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!