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.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What's new for Calixtlahuaca ??

It's a new year --  2014  --  and our analysis of the findings from our fieldwork at Calixtlahuaca continues.

We will try to get some new material posted soon. But in the meantime, check out some of our past posts. These cover several years, from our initial excavations in 2007 up to our current analyses at ASU:

The life and times of Burial 4 (written by anthropology major Kea Warren)

Sounds from the past: The bird-whistle from Calixtlahuaca  (have you ever heard an Aztec musical instrument, 500 years old, played?)

Gambling, tortillas, and Spaniards in hats

Using an artistic touch to bring Calixtlahuaca back to life

The 1563 calendrical relief

Working on ceramics in Toluca



Thursday, October 3, 2013

Subsets and Samples



By Mike Smith, with comments from the peanut gallery by Angela Huster
 
After a rather involved set of phone conversations and emails among various project members trying to establish the frequency of green obsidian at the site during each phase, we realized that half our problem was the we were working with different samples. We had defined the Domestic Context Sample of lots strongly associated with dated houses several years ago, but any analyses that wanted to work with a larger sample were a free-for-all. 

Based on Mike's previous projects in Morelos, we defined five samples based on their value for the analysis of domestic artifacts and conditions. These run from the Domestic Context Sample, (now called Domestic Sample 1, or DS-1), which consists only of well-dated midden deposits, to DS-5, which is the entire sample of all excavated contexts at the site. In addition there are other samples of lots that make sense for particular analyses or materials. Most of these samples are nested; e.g., all other samples include DS-1, and DS-5 includes all other samples. Samples DS-3 and DS-4 intersect in a non-nesting fashion, however.

DS-1 (the Domestic Context Sample).   178 lots.
             This sample consists of well-dated midden deposits associated with houses. It can be subdivided into domestic components; that is, deposits from a single phase in a single unit. It was designed to provide a robust sample of materials from contexts with abundant artifacts for optimal quantification. This sample is used for:
      Household comparisons of ceramic type frequencies.
·         Ceramic type frequencies for the Aguas Celestiales chapter

It is also the source of sub-samples for particular technical analyses, including:
Ceramic attribute recording

·         Obsidian source samples
·         Ceramic petrographic samples
·         Angela’s NAA samples


DS-2 (the Extended Domestic Context Sample).  340 lots.
            This sample extends the domestic context sample to include other lots dating to the same phases at individual units. Units without representation in the domestic context sample are not included in DS-2. The advantage of a larger sample is offset by the inclusion of contexts such as fill and colluvial overburden whose association with the occupation of a house is less secure. This is used for:
·         Interhousehold comparisons of rarer items in Angela’s dissertation analyses – ground stone, copper, jewelry, whorls, and molds

DS-3 (the all-Phased sample)  1,146 lots.
            This sample consists of all lots phased to a particular period. It includes the transitional or uncertain phases (3, 5, and 44*) and phase 1 (pre-Postclassic). This is a much larger sample than DS-1 or DS-2, and its value lies in the fact that it includes the maximal number of lots that can be phased. Many of the lots have not had their ceramics classified; they are phased through stratigraphic position or associations with lots dated from their classified ceramics and/or radiocarbon dates. Its disdvantage is the inclusion of many lots whose direct association with the house occupation of each unit is more tenuous (fill, overburden, etc.). Its primary use is for comparing frequencies of rare artifacts. It is used for:
·         Rare artifact types by phase for the general project

DS-4 (the Classified Sample)  664 lots.
            This is the sample of lots whose ceramics have been classified. It has two related disadvantages compared to sample DS-2: many of the lots have not been phased; and many of the lots have only a few sherds. It is not used in any analyses.

DS-5  (all Excavated Lots).  1,668 lots.
            This is the total number of lots that were excavated. It includes many tiny lots from Alex’s soil sampling, lots from architectural excavations, and other small lots whose value for artifact analysis is minimal. It’s primary use is to generate inventories of all excavated artifacts of a given type, irrespective of phasing or quality of context. This is useful for descriptive purposes (i.e., we want to describe all of the figurines, not just the ones that fall into a more restricted sample), but not for making comparisons among units or parts of the site.

The following diagram shows the relationship among these samples.
 If anyone needs to know which samples their data fall into, please contact Angela.