Monday, June 11, 2007

The haciendas of Calixtlahuaca

The ruins of several old haciendas can be found in and around the modern town of San Francisco Calixtlahuaca. Local lore tells of the burning of Hacienda Nova early in the twentieth century; today this one adobe wall segment from a storage building is the only standing wall. The traces of wall foundations are visible on the ground, and vitrified bricks (from high-temperature burning) litter the area. These ruins lie just outside our reconstructed urban boundary for the Postclassic city, on the west side. Most of the adobe walls of Hacienda Palmillas are still standing (see photo; with Cerro Tenismo—Calixtlahuaca—in the background). The open courtyards that were once hacienda work areas are now planted with maize. This hacienda is located north of the modern town, well outside of the archaeological site.

These haciendas are important to out research at Calixtlahuaca because they hold clues to the modern modification of the hillslopes and terraces of the site. After the Spanish conquest, the Postclassic city was abandoned and remaining inhabitants were moved forcibly into Toluca as part of the Spanish “congregación policy (moving or congregating natives into town centers). Spaniards moved into the area and set up haciendas, and by the late nineteenth century the haciendas owned most of the land around Calixtlahuaca (including all of the fertile valley floor). As Mexican haciendas go, these were quite modest in size, in architectural elaboration, and in their landholdings. In 1893 Hacienda Nova owned 6.02 sq. kilometers and Palmillas owned 6.88 sq. km. By contrast, the Hacienda La Gavia some 20 miles to the west owned some 640 sq. km. of land.

In the 1890s, peasant farmers started moving to the Calixtlahuaca area in large numbers (we are not yet sure why this happened; the data are from state and federal census documents). The only places left to farm were the slopes of Cerro Tenismo, covered with eroding remnant Postclassic terraces. The Postclassic terraces were too narrow to plow with teams of animals, so farmers removed one or more terrace walls to form larger fields to plow. Although this resulted in the destruction of much of the Postclassic terracing and houses, many ancient structures were in fact preserved for the future by the modern terracing. In order to level off their new larger fields, these modern farmers built up the lower sides of the fields with fill, burying and preserving the Postclassic deposits. We have managed to locate and excavate several structures and features buried this way.

I have been looking into historical data on local haciendas and demography in order to better understand the modern reworking of terraces and deposits at Calixtlahuaca. Unfortunately there seem to be few documents on these haciendas, and historians have done little research on the small agricultural haciendas in the Toluca area. We have made some progress, but many questions about the modern re-invasion of the archaeological site remain unanswered. But these are interesting ruins in their own right, and perhaps some historical archaeology is called for. I made the accompanying sketch of of Palmillas by filling in details not visible on our site orthophoto.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Help! We are inundated with burned daub!

Little did I know when I posted the May 14 entry on burned daub that we would soon be inundated with this stuff! We normally bring artifacts back to the lab in plastic bags, and when an archaeologist has a lot of bags, he or she uses a "costal" (a large flour sack) to carry them. In two of our excavations (units 315 and 317), the archaeologists (Angela Huster and Tim Brown) have had to use costales—sometimes more than one—just to bring back the burned daub from single excavated levels. We are running out of space in the lab to store this material, and it takes a long time to wash. It takes even longer to dry, and students have to step over piles of drying daub on the way to the bathroom and kitchen. We had better be able to make sense of this stuff to make up for all the logistical hassles in collecting, washing, storing, and studying it!

Salsa, Stone, and Pottery

The basic implement used in traditional Mesoamerican cuisine for making salsa is the molcajete. The word comes from the Nahuatl term molcaxitl, a combination of the words molli (sauce) and caxitl (bowl). Archaeologists are interested in these vessels from 2 perspectives—production and use. Evidence for the manufacture of molcajetes (in the form of basalt flakes or objects broken in the process of production) helps us understand craft production and its organization in ancient times. Evidence for the use of molcajetes (whole or broken examples in domestic deposits) is important for reconstruction of diet and household activity patterns.

The basic kind of molcajete used in Mesoamerica, from ancient times through the present, is the stone tripod bowl. This weekend the crew visited the village of San Andrés Cuexcontitlan (not far from Calixtlahuaca) to see contemporary molcajete producers at work. Many of the inhabitants of this village still speak Otomi, and linguists have done research here to improve their knowledge of this ancient language. The production of manos, metates, and molcajetes from basalt is a traditional craft that has been handed down from father to son for many generations. There are about 25 artisans in the village, and they work in small sheds set up next to a large basalt quarry (see photo).

One interesting result of our fieldwork is that we have found almost no stone molcajetes at all. This is a great contrast to Postclassic sites in Morelos and other parts of central Mexico, where stone molcajetes are a common domestic item. How did the inhabitants of Calixtlahuaca make their salsa (and guacamole, and other foods that require the grinding of chiles, tomatos, etc)? The answer is that they used ceramic tripod bowls with incised patterns on the base (see photo). This is a very common ceramic form at Postclassic sites in the Toluca area. The vessel in the photo was excavated at Calixtlahuaca by José García Payón in the 1930s. We have found few whole vessels, but we have many molcajete sherds (see photo), most of which are painted tripod vessels.

In spite of the lack of basalt molcajetes at Calixtlahuaca, the work of the artisans at San Andrés Cuexcontitlan is relevant and helpful to us in several ways. First, it is possible that some of our other basalt tools were produced in or near Cuexcontitlan. Basalt manos are fairly common, and we have a few fragments of metates. If we decide to pursue the question of basalt trade routes, we will want to return to these quarries and take samples (as well as look for possible evidence that the quarries were used in Prehispanic times). Second, information on the organization and technology of craft production at Cuexcontitlan can help us reconstruct ancient craft industries, because most archaeological interpretation is based on analogies with modern and historic cases. I don’t know of any modern studies of these artisans, and perhaps this would be a good topic for an ethnoarchaeologist. Third, it is very possible that some or all of the inhabitants of Calixtlahuaca spoke Otomi, and knowledge of modern Otomi peoples may help us understand the ancient city and its population.

I want to thank Sergio de Jesús and the other representatives of the Unión de Pueblos de Toluca for arranging out trip, and we owe a big thanks for Miguel Garduño Martínez and the other basalt workers of San Andrés Cuexcontitlan for sharing their information and their craft with us.