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.