Saturday, July 31, 2010

Our final two hectic weeks in the lab

Here I am in the pacific port city of Guaymas, Sinaloa. After a nice norrth Mexican arrachera steak and a margarita, I'm resting up for the final day of the drive home. Whew, that was a hectic final 2 weeks in the lab. The previous post, by Angela, describes our petrographic sherd sample, one of our three massive sampling programs, all carried out during the last 2 weeks. We also picked a couple of hundred sherds for INAA analysis, and Adrian Burke picked around 250 pieces of obsidian for XRF source analysis. Each sampling program involved numerous searching through bags and boxes, cross-checking, measuring, etc. We take sampling seriously on this project, since we want the results of our technical analyses to represent various contexts, time periods, and artifact categories as well as possible. Why the rush during these 2 weeks? We needed to complete the seriation, so that we could assign the excavated deposits to phases, so that we could pick intelligent samples to monitor change through time (and other things). The seriation was not completed till just recently (I think we were too busy to post a description of this; maybe Angela or I can do this from ASU in the next few weeks).

Also, Adrian ran around looking for obsidian sources (one trip with Brad and Akiko and I to Las Palomas; and one trip just Adrian). The above photo shows Akiko and I on the hill of obsidian at Las Palomas. Brad and Akiko worked on the technological analysis of obsidian. Brad found some time to knap some of the Las Palomas obsidian (the preliminary report is, ok for bifaces, but not for blades). We got a bunch of miscellaneous cataloging done. Charles and Maria Stapleton stopped by for a day to finalize their report on censers. Kristin Nado spent several days cleaning human bone. I picked some more charcoal samples for C14 dating. Two Mexican students from the new archaeology program at UAEM, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México, in Tenancingo (Rosario Endañú and Ali Sarabia) stopped by to help us for a while, and ended up with thesis topics. AND we reboxed the gound stone (it had been stored by provenience, and now it is stored by functional type). AND we got a number of new ceramic bags sorted. AND we pulled out ALL of the Aztec black-on-orange (even from already-analyzed bags) and re-sorted it (which had to be done before we pulled the sherd samples). All in the final 2 weeks of lab work. Wow, I'm amazed that we got it all done. Well, actually we only got 1/2 of the petrographic sample pulled. Now we could say that we ran out of time, but I'd rather say that we decided on a two-stage sampling and analytical process, so that results from the first batch will affect how we sample for the second batch. I could even come up with a citation or two to support multi-stage sampling. That sounds much better, doesn't it?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Thin-Section Sampling – or – the Invasion of the Sherds

Now that we have a basic handle on the seriation, we are picking samples of sherds from each phase to export for thin-sectioning and petrographic analysis. This analysis, which will be done by Dr. Jennifer Meanwell, will hopefully tell us two things. First, it will let us know whether the variation we think we are seeing in ceramic pastes is real at a structural level. Second, we should be able to look at changes in the frequencies of the different paste types (provided that they exist!) over time, which could relate to changing patterns of trade.
Thin-sectioning and petrographic analysis is both expensive and time consuming, so we have developed a rather elaborated sampling strategy in an effort to get a representative sample of each phase. Julie Novic and I are taking rims sherds only, dividing them into categories based on vessel types (bowls, jars, and other vessels), and then dividing each of those categories into two groups, based on paste. (This has been a good opportunity for Julie to teach me how to recognize the various paste groups, but I clearly have a ways to go!) I then get a list of randomly generated numbers and use those to pick sherds from each of the six stratified groups. So far the random selections seem to be a pretty good representation of their parent groups. Since we also have a couple of specific ceramic types that we’re interested in, I go and pull out examples of them if they weren’t chosen during the randomized selection process.
Because we are sampling by phase, our sampling unit is the stratigraphic layer, rather than the excavated lot, which is how our material is stored. Since the former usually consists of several of the latter, we have to have several different lots open at the same time, which means that we are labeling every rim sherd to avoid confusion. The practical result is that all the ceramics tables in the lab are covered with neat lines of sherds, and we are starting to eye the patches of open space on the lithics table enviously!

The photos show Julie with her trusty pliers for checking paste types, and a portion of the bowl rims from a single group.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Centro Ceremonial Otomi

While Brad, Adrian, Akiko, and I were driving around the wooded mountains northeast of Toluca, looking for an obsidian source (which we found! more on this later, I hope), we stopped in at the "Centro Ceremonial Otomi." This is one of the more bizarre built environments I have ever experienced. It is a huge monumental complex built of stone, located in the mountains northeast of Toluca (in the municipio of Temoaya) with a beautiful view down into the Toluca Valley.

The Centro was built in 1980, by Jorge Jiménez Cantú, governor of the State of Mexico. Its purpose was supposedly to provide a tribute to the Otomi peoples of the state. The design seems to have nothing to do with Otomi culture or history, from the pictorial mosaics to the architectural arrangement and elements To me, it looks like the modernist architectural monuments built by 20th century authoritarian regimes (huge monuments that dwarf human visitors, abstract decoration, large open area for ceremony, etc.).

This complex was  used in the James Bond flick "License to Kill" as the "Olympatec Meditation Institute" (see photo below).

Residents of Toluca said that at one time there was a museum featuring Otomi culture at the monument, but all we saw was a big empty room. There is a small market with traditional crafts. We didn't see much evidence of Otomi activity at the site, although the Wikipedia entry on Temoaya says that Otomi ceremonies are held regularly at the Centro.

The Centro Ceremonial Otomi is open to tourists, and it houses dormitories for athletes who come to train at the high altitude (more than 3,000 meters ASL).

If I were governor and wanted to do something for the Otomi residents of the state, I'd spend my money on education, health, and jobs. If you want to know more about the Otomi, see some of these sources:

Carrasco, Pedro  (1950)  Los Otomíes: cultura e historia prehispánica de los pueblos mesoamericanos de habla otomiana. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City.

Fournier García, Patricia  (2007)  Los Hñähñü del Valle de Mezquital: maguey, pulque y alfarería. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City.

Galinier, Jacques  (1987)  Pueblos de la Sierra Madre: Ethnografía de la comunidad otomí. INI, CEMCA (Centre d'études mexicaines et centraméricaines), Mexico City.

García Castro, René (editor)  (1999)  Códice Xiquipilco-Temoaya y títulos de tierras otomíes: edición facsimilar. El Colegio Mexiquense, Toluca.

Lagarriga Attias, Isabel and Juan Manuel Sandoval Palacios  (1978)  Otomies del norte del Estado de México: una contribución al estudio de la marginalidad. Serie de Antropología Social. Gobierno del Estado de México, Toluca.

Lastra de Suárez, Yolanda  (2006)  El Códice Huichapan (Compact Disk). Serie Códices de México vol. 4. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City.

Lastra de Suárez, Yolanda  (2006)  Los otomies: su lengua y su historia. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Mexico City.

Muñoz Samayoa, Fernando and Irma Ramírez González  (2008)  Artesanías mazahuas y otomíes en el Estado de México. In Homenaje a Noemí Quezada: VI Coloquio Internacional sobre Otopames, edited by Verónica Kugel and Ana María Salazar, pp. 335-348. Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Universidad Nacional de México, Mexico City.

Wright Carr, David Charles  (2005)  Lengua, cultura e historia de los otomíes. Arqueología Mexicana 13(73):26-29.

Wright Carr, David Charles  (2008)  La sociedad prehispánica en las lenguas Náhuatl y Otomí. Acta Universitaria (Universidad de Guanajuato) 18(especial):15-23.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Our lab is in the newspaper

The Mexican newspaper Milenio just ran a full-page spread of photos taken in our lab (at the Colegio Mexiquense). For a pdf of the article, click here.
The article is called: "Desentierran varias piezas arqueológicas en la entidad."  Milenio, July 15, 2010. Section: Milenio Edomex, page 8. It is a "fotoreportaje" with photos by Iván Carmona, and text by Caludia Hidalgo. They visited us July 14 (Bastille Day). The photos in this post were taken by Carmona, but not used in the article; they are reproduced here with his permission. A longer text piece by Ms. Hidalgo is scheduled to appear in the newspaper Tuesday July 20.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Angela and I have isolated three ceramic phases for Calixtlahuaca through our seriation work. We'll post something soon on the new chronology. Here I want to talk about some linguistic research I've been doing. Our earliest period covers the Middle Postclassic period (ca. AD 1100-1300, but don't quote me yet), and the other two correspond to the Late Postclassic period. We have decided to use indigenous terms in the three local Oto-Pamean languages to name these phases. It is almost certain that the original builders and residents of Calixtlahuaca spoke one (or more) of these languages: Otomi, Mazahua, and Matlatzinca (see my previous post on this issue). The use of native terms for our time periods is one way of showing respect for the peoples of these groups. All three languages are still spoken today.

For the earliest phase, we will use the term "Dongu," which is an Otomi term for ancient or old house. This seems appropriate for the earliest occupation period at the site. Dongu is also a placename in the Otomi region in the north-western State of Mexico. The photo above was taken at the tiny hamlet of Dongu, located between the town of Acambay and the archaeological site of Huamango (thanks to Emily Root-Garey for taking the photo during our trip to Huamango a week ago).

René García Castro suggested to me yesterday that Dongu has another sense in Otomi native histories: it may refer to ancestral locations of the Otomi ruling families or ruling "houses" of the Postclassic period. This would make the term even more appropriate for Calixtlahuaca, the Middle- and Late-Postclassic capital of the Toluca Valley.

Speaking of Otomi toponyms, I just read an interesting new article on the topic (Lastra 2008). Two place names jumped out at me:

(1) Calixtlahuaca:  n-dahni,  "viento, pega el aire." This toponym was collected in 2002 from San Andrés Cuexcontitlán (just north of Toluca, and northeast of Calixtlahuaca). Could this be a clue to the ancient name of the city? As I started to get excited about this, it occurred to me that this could be merely a modern reference to the archaeological site, where it is well known that the main temple was dedicated to the wind god, Ehecatl. Interesting, though.....

(2) Huamango: karendó, gran escalera de piedra. This was also collected in 2002, in the town of Acambay (heading south from Huamango, past Dongu). This is another appropriate-sounding toponym. For information on the site of Huamango, see my previous post.

Lastra, Yolanda
    2008    Topónimos otmíes. Estudios de Cultura Otopame 6:381-314.

** PS - I apologize to the linguists out there for not including the proper diacritics for these Otomi words. Not only am I a linguistically-challenged researcher, but my computer cannot handle the necessary symbols and diacritics needed to properly render Otopamean terms.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sounds From the Past: The Bird-Whistle from Calixtlahuaca

By Arnd Adje Both

Favourable circumstances sometimes allow a sound of the past to be recovered and brought to our ears again. This is the case of a little bird-whistle from Calixtlahuaca, so far the only instrument from the site found intact (many fragmentary instruments were recovered in the excavations).

Its little high-pitched sound is the only one that has survived until today. The whistle (a globular flute without a fingerhole) is in the shape of a bird, and it is not surprising that it produces bird-like cries, which reminded us of a raptor. Does this whistle resemble the bird shown on the shield carried by the local king? We don’t know.

When I made a recording of the whistle in the patio of the ex-Hacienda of the Colegio Mexiquense in Zinacántepec (site of the Calixtlahuaca laboratory), Mike and Angela noted a definite effect on the many birds around. These birds made a lot of noise (or song, as the Aztecs would say), and notably were attracted by the sound produced by the whistle.

Click below for a short excerpt from my

recording of this whistle.

For more information on whistles like this and other Aztec musical instruments, see:

Both, Arnd Adje  (2002)  Aztec Flower-Flutes: The Symbolic Organization of Sound in Late Postclassic Mesoamerica. Studien zur Musikarchäologie III:279-289. Rahden/Westf.

Both, Arnd Adje  (2005)  Aerófonos mexicas de las orfrendas del recinto sagrado de Tenochtitlan. PhD dissertation. Lateinamerika-Institut, Freue Universität Berlin.

Both, Arnd Adje  (2006) On the Context of Imitative and Associative Processes in Prehispanic Music. Studien zur Musikarchäologie V, pp. 319-332. Rahden/Westf.

Martí, Samuel  (1968)  Instrumentos musicales precortesianos. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Calixtlahuaca Obsidian

By Bradford Andrews

At Calixtlahuaca (like most prehispanic societies in Mesoamerica), obsidian was the most common type of stone used to make tools for a wide variety of domestic, militaristic, and ritualistic purposes. More than 94% of the tools and debitage (byproducts of stone tool manufacture and use) from the site are composed of obsidian. Analysis of the obsidian materials was initiated by me and two of my Pacific Lutheran University students, Elisa Hoelter and David Treichel, during the summer of 2009. To date almost 9,000 artifacts have been analyzed.

Obsidian is a volcanic stone made of silica that is created by the rapid cooling of volcanic ejecta. Because it cools so rapidly, it lacks a true crystalline structure (Cobean 2002). This quality makes obsidian ideal flaking sharp implements used for numerous slicing, cutting, and scraping activities. Most of the obsidian found on Aztec sites comes from relatively recent volcanic deposits scattered across Central Mexico, stretching from Veracruz on the Gulf to the western Mexican state of Michoacan bordering the Pacific Ocean (Glascock et al. 1988).

The Calixtlahuaca obsidian artifacts show some interesting variation concerning flaked stone tool production and use in Aztec period Central Mexico. Here are three patterns that stand out:

First, the collections are composed almost exclusively of gray obsidian (75%). Although data are limited, this contrasts with has been reported for other Aztec sites outside the Basin of Mexico, the location of modern day Mexico City and the heartland of the Aztec Empire. In Morelos more than 90% of the artifacts are made of obsidian from the Pachuca source in the modern state of Hidalgo, northwest of the Basin. Pachuca obsidian is typically green in color. We think, therefore, that Calixtlahuaca was supplied with obsidian by means of a different system than was the case for some of the other Aztec dominated sites in Mesoamerica. It is probable that much of it came from sources west of Calixtlahuaca, many of which are located in Michoacan. Future chemical analysis will be conducted to evaluate this proposition.

Second, most of the tools (66%) were derived from obsidian blades that do not appear to have been produced by craftsmen who lived at Calixtlahuaca. The Mesoamerican blade technology consisted of shaping a cylindrical “core” from which blades were then removed by “pressing” them off with a wooden implement (Hirth and Andrews 2002). Such a process results in byproducts of blade production that are minimally represented at Calixtlahuaca. This finding is interesting because at numerous Mesoamerican sites evidence suggests that blades were made in workshops by resident craftsmen. It seems likely, therefore, that blade tools arrived at the site ready-made for use, or were produced by traveling craftsmen who periodically visited the site and plied their wares in the market.

Third, many of the artifacts that were made using a biface technology (23%) do appear to have been shaped into various tools in Calixtlahuaca households  Biface technology entails the removal of flakes from two sides, or “faces” of a relatively flat piece of obsidian to make items such as projectile points (arrowheads) and other scraping and chopping tools. This finding is interesting because in Central Mexico evidence for the production biface tools in the majority of a city’s households is the exception rather than the rule.

These preliminary observations on the obsidian artifacts from Calixtlahuaca provide important new comparative information on flaked stone tool production and use in the provinces of the Aztec Empire.

I presented these observations at the recent Society for American Archaeology meetings:

Andrews, Bradford W. (2010)  Calixtlahuaca Obsidian: Initial Reflections of Lithic Technology on the Western Aztec Periphery. Paper Presented at the 75th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, St. Louis, Missouri.

Artist’s reconstruction of Biface production in a Calixtlahuaca Household, illustration by Michael Stasinos.

References cited

Cobean, Robert H. (2002) A World of Obsidian: The Mining and Trade of a Volcanic Glass in Ancient Mexico. Serie Arqueología De México. Pittsburgh: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia/University of Pittsburgh.

Glascock, Michael D., J. Michael Elam, and Robert H. Cobean. (1988) Differentiation of Obsidian Sources in Mesoamerica. Archaeometry '88. Eds. R. M. Farquhar, G. V. Hancock and L. A. Pavlish. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 245-51.

Hirth, Kenneth G., and Bradford W. Andrews (2002) Introduction." Pathways to Prismatic Blades: A Study in Mesoamerican Obsidian Core-Blade Technology. Eds. Kenneth G. Hirth and Bradford W. Andrews. Los Angeles: The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, 1-14.