Expert opinion
On the Petroglyphs
Monument 3 stands out in the Calixtlahuaca zone of archeological monuments on Cerro Tenismó. It is the best-known monument, owing to its circular shape and because it shows the four stages of its construction, corresponding to the same number of phases of human occupation. Moreover, it is important to mention that the walls of the pre-Hispanic buildings include petroglyphs with cultural-symbolic or religious-ritual meanings. It has been determined that these petroglyphs were executed in the first, third and fourth stages of construction. Their purpose was to communicate the result of a thought, an observation, a unique or recurring occasion, a continuous activity or planning and organization. These carvings were made in stone that forms part of the architectural structures or the natural surroundings.

The archeologist José García Payón reported the presence of the petroglyphs in the 1930s. Many of them have disappeared, necessitating their protection by means of records. More than 50 petroglyphs have been cataloged since 2013, these being found in the Ehécatl, Tláloc and El Panteón building complexes, as well as on the hilltop and in the cave. In all cases, information has been obtained on which period and cultural context they are from, based on their location and phase of construction. The resulting catalogue, prepared by means of a summary table for each architectural complex, includes the following details: monument number, internal petroglyph number, context, phase of construction, geographical location, height above sea level, orientation, type, motif description, drawing and photograph.

A first group of petroglyphs is located halfway up the hillside of Cerro Tenismó. These rock drawings are directly associated with architectural structures from the Classic and Postclassic periods. A second group is to be found on the hilltop.

Owing to the large number of designs, we will only describe a few here that have been identified and referenced with possible astronomical events or heavenly deities:

Petroglyph 3. This graphical representation, composed of a temple with a spiral at the top, belongs to the El Panteón building complex and dates from the Classic period. The spiral was a recurring symbol in almost all cultural periods of Mesoamerica. Helena Barba (2000) refers to this symbolism, reflected in the round structures of ancient Mexico, in which the circular element acts as an archetype referring us directly to a deity. In this case, the deity in question is Ehécatl Quetzalcóatl, who is related to the wind and reminds us of the latent state of the universe before it came into being. The scholar gives us an example with the building known as La Espiral ("The Spiral") from the archeological site of Xochitécatl in Tlaxcala. The importance of markers and petroglyphs have afforded us greater understanding of a worldview linked to the iconographic elements most commonly associated with heavenly bodies, astronomical events or types of human behavior. To this end, the astronomer Daniel Flores suggests that the rows of “notches” are linked to calculation; the “meanders sprinkled with dots” are constellations; whilst the “spirals and double spirals” refer to solar and lunar cycles.

Petroglyph 4. This is a circle with concentric perforation and scrolls. The circle represents a “chalchihuitl.” On this point, Von Winning (1987) mentions that this element is used in Teotihuacán as a substitute for more complex or voluminous signs to symbolize water. The use of different types of scroll is very common in all forms and phases of art from Teotihuacán. This element is often displayed in horizontal bands and in diagonal arrangements. Its shape indicates the water’s wavy surface.

Petroglyph 5. Located below petroglyph 4, this represents an enclosure, the true place for sacrifices related to the planet we know as Venus (the "evening star"). This figure appears in Tláloc’s mustache, and something similar has been found in Cacaxtla (structure A), Teotihuacan, Tetitla (entrance 1) and Xochicalco (stela 1). The composition of the three symbols which make up petroglyphs 4 and 5 (enclosure, “chalchihuitl” and scroll) allows us to infer an event related to water. Given the place in which they are found, it could be the start of the rainy season in relation to the movement of the stars. Ivan Šprajc (1988) also notes that the astronomical alignments of the architecture reflected phenomena relating to the evening star and that these had to do with rainfall and the agricultural cycle. Furthermore, for the Mayas, at least in the Classic and Early Postclassic, the Venus-rain-maize complex was specifically related to the evening star.

Petroglyph 8. This is identified with the description that Von Winning gives of the teeth/lightning bolt B sign, consisting of a row of equilateral triangles. In Calixtlahuaca, it was made with the sgraffito technique and is integrated into the based of the wall dating from the Teotihuacan phase  (in Teotihuacan, the design is found on the edge of mural 3, Palace of the Jaguars). The period and context are therefore associated with Teotihuacan.

Petroglyph 14. This has the shape of an asterisk or small star, although Von Winning tells us that the placement of the lines and their length are variable. It has been found in Teotihuacan painted in red or black on plaques affixed to the large censers. It is also related to the knot of a tied bundle. The asterisk is used exclusively in the context of the old god of fire. In Calixtlahuaca, it is found in the first plinth of temple 4 (fourth phase of construction), corresponding to the Late Postclassic of the Mexica group.

Ray of Sunlight. This is located inside a shallow cave halfway up the hillside of Cerro Tenismó. The design carved into one of the walls of the cave is a representation of a ray of sunlight, similar to the four rays of the fifth circle on the Sun Stone described by Antonio de León y Gama (2009). Here we can identify a ring with four large rays of sunlight bordering the spaces in which feathers, flames and precious stones mark the radial expansion of all the paths of the cosmos. The author also calls it the “ring of solar radiance." Yólotl González (1975) notes that the sun could be represented symbolically by the seventeenth sign of the calendar, namely “ollin” (movement), whose association with the sun was surely based on some cosmic movement. Based on the observations of Fray Diego de Durán y González, the glyph found inside the cave is indeed a ray of sunlight. The cave represents the house of the sun or “cuauhxicalli,” where energy emanates from, known as the “tonal.” Therefore, it is possible that this place is related to astronomical observations connected with solstice events practiced by the Mexica in the Late Postclassic.

Ehecacoxcatl. This petroglyph is related to deities of agriculture, agricultural cycles and fertility rites. It is located on a rocky outcrop on the hilltop of Cerro Tenismó. It is believed that this iconographic figure, formed of five lobes, symbolizes Venus. A similar shape is observed on two figures located on the south and north pillars of substructure III of the the Palace of Cacaxtla. According to Šprajc, Venus is related to water and fertility. It also appears as part of the iconographic attributes carried by Quetzalcóatl, i.e. an “ehecacoxcatl” or wind jewel in the shape of the cross-section of a snail, which he uses as a chest ornament. Three of Quetzalcóatl’s principle manifestations also bear this insignia: Xólotl, “divine gem," which represents Venus in its evening aspect; Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, “lord of the house of dawn” or, in other words, Venus in its morning aspect, and Ehécatl, “god of the wind.”
INAH-CINAH Estado de México/María del Carmen Carbajal
INAH-CINAH Estado de México/María del Carmen Carbajal
INAH-CINAH Estado de México/María del Carmen Carbajal
INAH-CINAH Estado de México/María del Carmen Carbajal
INAH-CINAH Estado de México/María del Carmen Carbajal
INAH-CINAH Estado de México/María del Carmen Carbajal
INAH-CINAH Estado de México/María del Carmen Carbajal

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  • Nicolau Romero, Armando, 2002, "Los petroglifos del Cerro de los Chichimecas. Elementos para la documentación y análisis arqueológico de un sistema de comunicación gráfica rupestre", Tesis de licenciatura, México, ENAH.
  • Šprajc, Ivan, 1998, Venus, lluvia y maíz, México, INAH.
  • Von Winning, Hasso, 1987, La iconografía de Teotihuacán. Los dioses y los signos, tomo II, México, UNAM, IIE.


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