Friday, December 18, 2009

Calixtlahuaca structure 3 is on YouTube

Max Farrar has posted an animated 3-D rendering of structure 3, the Ehecatl temples, on You Tube. Click here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What language was spoken at Calixtlahuaca?

I seem to get asked this question quite a bit. People want to know how to label the people who built and lived in the city of Calixtlahuaca. During the excavations, a group of people from the group "Unión de los Pueblos del Valle de Toluca" visited us and asked if we knew which language was spoken. They represented indigenous people from the western part of the State of Mexico, including speakers of the Mazahua, Matlatzinca, and Otomi languages. It turns out that these three languages, plus Nahuatl, were all present in the Toluca Valley at the time of the Spanish conquest. Here is René García Castro's map of the non-Nahuatl language distribution at that time.
Calixtlahuaca is just above Toluca. It is within the area of Matlatzinca, near its northern border, and also within the area of Otomi (near its southern border). The Mazahua area is not far to the northwest. And we know that Nahuatl was spoken in much of the valley also.

It seems that we cannot answer this question about languages on the basis of present data. My guess is that the city was founded by non-Nahuatl speakers, but by the time the Mexica king Axayacatl conquered the city in the 1470s, there were speakers of all four languages. But that is mostly a guess. Perhaps better data from historical linguistics could help provide a more precise answer. Perhaps if we had better information on the Calixtlahuaca bird, we might be able to narrow down the choice of languages, at least for the ruling dynasty.

This lack of precision is frustrating, but it does not both me unduly. The language(s) spoken and ethnic identity of the inhabitants of Calixtlahuaca are less interesting to me than are their activities and accomplishments.

The map shown above is from García Castro (2000); see his 1999 book for documentation.

García Castro, René
1999 Indios, territorio y poder en la provincia matlatzinca: la negociación del espacio político de los pueblos otomianos, siglos XV-XII. CIESAS, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, and El Colegio Mexiquense, Mexico City and Toluca.

García Castro, René
2000 Los grupos indígenas del valle de Toluca. Arqueología Mexicana 43:50-55.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Calilxtlahuaca lectures draw a big crowd !

The AIA lecture that Emily and I gave last week drew a big crowd (see photo). Now either Calixtlahuaca is becoming hip and popular among the in-crowd, or else some professors bribed their intro classes into coming by giving extra credit points. Hmmm ........The actual attendance was 217, perhaps not enough to fill a big arena like this, but a good crowd nevertheless. And people asked some excellent questions:
  • Q: Were the terraces centrally planned and built by the state, or were they organized and built by individual households?
  • A: Very good question by Cinthia Carvajal. I'll let my grad students figure out an answer to that one. This is an important issue in both the terracing/agriculture literature, and in the urban literature.
  • Q: Was there some special local weather condition related to the winds on Cerro Tenismo that may have influenced the placement of the wind-god temple half-way up the hill?
  • A: Another good question. My answer was "I have absolutely no idea!"

Monday, November 2, 2009

Calixtlahuaca lectures at ASU

On November 12, Emily Umberger and I will each give a half-hour talk on our research at Calixtlahuaca. This is part of the Archaeological Institute of America lecture series, called "Notes From the Field: Aztecs."

New and Old Excavations at Calixtlahuaca, an Aztec Regional Capital
Speaker: Michael E. Smith

Reassembling the Calixtlahuaca Sculptural Corpus
Speaker: Emily Umberger

This even will be Thursday Nov 12, 6:30 - 7:30, in Business Administration C, Room 316.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why Build a City on a Mountain?

Why was the city of Calixtlahuaca (3 square km of occupation, probably 10,000+ inhabitants) built on a mountain? Most Mesoamerican cities built on mountains (think of Monte Alban or Xochicalco) were placed there for reasons of defense. Images of mountaintop cities in Mesoamerican codices (see my earlier blog entry on these) tend to show battles and defensive walls. But for several reasons, we don't think that defense was a major factor in the layout of Calixtlahuaca:
  1. We did not find any defensive walls or ditches.
  2. The largest civic buildings were not built in a protected location.
The second factor is quite striking. The royal palace was at the base of the hill, completley unprotected, as was a large unexcavated platform (a possible ballcourt). The two largest temples, structure 3 (circular temple, dedicated to Ehecatl) and structure 4 (rectangular temple, dedicated to Tlaloc) were built part-way up the hill, but closer to the base. Again, these were relatively unprotected. When defense is an issue, the main civic buildings are almost always built at the top of the mountain or hill (again, think Monte Alban or Xochicalco).

Well, what is so surprising about building a city on a mountain if defense was NOT a major consideration? The answer is the effort required to build the site. Every house that was built had to be accompanied by the construction (and constant maintenance) of stone terraces. Temples 3 and 4 required massive platforms and large excavations into the hillside to build level areas for these temples and their groups.

I have some hunches about why Calixtlahuaca may have been built on a mountain, but I will refrain from saying them now. One thing I am doing is looking for other ancient cities around the world whose residential zones were built on mountainsides, with the civic architecture at the base of the hill. Ephesis (the Roman occupation) is one example (see photo), and I am looking for others. If you have suggestions, let me know.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Project update

Sorry, the blog has not been active lately. Well, we will soon have a bunch of new posts, so stay tuned. I have been very busy with several things:

(1) A trip to France and Sweden. In Paris, I participated in the the doctoral dissertation hearing of project member Maëlle Serghereaert at the Université de paris I-Sorbonne-Panthéon. Maëlle passed at the highest level. Here she is drawing stone on structure 4:Here is her thesis, a truly excellent study of the organization of the Aztec emire:

Serghereaert, Maëlle
2009 L'expansion mexica (1430-1520 après J.-C.): La question du contrôle impérial dans les provinces extérieures de l'Empire. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Archaeology, Université Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne.

In Paris, I also gave a lecture on the Calixtlahuaca project, and Cindy and I also found time for museums, medieval churches, and pastries.

(2) I was working on our final report for the National Science Foundation for the first grant (funding for the fieldwork). This is now submitted, and we can get on to publications and a report for the Mexican government.

(3) Here is a positive development. This blog has been an inspiration for a new blog on excavations at Xaltocan in the Basin of Mexico. Lisa Overholtzer, a graduate student of Elizabeth Brumfiel at Northwestern University, as started a blog on her current excavations of Aztec-period houses at Xaltocan. These are important excavations, and it is a very nice blog. Please check it out!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Virtual tour of Malinalco

I have just seen a nice virtual tour of the site of Malinalco, on the INAH web site (thanks to Dave Grove for the suggestion).

Click here for the tour.

Malinalco was contemporaneous with Calixtlahuaca, and it is possible that it fell within the political domain of our site (prior to Axayacatl's conquests in the 1470s, that is).

This map is from my book, Aztec City-State Capitals, where I have a short discussion of Malinalco:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Aztec pyramids on the Discovery Channel

In 2008 I was filmed by a crew from the Discovery Channel for a new series called "Out of Egypt." The idea was to compare Egypt with other ancient civilizations, based on real ideas and research, something more sophisticated than the normal simplistic and sensationalist archaeology on TV. The host, Dr. Kara Cooney, is an Eygptologist at UCLA. I tried to get them to come shoot at Calixtlahuaca, but for various reasons the work had to be done in Mexico City, so we filmed at Tlatelolco, together with Salvador Guilliem Arroyo (the archaeologist in charge of Tlatelolco).

The first two episodes of this series will air Monday, August 24, from 9:00-11:00 pm (EDT and PDT). My segment on Aztec pyramids will be in the second show.

Below is a view of the main double-stair pyramid at Tlatelolco, with a 16th century Christian Church and a 20th century apartment building in the background. (This is called the "Plaza of the Three Cultures"). For more information on Tlatelolco, see my book, Aztec City-State Capitals.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Workshop on the Calixtlahuaca project

Today we held a workshop on the project at the Colegio Mexiquense. It was called, "Mesa de trabajo: Los artefactos de Calixtlahuaca y las interpretaciones sociales.” Here is the program:


Mtro. Raymundo C. Martínez García/ El Colegio Mexiquense

Introducción a la ciudad antigua de Matlatzinco (Calixtlahuaca), y al Proyecto Arqueológico Calixtlahuaca

Dr. Michael E. Smith / Arizona State University

Artefactos de superficie y reconstrucción de la forma y organización urbana

Mtra. Juliana Novic / Arizona State University

Tecnología de la producción de herramientas de obsidiana e implicaciones para la economía de Calixtlahuaca

Dr. Bradford Andrews / Pacific Lutheran University

Raspadores, malacates y el uso económico de maguey en Calixtlahuaca

Mtra. Angela Huster /Arizona State University

La producción e intercambio de cerámica en el Valle de Toluca y Guerrero

Dr. Jennifer Meanwell / Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Las terrazas agrícolas y habitacionales de Calixtlahuaca

Dr. Aleksander Borejsza / Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

La cerámica de Calixtlahuaca y las actividades domésticas: alimentos, artesanías, e ritual

Dr. Michael E. Smith / Arizona State University

Comentarios finales

Arqlgo. Víctor Osorio Ogarrio/ Instituto Mexiquense de Cultura

Mtro. Rubén Nieto / Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México

Dr. Xavier Noguez / El Colegio Mexiquense

This was an interesting session, and we all learned something from it. Thanks go to the Colegio Mexiquense for organizing and hosting the event.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Anthropological Archaeology and Saying Goodbye

Hello Calixtlahuaca Blog Readers!

This Juliana Novic here. I am the graduate student working with the Calixtlahuaca survey materials from the 2006-2007 field seasons. Mike has been after me for awhile to post something on the blog about the results of our survey analysis. While I plan to get to that post eventually, this time around I am going to post about something near and dear to my heart. That is the importance and relevance of anthropological archaeology as an approach to field research. Putting aside the theoretical and epistemological issues straining relations between archaeology and anthropology as disciplines, the experience of the archaeologist as anthropologist can be a rewarding one both personally and intellectually. For the last few years Mike has been posting about the great work that the women from Calixtlahuaca have been doing for the project as tepelcateras (sherd classifiers). They also have been wonderful cultural informants, mentors, teachers, and friends to project staff and visiting students.

One of our visiting students, Beth Taylor, took advantage of the opportunity to have both a cultural and archaeological experience while here. Judith, Julia, Janeth, Delfina, Asusena, and Beth developed a close friendship and cultural exchange. This despite the fact that Beth spoke very little Spanish and the women spoke no English!

Before Beth returned home, the women wanted to surprise her with a good-bye party at Calixtlahuaca. It was a

wonderful, if bittersweet, experience for us all.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A very full lab

Our lab this week was very full - lots of people here at once, working on various projects.

(1) Mary Beth Taylor has been down for six weeks or so, helping with a variety of tasks. One of her skills is artifact drawing, so we put her to work on the figurines. Here are three of her drawings: A typical Aztec female head; A Spanish colonial robed figure (headless); and one I call the Matlatzinca Cyclist.

(2) Maelle Sergheraert spent part of the week sorting miscellaneous materials. She participated in both seasons of fieldwork, and is in Mexico (from Paris) for the Americanists conference next week.

(3) Jennifer Meanwell, who will be doing ceramic petrography, is here looking at ceramic pastes, and helping the rock identifications and such.

(4) Angela Huster arrived a week ago, and is working on ceramics and chronology in preparation for her dissertation project.

(5) Brad Andrews, prof at Pacific Lutheran University, has been down for a while now with 2 students, Dave and Allissa (oops, I forget their last names!). They are working on obsidian technology and classification.

(6) Julie Novic has been down all summer, working on general ceramic classification and on her dissertation material from the survey.

Plus, don't forget our five "tepalcateras" from Calixtlahuaca, keeping the ceramic classification moving right along.

Its fun with a lot of people in the lab, all working on interesting aspects of the project. But its also hectic and crowded.

Thanks to Mary Beth Taylor for her help this summer, and for her very nice drawings of figurines and spindle whorls!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Human sacrifices to Ehecatl -OR- The importance of context

I want to illustrate the importance of the context of objects. Ancient objects are often considered as art objects, fine examples of ancient art and craftsmanship. While there is nothing wrong with this, it is a very limited view of artifacts and finds. A broader perspective considers the context of objects--where they were found and what they were found associated with. This enriches our understanding of artifacts and ancient art objects greatly.

Consider this circular stone object. Becuase it is upside-down in the photo, here is a right-side-up drawing of the reliefs on the sides: (drawing by Hanns Prem).

If we interpret this object without context, here is what we learn. This is an Aztec sacrificial altar, about one meter in diameter. Its form and the style of the carvings conform to the Mexica style of Tenochtitlan. The relief emblem is the symbol of precious blood. If one had to guess, the most likely place of origin would be Tenochtitlan. The object provides an additional example of Aztec sacrificial altars and give us a few insights into the symbolism of blood and sacrifice.

Now let us consider this object in context. The photo below shows the location of this altar as it was excavated in the 1930s by José García Payón in front of structure 3 at Calixtlahuaca:
What else can we say about the object now that we know where it came from?

(1) An object in the Mexica style was used at Calixtlahuaca in the Toluca Valley. This brings up a number of questions: Was this stone lugged all the way from Tenochtitlan, or was it carved locally? Who carved it--a local artist familiar with the Mexica style, or a Mexica artist who went to Calixtlahuaca? How can we explain the implied interaction between Calixtlahuaca and Tenochtitlan? There are interesting and important questions, but they had no meaning until we knew where this altar came from.

(2) A sacrificial altar was excavated, and presumably had been used, at a temple dedicated to Ehecatl, the god of wind. Most prior archaeological evidence of Aztec human sacrifice has come from rectangular temples dedicated to other gods, not the circular temples of Ehecatl. So it seems that sacrifice may have been part of the cult of Ehecatl, which may be a new interpretation. (I must admit my somewhat limited knowledge of Aztec religion here; I hope that some of the experts will evaluate this statement and set me straight it it is not correct).

(3) Human sacrifice, at a temple built in the Aztec style using an altar carved in the Mexica style, was practiced in provincial areas like Calixtlahuaca. This find corroborates other evidence excavated at Calixtlahuaca by García Payón.

It is clear that context provides a much richer and more extensive interpretation of objects like this than when they are presented and considered in isolate as art objects.

I am thankful to Arquitecta Ana Luisa Elías Moreno of the Centro INAH Toluca for this photo from the 1930s excavations at Calixtlahuaca. I already had a copy of the first photo at the top, showing the alter in place, but it was not completely certain where at the temple the altar was found. The photo from the INAH office confirms this.

Friday, July 3, 2009

What are these weird little vessels?

Here are some photos of one of our mystery ceramic types. We call these type 134, "Crude unfinished," which is descriptive of their shapes (crude, not symmetrical) and surface treatment (unfinished or poorly finished). They look like some kind of industrial objects, things used in a craft process and not in domestic or public serving activities. The trouble with that interpretation is that they are found in virtually all of the excavated domestic contexts. If they were used for a special craft process (metallurgy?? paints or pigments for some kind of product??), we would expect them to be concentrated in high frequencies in a few locations and rare in most places. Hmmmmm.......

I have tentatively identified several different form-based groups: bowls (top left in the top photo); jars (middle row in the bottom photo); ladles (right side of the top photo); and small vessels, the most abundant category (bottom rows of the top photo). Not sure where this gets us, but we sure have a lot of these items (thousands of pieces so far).

If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

Monday, June 29, 2009

31 bags of sherds

We have just finished classifying the second-largest collection of sherds from a single excavated level. We got through the largest batch, 34 bags of sherds, in 2008. But here is the next-largest collection, 31 bags of sherds from a single 20-cm level in unit 323.

The photo shows four of our experienced "tepalcateros" (tepalcate is the Nahuatl term for potsherds, used frequently in modern central Mexican Spanish). These women are from San Francisco Calixtlahuaca, and they have become very proficient at ceramic classification and other analytical tasks. All of these sherds arefrom this one level. The big pile are undecorated jar sherds (always the biggest category). the women are holding up some of the partial vessels they were able to fit together.

This summer we are working our way through ceramics from some of the deposits that are important for chronological purposes. Unit 323 consisted of some trenches on a terrace quite high on the hill. We have some good stratigraphy, with Early Aztec sherds at the base and what we think are late markers at the top. But deep in the trench, in the final days of the field season, we hit the edge of a burned house associated with a rich artifact deposit. Most of the house went into the side wall, and at nearly 2 meters deep at the end of the field season we did not have time to expose it further. But we did get some rich floats full of seeds or beans or something (these are being processed by Emily McClung at UNAM in Mexico City), a bunch of burned daub, and nice dense trash deposits with the kinds of sherds shown here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Calixtlahuaca in the newspaper

A full-page article on Calixtlahuaca just appeared in the newspaper, Milenio, June 18, 2009. Written by Ernesto de la Cueva, the article is a nice summary of what we know about the site from both earlier excavations and from our project. There are several color photos.

Click on the title to see the article.

I found only two errors, an excellent rating for newspaper journalism. One was calling the occupation Classic, instead of Postclassic indate. The other was attributing the project to the "Universidad de Arizona", rather than Arizona State University. Oh well. I corrected these on the pdf of the article, posted at the above address.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Coatequitl (labor tribute) again

Here are a few more illustrations of labor tribute (see my previous post for the context here). I love Aztec codices, both for their information content and for their graphical style. Both are from the Codex Kingsborough, an account of encomienda tribute in the decades immediately following the Spanish conquest of 1521.

The first illustration shows the labor tribute paid by two towns, Mazahuacan and Caltecoya (the toponyms are in the left register). The clothing signals these guys as macehualli (commoners), and the digging stick indicates that this is coatequitl labor. Mazahuacan supplied one hundred laborers everh 80 days. The flag stands for 20, which is multiplied by the five dots. We know the period of collection from some latin words written on the document. Caltecoya was responsible for 40 workers, at the same schedule. Perhaps the guy from Mazahuacan looks sadder than his colleague becuaes of the heavier burden on his town. This corvee labor is only part of each town's payment; there are also payments in goods.

The second illustration is part of a listing of tribute paid to local indigenous nobles. A number of small named groups were subject to each noble; this illustration shows three such groups (these were probalby calpolli). The top row has the toponyms, and the names are also written in European letters above the toponyms. Sorry, I can't read the glyphs OR the European script. The lower register has the number of laborers (note the diging sticks); these three groups paid 20, 15 and 15 workers respectively

I was in the library of the Colegio Mexiquense looking at the codex (our Calixtlahuaca lab is at the Colegio, where I have an affiliation), when I realized that it was published by the Colegio. So I went round the corner to the bookstore and bought a copy! For some discussion on the theoretical context of this kind of labor taxation, see my post, "A 'new' kind of agency theory."

Valle, Perla (editor)
1995 Códice de Tepetlaoztoc (Códice Kingsborough), Estado de México: Edición facsimilar. 2 vols. El Colegio Mexiquense, Toluca.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Who built the temples and palace at Calixtlahuaca?

Many people will probably interpret this question in ethnic terms. Were the buildings built by the Otomis, the Nahuas, the Matlatzincas, or someone else? Unfortunately, we don’t have an answer to the question of the ethnic or linguistic affiliations of the people of Calixtlahuaca. This question, on the other hand, is meant to address the kinds of people and the kinds or labor organization behind the construction of large buildings at Calixtlahuaca and other Aztec-period cities. I discuss this issue briefly in my book, Aztec City-State Capitals (Smith 2008), but here I will elaborate on the issue of labor taxation.

I should first justify using the term “taxation” for Aztec society. In reading both the primary sources and the entire scholarly literature on the Aztecs, one rarely encounters the term “tax.” Aztec specialists (including myself) typically use the term “tribute” to refer to the obligations people had to their local king or to the Aztec Empire. But if one wants to compare the Aztecs to other early states, then it makes sense to use standard comparative terminology. Most of the obligations that are typically called “tribute” are in reality taxes – payments that were regular, specified, organized, and recorded.

Of the many types of taxes in Aztec society, the one most relevant to building large buildings was called coatequitl, an example of the category of corvée labor. One definition of corvée labor is: “compulsory, unpaid labor demanded by a lord or king and the system of such labor in general.” The best analysis of coatequitl in Aztec society is by Teresa Rojas (Rojas Rabiela 1979). To summarize a complex set of information, each commoner household owed a certain number of days of labor each year to their local king. People were organized into groups or squads of 20 workers called a centecpantli, each with an overseer.

These work squads were sometimes further organized into larger groups of 100 or 200 workers, again under an overseer. The Codex of San Andrés (Galarza 1963) shows a group of 400 laborers, divided into 20 squads of 20 workers each (see first figure). The flag (“pantli”) is a sign for 20. These 400 workers face the overseer, who stands in front of a public building.

In early colonial Mexico City, Spanish officials adapted the Aztec system of coatequitl and work squads to their own purposes, obtaining the labor to build churches, houses, and other buildings. In the second figure here, the Codex Osuna (Códice Osuna 1973) shows a group of workers who owed service to the Viceroy (pictured at the bottom). There are 20 unspecialized laborers (note the flag; the digging stick signals coatequitl labor), as well as a stonemason, a carpenter, and a plasterer. At the right is shown an emblem for 20 “indios de servicio,” personal servants for the Viceroy’s household.

We do not have any specific documents from Calixtlahuaca that talk of labor service or temple construction. But from a general knowledge of Aztec systems of labor and taxation, we can conclude that the large buildings were built by the commoner residents of the city, perhaps aided by residents of nearby towns subject to the king of Calixtlahuaca. People were expected and required to provide this labor service, which was a regular part of life for Aztec-period commoners. The situation is somewhere in between two popular views: (1) The old National-Geographic-Magazine view that ancient temples were built by gangs of slave laborers; and (2) the view that people willingly contributed their labor voluntarily to build temples to the gods (just as today people voluntarily give up their taxes to the IRS out of patriotic devotion to one’s country).

For more information on coatequitl labor in Aztec society, see: (Hicks 1978; Rojas Rabiela 1979; Rojas Rabiela 1986; Valle 2003). For some discussion of a theoretical context for this kind of labor taxation, see my publishing blog.


Códice Osuna (1973) Pintura del Gobernador, Alcaldes y Regidores de México: "Códice Osuna". 2 vols. Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, Direccíon General de Archivos y Bibliotecas, Madrid.

Galarza, Joaquín (1963) Codex San Andrés (juridiction de Cuautitlan): Manuscrit Pictographique du Musée de l'Homme de Paris (II). Journal de la Société des Amréicanistes 52:61-90.

Hicks, Frederic (1978) Los calpixque de Nezahualcoyotl. Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl 13:129-152.

Rojas Rabiela, Teresa (1979) La organización del trabajo para las obras públicas: el coatequitl y las cuadrillas de trabajadores. In El trabajo y los trabajadores en la historia de México, edited by Elsa Cecilia Frost, Michel C. Meyer and Josefina Zoraido Vázquez, pp. 41-66. El Colegio de México, Mexico City.

Rojas Rabiela, Teresa (1986) El sistema de organización en cuadrillas. In Origen y formación del estado en Mesoamérica, edited by Andrés Medina, Alfredo López Austin and Mari Carmen Serra, pp. 135-150. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City.

Smith, Michael E.
(2008) Aztec City-State Capitals. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

Valle, Perla (2003) Por obra pública y coatequitl: mano de obra indígena en códices jurídicos del siglo XVI. In Proyecto etnohistoria: visión alternativa del tiempo pp. 17-21. Diario de Campo, Supplement. vol. 25.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Urban Economy of Aztec-Period Calixtlahuaca, Mexico

(a kind of press release)

With National Science Foundation support, Dr. Michael E. Smith and an international team of colleagues will conduct a series of technical analyses of archaeological artifacts and deposits excavated at the Aztec site of Calixtlahuaca. NSF-supported excavations uncovered a series of houses and terraces that present a unique opportunity to answer important questions about ancient urban centers. Like the shantytown areas that surround many Latin American cities today, the residential zones at Calixtlahuaca extended up steep slopes, with houses built on stone terraces. Yet the residents of this Aztec city were not poor rural immigrants; instead, their houses and artifacts reveal that they forged a prosperous way of life. Many families engaged in the production of textiles, stone tools and other craft items, and most houses contained ceramic vessels, stone tools, and bronze jewelry imported from distant zones. How did a hilltop city in a provincial area achieve such a high and sustainable standard of living for its residents? The analyses will help answer this question.

The NSF funds will be used for three major types of study. First, the excavated artifacts need to be counted, classified, and described. Professionals and students from the U.S., Mexico, Europe, and Canada will spend two months in each of the next three years doing this work. The results will shed light on the lifestyles, activities, and social conditions of the urban residents of Calixtlahuaca. All such research will take place in a laboratory facility in Toluca, Mexico. The second type of study will be technical scientific analyses of artifacts. Chemical analysis and other techniques will allow researchers to determine the places of origin of imported objects, to reconstruct the procedures of manufacture of local items, and to determine the ages of the houses and features of the sites through radiocarbon dating. The third group of analyses will be scientific studies of the soils and plant remains excavated in terraces and other deposits. This work will shed light on a unique Aztec form of successful agriculture: urban terraced cultivation. An understanding of this ancient sustainable farming system may help agronomists design appropriate small-scale agricultural strategies for the hilly areas of Mexico today.

When the analyses are completed, Dr. Smith will compare the results to his former excavations in Morelos, another region of central Mexico. Both were prosperous areas conquered by the Aztec Empire for their resources. Together, the two sets of results will clarify the processes of ancient imperial expansion and its impact on cities, farming, and society.

Numerous graduate and undergraduate students—U.S., Mexican, and European—will receive laboratory training and experience on this project. International cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico will be promoted through the work of several Mexican collaborators as well as through interactions with local archaeologists and historians working in the Toluca area. Dr. Smith’s laboratory facility at the Colegio Mexiquense in Toluca contributes to an improved scientific infrastructure in this Mexican city.

Stay tuned for more information.................................

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The project is funded for 3 more years!

I just got word from the National Science Foundation that the Calixtlahuaca Archaeological Project will be funded for another three years! The new grant will cover sherd sorting over the summers of 2009 - 2011, other artifact classification and analysis, and a series of technical studies, from chemical analyses of obsidian to grain-size analysis of soil samples. Student research is continuing, and maybe some of the students can be enticed to contribute some of their experiences and ideas to the blog.

Now I will be busy for the next few weeks getting the new grant up and running and then off to Toluca for June and July in our lab at the Colegio Mexiquense. If you are in the vicinity, stop by and see us.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Felipe Solís, 1944-2009

Please see my entry on Felipe Solís in my other blog:

Publishing Archaeology.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Before Calixtlahuaca: the site of Huamango

According to our excavations, the city of Calixtlahuaca was founded at the beginning of the Middle Postclassic period (ca. A.D. 1100) and flourished until the Spanish conquest (1519-1521). García Payón’s excavations in the 1930s evidently turned up remains from earlier periods, including a group of Epiclassic vessels from Oaxaca (described in (Smith and Lind, Ancient Mesoamerica, 2005). With the exception of a few eroded Classic-period sherds at the bottom of a barranca, we failed to find ceramics earlier than Middle Postclassic in our excavations or surface collections. Thus the question of an earlier occupation at the site remains clouded. Perhaps García Payón’s materials came from another nearby site (I think this is the most likely explanation), or perhaps we simply failed to find earlier occupations.

Nevertheless, there was a major Early Postclassic site an hours drive north of Calixtlahuaca at Huamango. Huamango was excavated by Román Piña Chán and William Folan in the 1970s (see references below). It consists of a small ceremonial zone with some temples, located on a ridge overlooking the Valle de los Espejos, just north of the city of Acambay. The dating of Huamango is not as certain as one would like; there are no radiocarbon dates and the regional ceramic chronology is not well developed. Various lines of evidence, however, point to an Early Postclassic (Toltec period) date for the site.

The polychrome ceramics look post-Teotihuacan in date (see photo). The lack of Coyotlatelco ceramics is a good sign that the site does NOT date to the Epiclassic period (AD 700-900), and the presence of some types similar to Tollan-phase Tula supports the Early Postclassic dating. Finally, the LACK of Matlatzinca ceramics (the Middle to Late Postclassic ceramics of Calixtlahuaca and Teotenango) at Huamango suggests that the occupation did not extend into that period. Not the strongest evidence, to be sure, but it’s the best we have to go on right now.

Huamango was likely a major political capital in the area immediately north of the Toluca Valley during Early Postclassic times, perhaps subsidiary in some way to the Toltec polity to the northeast. It is hard to say yet whether its zone of control included the region around Calixtlahuaca in the Northern Toluca Valley. The origin of the distinctive Matlatzinca polychrome and bichrome ceramic style is not known, but perhaps it developed out of the geometric Huamango style (see photo).

To read up on Huamango, see:

Folan, William (1979) San Miguel de Huamango: un centro tolteca-otomí. Boletín de la Escuela de Ciencias Antropológicas de la Universidad de Yucatán 6(32):36-40.

Folan, William J. (1989) More on a Functional Interpretation of the Scraper Plane. Journal of Field Archaeology 16:486-489.

Folan, William J. (1990) Huamango, estado de México: un eslabón en la relación norte-sur de la gran Mesoamérica. In Mesoamérica y norte de México, siglos IX-XII, edited by Federica Sodi Miranda, pp. 337-362. vol. 1. 2 vols. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City.

Folan, William J., Lynda Florey Folan and Antonio Ruiz Pérez (1987) La iconografía de Huamango, municipio de Acabay, Estado de México: Un centro regional otomí de los siglos IX al XIII. In Homenaje a Román Piña Chán, edited by Barbro Dahlgren, Carlos Navarrete, Lorenzo Ochoa, Mari Carmen Serra Puche and Yoko Sugiura Yamamoto, pp. 411-453. Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City.

Granados Reyes, Paz and Miguel Guevara (1999) El complejo Huamango y su área de interacción. Paper presented at the III Coloquio Internacional Otopames, Toluca.

Lagunas Rodríguez, Zaid (1997) Costumbres funerarias y características bioculturales de la población prehispánica de Huamango. Expresión Antropológica (Instituto Mexiquense de Cultura) 6:7-28.

Piña Chán, Román (1981) Investigaciones sobre Huamango y región vecina (Memoria del Proyecto). 2 vols. Dirección de Turiso del Gobierno del Estado de México, Toluca.

The site is maintained by the Instituto Mexiquense de Cultura, a branch of the State of Mexico. It is easy to reach by car, about an hour's drive north of Toluca, and a few km north of Acambay.

Here are some web resources (en español):

Article in México Desconocido

Information from the State of Mexico

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Project Update

Although we don’t have a lot of exciting news or hot discoveries to announce, the Calixtlahuaca Archaeological Project is moving ahead on several fronts. This is the “quiet” stage of an archaeological project. The fieldwork, with its constant excitement and new finds, is done (except for some minor activities planned for the next few summers). We are moving ahead with various analyses, but these have not proceeded far enough to yield results. We are busy, but it won’t be obvious to outsiders for a while.

Here is a summary of what is happening during the 2008-2009 academic year. Most of these activities are taking place at ASU.
  • Project Director Michael Smith is involved in two major tasks: (1) Writing grant proposals to fund a large group of expensive analyses (from chemical studies of obsidian and sediments to the recording of music played on reconstructions of our flutes and whistles). (2) Working on our excavation report to the Mexican government.
  • Emily Umberger continues her analysis of the sculptures and reliefs; she and Casandra Hernández are working on a paper on this material.
  • Juliana Novic is continuing her GIS-based spatial analyses of the surface collection data. She has updated our initial map of the site and is starting to piece together the nature of social and economic variation across the urban landscape.
  • Angela Huster has started on our quantitative ceramic seriation. Eventually this will allow us to assign the excavated deposits to chronological phases, and then the C14 dates will provide calendar dates for the phases and deposits. Angela is also working on several other analyses of the Calixtlahuaca data and graphics.
  • Amy Karabowicz is analyzing a sample of burned daub that we exported last summer. She will soon have information on the nature of the clays used for house construction, and the temperature at which the houses burned down.
  • Victoria Bevolden is hard at work digitizing our excavation plans and profiles.
  • Aleksander Borejsza (at UNAM in Mexico City) has initiated the geoarchaeological analysis of soils and sediments from the terrace excavations; most of his work will be done if and when we get funding in the form of a major grant.

Stay tuned for more.....