Monday, April 2, 2007

Gambling, tortillas, and Spaniards in hats

Most of the ceramic sherds we are excavating at Calixtlahuaca are fairly standard forms and types for Aztec-period central Mexican sites. As in each region of central Mexico, most of the decorated wares are distinctive local styles, with some imported trade types (most are from the Valley of Mexico, with some sherds from Morelos and Guerrero). The suite of vessel forms is very similar to the ceramics we excavated in Morelos. But several ceramic categories stand out as strange compared to other Aztec-period ceramic assemblages—sherd disks, comals, and Spaniards with hats.

Sherd disks are small circular objects made by rounding off broken pieces of pottery (see the illustration). These are a rare but consistent type at Aztec-period sites in central Mexico. Calixtlahuaca, however, has higher numbers of sherd disks than any other site in Mesoamerica (this is my impression). Nobody knows what these things were used for. One possibility is that they were gaming pieces for patolli. The Spanish friars complained that the Aztecs gambled too much; perhaps Calixtlahuaca was the Las Vegas resort for the Aztecs (with weekend package tours from Tenochtitlan and Texcoco, including dancers in feathers). Or maybe they were just something people made just to pass the time (like whittling; thanks to Tim Brown for this suggestion).

Comals were griddles for tortillas. Unlike sherd disks, they are not strange or enigmatic at all. What is odd at Calixtlahuaca, however, is the lack of comals. At the sites we excavated in Morelos, comals consistently made up 7-10% of all sherds, and they are also common at Aztec sites in the Valley of Mexico. But they are extremely rare at Calixtlahuaca. We do have a few comal sherds, and they are so similar to those found in Morelos and the Valley of Mexico that they may be imports. The lack of comals must signal a major difference in diet or food-preparation between Calixtlahuaca and other Aztec-period sites. Perhaps people ate tamales most of the time, with tortillas a rare treat. Or maybe they toasted tortillas over the fire on a stick (sorry, it’s late at night and I’m getting silly).

Like comals, ceramic figurines in the form of Spaniards with hats are not particularly rare or strange at Aztec sites. Many sites continued to be occupied after the Spanish conquest, and figurines with Spanish themes are not uncommon (e.g., men and women in Spanish clothing, or horses). We have a number of these figurines from the house in unit 307. What seems strange, however, is that this is just about the only Spanish trait adopted by these people. At an early colonial house we excavated in Yautepec, in contrast, we found a variety of Spanish ceramic types, iron tools, and bones from cows and horses. Why did the people in house 307 not adopt other Spanish goods or styles?

Coming soon: information on our third excavated house, unit 311.

No comments: