Sunday, February 28, 2010

Burning Incense at Calixtlahuaca

Incense burners (or censers) are a regular part of household artifact inventories at Aztec-period sites in central Mexico. People made offerings to the gods by burning copal, an aromatic resin made from the sap of various trees of the genus coparifera. The censers we found in domestic contexts at Calixtlahuaca are interesting; their form is uncommon at other sites. The first few images show some of our sherds, and a reconstruction drawing (made by ASU student Will Russell). Caitlin Guthrie did a preliminary study of these censers and presented a poster at the 2008 SAA meetings:

Guthrie, Caitlin
2008 The Censers of Calixtlahuaca. Poster presented at the 2008 Annual Meeting, Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver.

We are still working on comparing these items to other central Mexican censers. They seem to most closely resemble some censers from the Tollan phase (Early Postclassic) at Tula. This is interesting, becuase the Calixtlahuaca deposits are all from the Middle and Late Postclassic periods. Perhaps people adopted the Toltec censers, and then kept using them while other Aztec-period peoples in central Mexico changed to the long-handled censer style.



Here is an example of the long-handled censers that are most typical of Aztec sites in the Basin of Mexico and Morelos. There are many images in the codices of priests using these things at public cereminies (this image is from the Codex Mendoza). In Morelos, these were the dominant form of domestic censer. I describe these and talk about possible links between domestic ritual and state ritual in this paper:

Smith, Michael E.
2002 Domestic Ritual at Aztec Provincial Sites in Morelos. In Domestic Ritual in Ancient Mesoamerica, edited by Patricia Plunket, pp. 93-114. Monograph, vol. 46. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA, Los Angeles.


Back to Calixtlahuaca: We also have some long-handled censers (see the photo), but they are very different from the Aztec examples. In fact, these forms (which are much rarer than the spiked censers shown above) also resemble censer forms from Tollan-phase Tula. Hmmmmmm. I guess the Calixtlahuaca folks really liked those Toltec incense burners. Were they making a delberate social statement about their linkages to the Toltec past, their adherence to Toltec values and ideas? Or were they country bumpkins who were so out of it that they didn't realize that everyone else in central Mexico was now using the new Aztec-style censer? Can we decide between these two views? Or do we need to consider additional kinds of evidence before making complex interpretations like this?

And here is one final example, an unusual decorated basin censer from Garcia Payon's excavations at Calixtlahuaca. The color photo shows the vessel when we photographed the collections in 2002 (thanks to the Instituto Mexiquense de Cultura and the Museo de Antropología in Toluca for permissions and help). But when it was first found, it looked like the second image, taken from the Illustrated London News in 1931:



Gann, Thomas
1931 New Light on Aboriginal America: Interesting Discoveries on Toltec Sites in Mexico: Temples and Art Treasures at Calixtlahuaca and Teotihuacan. In Illustrated London News, pp. 330-331. August 29, 1931 ed, London.


My guess is that this was used in temple ceremonies, not in domestic ritual.

1 comment:

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