that represents his sister Coyolxauhqui was found at the bottom of the building’s steps: according to myth, she was vanquished by him shortly after he had emerged from the belly of Coatlicue.
Some of the surrounding buildings—such as the two red temples dedicated to the god Xochipilli, the tzompantli altar and the Casa de las Águilas ("House of Eagles"), where important ceremonies were held for the enthronement of each new Mexica governor or huei tlatoani—provide us with the context of the sacred building complex and confirm the dominance and significance of the Templo Mayor.
It is essential to visit and to preserve this ancient ritual space which reminds Mexicans of their origins and gives meaning to their existence.
Walking through a museum is like flying around the edge of the world
What do I think about being a museum-dweller? To start with, going against my sedentary nature, I have to walk around. It’s not a normal kind of stroll, of course, although not unlike what humans have been doing for the past three millennia. Walking through a museum is like flying around the edge of the world. You don’t have to prepare much for this journey or bring any special equipment: you just need to put on a pair of seven-league boots, open up your imagination and stop the clocks.
You fly over time, something we believe is slumbering on walls and inside glass display cases, and which always keeps its secrets. We also devour distances, in lands that become miniscule on the walls and screens, in the words and images bearing objects handed down from the past. We look at faces with aged expressions and heavy clothing, but they are always the same faces as our own. We look at decorations, furniture, weapons, and flags which men and women from the distant past used to fill their lives with signs. We discover their beliefs behind the sacred images and instruments used for worship, although the words that explained them and the surrounding rituals have been forgotten for generations. They say that journeys illustrate; museum visits nourish: feeding the memory.
The museum is our mirror: it reflects what we have wanted to be and what we desire to be. Sometimes we walk optimistically, confident that what we will see won’t give us any surprises because it has always been there, unchanging, awaiting us, resting in its glass case. But other times, standing in the same corners, and looking at the same displays, we are afflicted by doubts: we don’t understand why certain things have happened. Then the museum, the world’s shorthand, a synthesis of reality, seems incomprehensible and chaotic to us... Perhaps that is when the museum really leads us to the truth: the walk is never the same because there are many answers to the mysteries of the universe and they need to be discovered gradually, every day, on every journey. We understand why: the museum is the immense hieroglyph of the boundless human being.
Mural Paintings of the Monastery of Actopan
Taken as a whole, the Monastery of Actopan is a complex building which incorporates all the forms of artistic expression demanded by the classic model, despite the fact that the building was built in several stages. The 1560s was the defining period for the Augustinians’ ideals, and it was during this decade that the mannerist style was employed to embellish the building. The architecture is on a grand scale, with the nave alone being sixteen times the height of a person. The buildings were impressive because of the large spaces and massive dimensions. Strong buttresses support tall walls in front of a richly carved stonework facade which looks like it has come from an engraving drawn with purist moderation. The panels and flat ceilings within these walls, as well as the vaults, are decorated with controlled paintwork.
One of the most notable expressions of the Actopan complex is its mural painting, which can be seen throughout an indoor tour of this monument. As we walk through we can see vast embellished sections which reflect the dignity of human existence, the fact of free and individual consciousness, which gives us the ability to appreciate art in any of its expressions. This idea was very widespread in the Renaissance and it was passed on to subsequent generations as an intellectual victory.
The pictorial motifs refer to a majestic dignity such as that of ancient Rome. In the vaults of the open chapel and the church we can see a fictional architecture which represents a coffered ceiling with sunken panels of the composite order. This order may be identified in the moldings in the arches of the pilgrims' gate, and in the pilasters of the facade. Other elements influenced by classical ideals are the grotesques, which abounded in the sixteenth century. Generally, these are figurative images which contain a mixture of animals, plants and artifices combined to form fantastical beings. These forms can be found in bands, strips or panels which are adapted to the architecture, especially at the level of the cornices or coping, in the corridors of the cloister, the walls of the church and other halls.
One of the genres used in addition to ornamental painting is narrative painting. It includes landscapes or scenes in which human figures participate as protagonists. Towards the exterior of the complex is the open chapel where the painting is directed towards the town. This includes passages from the Bible mixed with scene paintings which represent the sins and their punishments. The area restricted for the monastic community was in the interior of the complex. Here paintings were directed exclusively at the friars, hence there are paintings in the staircase of the cloister of various personages reading or meditating on the scriptures in a passive attitude. On the other hand the back wall of the anterefectory has a painting which represents the different states a monk passes through, rising through a process of spiritual ascent from his novitiate.
The Presence of Teotihuacan
The archeological zone of Ocoyoacac is one example of a settlement by people from Teotihuacan who arrived in the Valley of Toluca from the great metropolis. Based on carbon-14 dating performed at the sites of La Remonta (in the municipality of San Antonio), La Isla and La Loma (the latter two in the municipality of Calimaya), it is possible to state that the Valley of Toluca had a close ideological and political relationship with Teotihuacan as of 200-240 AD.
This has been confirmed in municipalities such as Ocoyoacac, Metepec, Tenango del Valle, Calimaya, Santa María Rayón, Santa Cruz Azcapotzaltongo and Calixtlahuaca. Materials recovered during excavations indicate that these places were mostly inhabited by groups dedicated to farming, pottery and exploitation of aquiferous resources, among other activities, who also lived in small domestic units.
Contact between the population of the Valley of Toluca and Teotihuacan is evident from materials such as green obsidian, the trade in which was controlled by Teotihuacan at the time, as well as slate and pottery imported from the big city. The great city’s architectural style and decoration was preserved in the Valley of Toluca, as reflected in its pottery.
The archeological zone of Ocoyoacac preserves one of the valley’s few architectural samples of the Classic period. This allows us to infer how they lived in small domestic units, mostly constructed in adobe on a stone wall base, which was a material available to the inhabitants owing to their location on the alluvial plain.
Civic-religious activities were not unknown to this settlement, as can be seen in certain elements such as its courtyards with a temple and in its utilitarian and decorative pottery. This group produced its own pottery, preserving the most significant features of Teotihuacan style both in the shape and decoration of surfaces and in decorative techniques and colours.
The big city imposed a great deal of order on the Valley of Toluca to supply itself with agricultural, lakeside and forestry resources. In this manner, it obtained food and various raw materials, such as lime, timber, reeds, grain and certain other products that are abundant in the region. Equally important was control over the routes of communication to the west and south-southwest.
Population growth after the Late Tlamimilolpan phases has been verified in Xolalpan and Metepec. At the time, the governing sites that controlled production and flow of goods in the Valley of Toluca would have been those located in Ocoyoacac, Calixtlahuaca and Santa Cruz Azcapotzaltongo. We should also consider that Ocoyoacac was strategic to controlling the route of passage through the Valley of Toluca.
The groups of people from Teotihuacan must have operated based on a hierarchy directed from Teotihuacan to emulate the great city’s organization. Upon its fall, these sites do not appear to have been abandoned, but show continuity instead, as can be seen at Santa Cruz Aztcapotzaltongo. However, we would need to broaden excavation of Ocoyoacac to determine the entirety of this cycle.
The First Major Architectural Site in the Valley of Mexico
Cuicuilco was one of the most important sites of the Preclassic era (1500 BC – 250 AD) in the Valley of Mexico, as this was where the first monumental architecture appeared, of a kind limited to major regional centers. Another distinctive feature is the shape of its pyramids. Both the Great Pyramid and the Mound of Tenantongo in the modern-day Bosque del Tlalpan park, are semi-circular in elevation, like truncated cones. This architectural typology has not been found in any other settlements of the same era. Some of the smaller structures also had the same form (Cuicuilco C and the Mound of Peña Pobre).
The apogee of Cuicuilco was between 200 BC and 250 AD, when it is estimated to have covered 1,000 acres and had a population of around 20,000. The urban center also boasted ritual buildings, platforms, houses for the rulers, significant hydraulic works, agricultural land, and living quarters—ranged around the city’s main nucleus—for the commoners. Cuicuilco is likely to have been the principal town with a number of smaller surrounding settlements; it would have probably controlled not only the local resources but also access to the trade routes to the valleys of Morelos and Toluca, as well as routes to the south-east and west of the Valley of Mexico from the south-west.
Today we only have a small area of archeological evidence—approximately 150 acres—of Cuicuilco’s remains, since the lava from the Xitle volcano blanketed part of the ancient city. This event took place in around 250 AD, and resulted in the abandonment and decline of this Preclassic settlement. In this area we can still observe some of the buildings, including the Great Pyramid, the Stela, Structure E-1 and the Kiva (Cuicuilco A), Structures II, VI, VIII and IX (Cuicuilco B), the Mound of Peña Pobre and the Preclassic Canal (Cuicuilco D), as well as the Mound of Tenantongo (in Bosque de Tlalpan park). Structures I, III, IV, V and VII (Cuicuilco B) and a circular structure in Cuicuilco C (all now destroyed) are the most notable constructions to have been discovered that also formed part of Cuicuilco.
Distinctive Features of Plazuelas
Plazuelas is the most important ceremonial center in the southwest of the present-day state of Guanajuato. Through its religious architecture and the sacred landscape surrounding it, the site’s significance and complexity are expressed. Furthermore, its location indicates that it was used as a point of confluence for different trade routes since the pre-Hispanic era.
The site is spread over three hillsides. There are seven buildings distributed along these hillsides and each of them show different architectural styles. This distinguishes Plazuelas as a site where peoples from different cultural traditions lived together. On the eastern hillside, the buildings known as El Cajete, Los Cuitzillos, La Crucita and El Cobre were built. On the western hillside, only a ballgame court has been discovered (oriented from east to west), while on the central hillside, a building of complex design was constructed. It is known locally as Casas Tapadas ("Covered Houses") and is comprised of four pyramidal bases and one hall. To the south of this complex, there is another ballcourt—oriented from north to south—as well as three associated platforms.
More than 1,000 archeological sites have been recorded in Guanajuato, but ballgame courts have been identified in only nine of them. It is therefore important to note that there are two in Plazuelas. It is also worth noting that the markers in the court on the central hillside are not circular, like in other regions, but are actually large sculptures with snake designs. It should be mentioned that this court in Plazuelas is the first one to be refurbished for public use in the state of Guanajuato.
Various symbols alluding to earth, water, vegetation, celestial fire and wind can also be seen. This is evident in the sculptures as well as the ceramics and the architecture. More than 1,200 engraved stones make this site unique. One of them is particularly special as it has depicts a miniature model of the Casas Tapadas building.
Another distinctive feature of Plazuelas is the harmony of the architecture with its environment, as well as the urban layout and the complexity of the buildings.
Finally, the collection of pieces which are exhibited in the site’s museum reveal the signficant level of trade with both nearby and distant regions.
Investigación y conservación de la Estructura A, Plaza de la Pirámide de la Luna, Teotihuacán
Recent finds in the Plaza of the Moon
Investigation and preservation of Structure A, Plaza of the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan
Excavation work has been carried out in Structure A of the Plaza of the Moon since 2015. This is a building located a mere 13 yards south of the platform attached to the Pyramid of the Moon. The structure was rebuilt during the 1962-1964 Teotihuacan Project, but its subsoil and periphery were not explored at the time, so there was no hard data to substantiate its chronology or what the people of Teotihuacan used it for.
Therefore, we commenced the first stage of this project by scanning the structure's surface with ground-penetrating radar, which allowed us to obtain information on the possible presence of elements in the subsoil. In the second stage, we performed excavations that allowed us to locate a series of pits or cavities of different sizes, both inside the structure and in the plaza itself. These cavities mostly contained small pebbles and shell fragments, but the pits discovered inside Structure A were larger in size (6.5' x 8' and 10' deep). In some of these, the Teotihuacanos had inserted green stone monoliths in an upright position, some weighing more than half a ton.
The pits are connected to a series of bore holes in the floors of Structure A and the Plaza of the Moon, the role of which we have not yet been able to determine. A detailed plan is therefore being prepared to define alignments or patterns which accommodate these boreholes. Until this excavation, no-one had any notion of the existence of these alterations to the valley's natural bedrock (tepetate stone), which suggest activities probably associated with the ritual use of the great plaza and the Pyramid of the Moon. We can now argue that the plaza was altered as a result of various activities that we are only now becoming aware of.
These investigations will continue for the next few years, as the goal of dating the building and the plaza exactly can only be achieved through a series of geophysical analyses. This project is therefore being carried out in partnership with other institutions to perform the corresponding studies.
The Guillermo M. Echániz Collection: A Brief History
The collection is named after Guillermo M. Echániz, collector, antiquarian, librarian and editor of ancient manuscripts. His Mexico City bookstore was called Librería Anticuaria México en Libros. In the 1930s and 40s, he assembled a collection of numerous archeological artefacts from different Mesoamerican regions and cultures, worthy of study for their beauty, style and historical significance. Some of these items formed part of the exhibition entitled “Mexican Masks,” organized by the Modern Art Society in 1945 and exhibited at the National Museum of Anthropology. Other pieces were put on display at the “National Exhibition of Pre-Columbian Art of Western Mexico” exhibition, held at the Palace of Fine Arts in March 1946. Guillermo M. Echániz died on November 2 , 1965, and during his life as an antiquarian and editor, his archeological collection was open to research institutes and for artistic photography.
In 1981, staff at the records department of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) began to record the archeological items in Echániz’s collection, assigning them the number 158 P.F. In 1984, Julieta Latremoville, Echániz’s widow, donated the collection to the INAH, and it was later taken to the National Museum of Anthropology’s premises in Mexico City.
In that same year, the municipal authorities of Córdoba, Veracruz, asked the INAH to loan the archeological collection for exhibition at the Museum of Córdoba, as they wanted to display the vast collection assembled by Guillermo M. Echániz, who was a native of Córdoba. Since this museum was still unprepared to receive such a large number of archeological pieces, the INAH decided to move the entire collection to the storerooms at the Fort of San Juan de Ulúa. Since then the Echániz collection has remained, for the past 32 years, in the city of Veracruz and at the San Juan de Ulúa site museum, under the care of the INAH’s regional office in Veracruz.
In 2012, INAH’s regional office in Veracruz, as part of a wider archive and cataloguing project, started to update the information about the archeological objects held in the storerooms at the Fort of San Juan de Ulúa, including the Echániz Collection. Their work has led to recognition of the significance of this collection and the compilation of information about these archeological objects. As a result, we know that much of the collection consists of bowls, pots, vessels, clay effigies and stone sculptures made by cultures of western Mexico, which are associated with the tradition of shaft tombs, a funerary rite found throughout much of western Mexico, including in the states of Colima, Jalisco, Nayarit and Michoacán, from 500 BC until 600 AD. The artefacts formed part of offerings made in connection to burial rites and death rituals.
Other pieces have been identified as having formed part of the Chupícuaro tradition, developed by this cultural group who inhabited Lerma’s central valley between 600 BC and 250 AD. The best-known site in this western region is Chupícuaro, Guanajuato, located in the south-eastern basin of the Lerma River. It became famous as a center of pottery production, with vessels of many different forms and colors made there; the most frequently used were pigmented in red, cream, and black, with pyramid and rhomboid motifs, zigzag and wavy lines and broad bands.
All of these items are now part of the exhibition “The Art of Offerings: Cultures of Western Mexico,” prepared with hard work and enthusiasm to reveal to visitors the archeological heritage kept in the San Juan de Ulúa site museum—a wide-ranging and important collection due to its origins in the many different Mesoamerican cultures of various pre-Hispanic eras.
Safeguarding Regional and National Identity
Since its inception, the Museum of Anthropology and History, which was its name when founded in 1934, was the place to find out about the cultural diversity of the state of Chiapas from the early days. The means of acquiring the archeological and historical objects has varied, from excavations to donations and loans, and even by confiscation. One of the main priorities is to conserve, manage and record the artifacts held in the museum collections.
Ever since 1984, the museum has had suitable spaces for exhibitions and for a range of cultural activities. The permanent galleries present displays on Zoque, Olmec, Maya, Chiapas and Izapa cultures, and naturally on the complex period of the Conquest, with the difficult centuries when the native population was converted to Christianity, and with the arrival of Spanish, black, mulatto and German people who established the region’s principal estates, and which over the years have come to create the social make-up of the state as it is today.
The Regional Museum has barely changed in its 33 years. It is devoid of the interactivity, technology and modernity which typify today’s museums. It owes its present-day dynamism to the range of activities it hosts throughout the year whose aim is to maintain its high profile as one of the most important museums in Chiapas.
The installations were built with the display of the archeological collections in mind, and over time these have grown, while the historical collections were added. There are now additional spaces, such as the temporary exhibition area, the auditorium and the education services section.
Educational workshops have been run here since 1985, and the Regional Museum has been a pioneer in this field since one of its objectives is to make the archeological and ethnographic material on display accessible to students. For this reason, most visitors are students at different levels of study.
The facilities are located on the verdant, culture-rich street of Calzada de los Hombres Ilustres close to other important state museums: the Faustino Miranda Botanical Garden (opened in 1949), the Natural History Museum and the Paleontology Museum.
Our museum has earned its place in the hearts of our visitors because we safeguard artifacts from the state’s different cultural regions and above all because we protect our archeological and historical heritage, revitalizing the identity of the people of Chiapas and of Mexico.