Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Joy of Data Management, or Where’s the fourth miscellaneous censer sherd from lot 307-2-2



By Angela Huster

One of my least favorite parts of the lab work at Calixtlahuaca was doing ceramic type changes. Not because I disliked redoing my own work – there’s actually something satisfying in knowing that it’s right now – but because every single change had to be recorded in at least two, and usually four places (the label on the sherd, the type collection datafile, the paper form for the lot, and the computer datafile for the lot). It just seemed like an awful bother for a single change. I regularly tried to pawn off making the changes on anyone else I could sucker into it. We even had a form to keep track of where a change had been entered!

However, as I move on to working on other projects, I have come appreciate exactly how comprehensively the Calixtlahuaca Project tracked their artifact data. As an example of this, a couple years ago, after we were finished with the ceramic classification, we decided that we needed to subdivide a type. (From Misc censers, to Misc censers and Cut-out censers, for anyone who cares.) At that point, a fair number of sherds had been removed from their original lots, either as examples for the type reference collection, or as samples for particular technical analyses. However, because of our data tracking, I could pull not only a list of lots with the type, but also lists of cases where the sherds in question were stored someone else, which made relocating the pieces for reanalysis far easier. For one of the legacy datasets that I’m currently working with from another project, this simply isn’t possible – we know pieces were removed from lots for various analyses, but what was pulled and when it was taken are unknown. (Kintigh 1981 is an interesting look at the same issue in museum collections, with a focus on the possible bias introduced by archaeologists disproportionately pulling high-interest decorated types out of a collection.)


Miscellaneous censer sherds in the the type collection, prior to splitting the type. Knowing that these particular pieces were in the type collection spared me having to fruitlessly look for them in their lot bags.
 
While I doubt I’m ever going to love double or triple-redundant data tracking systems, I can see the value, and on my current project, nothing comes out of a lot bag unless it’s recorded that it’s now stored somewhere else. I suppose I shall now proceed to torture another generation of students by making them record type changes in multiple places…


Worked Cited:
 
Kintigh, Keith W.
                1981       An Outline for a Chronology of Zuni Runs, Revisited: Sixty-five Years of Repeated Analysis and Collection. Annals of the New York Academy of Science 376:467-489.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Tamale Pots



By Angela Huster

In a few of our earlier posts, we've mentioned that there don't seem to be that many comales (tortilla griddles) at Calixtlahuaca. This suggests that the ancient inhabitants of the site were eating their corn in some way other than tortillas, such as hominy, atole (gruel), or tamales. Tamales are the most likely alternative to tortillas, and there is a great quote in the Florentine Codex about the diet of the the Quaquata (one of the groups in the Toluca Valley):

“Nothing grew in the land of these Quaquata; only maize, beans, amaranth; no chili, no salt. The principal foods of these were tamales, beans; also their principal drink was fruit atole. Popcorn was produced right there in their land” (Sahagún 1950-82:Book 10: The People. Pp 182-183).

Unfortunately, it's harder to identify pots for tamale steaming, since a large pot can be used for any number of other tasks. One possible candidate for tamale pots are the type that we call interior-incised ollas. This type of large olla has sloppy, deeply scored incision on the interior of the body below the neck. The incisions can't be seen unless the pot is broken, which means that they weren't there for decoration. The incisions are also problematic for most forms of food preparation, since any liquid food would get stuck in them and burn, but we don't see any evidence for scorched reside in the incisions. However, the incisions would have been helpful for keeping the lattice of sticks used to keep tamales out of the steaming liquid from sliding around, and the tamales themselves from sticking to the walls of the pot. This type is not found in Morelos or the Basin of Mexico, where there are much higher frequencies of comales.

Interior-incised olla sherds


The distribution of these pots among the different households at the site also supports the idea that they were used for steaming tamales. Once comales start to used in noticeable frequencies at the site (during the Yata phase), the frequency of interior-incised ollas varies inversely with the frequency of comales; households were picking one or the other!

Comal vs interior incised olla frequencies by household (Huster 2016: Chapter 8)


Works Cited:

Huster, Angela C.
    2016    The Effects of Aztec Conquest on Provincial Commoner Households at Calixtlahuaca, Mexico. Doctoral Dissertation, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ.

Sahagún, Bernardino de
1950-82 Florentine Codex, General History of the Things of New Spain. 12 books. Translated and Edited by Arthur J.O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble. School of American Research, Santa Fe NM, and the University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, UT.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Regional Clay Sampling

Angela Huster

This summer, I spent a week taking twenty-eight clay samples from across the Toluca Valley and immediately adjacent areas for INAA analysis. Don Cato, one of our local crew members from the excavation, helped by driving in incredibly convoluted loops around the area, and patiently explaining to  bystanders about what I was doing.

I kept crossing the construction route of another major water line to supply Mexico City. Occasionally, it was useful, such as here, where I needed a sample from below substantial modern fill.
These samples should help us identify where our previously sourced archaeological ceramics were made. Because there are only three other sites in the region with sourced ceramics, we have several chemical clusters in our archaeological ceramics that probably represent particular subregions, but we don't know where on the physical landscape those subregions are. More specifically, the new clay samples should help with three specific questions:

What chemical elements are the most geographically variable across the Toluca Valley and therefore the most useful for identifying source areas within the region?

Are the areas immediately to the south and west of the Toluca Valley likely sources for several of our "probably non-local" groups?

Are clays from the west (Toluca Valley) side of the mountain range between the Basin of Mexico and the Toluca Valley similar enough to Basin clays that they could explain some of our groups of Aztec-style ceramics that don't quite match local the very large existing reference data set for the Basin of Mexico?

Soil color and texture recording

Monday, April 7, 2014

Calixtlahuaca’s Market Brought to Life!



By Brad Andrews
           In my earlier blog on how art and archaeology work together, I summarized the work of Michael Stasinos, professor of Art at Pacific Lutheran University. Michael has provided our project with a means of artistically bringing to life the city of Calixtlahuaca based on the archaeological efforts of the Calixtlahuaca Project. He has now finished the market scene, a site-wide shot of the Calixtlahuaca cityscape with a marketplace in the foreground. As I pointed out before, Calixtlahuaca’s actual marketplace has not been identified, but Mesoamerican archaeological and ethnohistoric scholars agree that it was an extremely important economic institution throughout Central Mexico and beyond (Smith 2003). By the time of the Spanish conquest the market was an important component of what is referred to as the highly commercialized Postclassic Mesoamerican world system focused on the Basin of Mexico (Smith 2001). As applied to the study of prehistoric societies, the world systems concept refer to a macro-regional network of trade that linked individual political units - societies – into larger functioning units. For Prehispanic Mesoamerica, it has been argued that the market was the primary means by which people provisioned themselves with daily material necessities, both utilitarian and ceremonial.

As I mentioned in my previous blog on the topic, Michael’s challenge began by selecting a photo of Cerro Tenismo, upon which Calixtlahuaca is situated, that provided a “sense” of the whole, but enabled the incorporation of details in the foreground. The foreground is the focal point of the market scene, which he masterfully brought to light in consultation with those of us working on the Calixtlahuaca Project. The details of the market-focused daily activities were inspired by other ancient Mesoamerican market scenes, photographs of modern Mexican markets, and ethnohistoric information from a variety of sources. Hours of painstaking revisions were necessary to give full magic to the final product. Besides the market, he incorporated a reconstruction of the monumental Structure 4 (pyramid complex in the central part of the scene), the hillside populated with domestic households, vestiges of the water control ditches that drained the site during the rainy season, temples that occupied the top of the hill (complete with smoke produced by the probable burning of copal incense), and an ethereal skyscape of clouds, complete with birds drifting round and about. Note the increased density of households in the upper left-hand portion of the cerro. This detail depicts the variation in the layout of the urban center that was identified during the project’s survey efforts. Lots to see here, much of which is unfortunately obscured at the scale needed for this posting.

We extend many thanks to Michael Stasinos for his invaluable contribution to our project. We hope you agree his efforts were well worth it!



Smith, M. E.
            2001    The Aztec Empire and Mesoamerican World System. In Empires, edited by S. E. Alcock, T. N. D'Altroy, K. D. Morrison and C. M. Sinopoli. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

            2003    The Aztecs. Second Edition ed. Blackwell Publishing, Malden, Massachusetts.