Sunday, February 17, 2013

Toluca, the travel destination

The Portales, center of Toluca
The city of Toluca, Mexico, definitely has a problem attracting tourists. Compared to other Mexican cities, it is less charming with fewer high-profile cultural and natural attractions. Yet is it close to Mexico City and it does have its high points, so I have always wondered why the city does not attract more tourists. Much to my surprise, this week the "Travel Detective," Peter Greenberg, taped his show from Toluca! It was pretty good, describing food, attractions in the city and those in the region for three hours Saturday morning, Feb 16. You can listen here.

The cosmovitral, a unique stained glass botanical garden
The producer asked if I could come and talk, but I'm in Arizona, not Toluca right now. But I put them in touch with the Colegio Mexiquense (home of our Calixtlahuaca lab), and Xavier Noguez and Gerardo Novo (from the Colegio) were interviewed. Xavier talked about Calixtlahuaca, Malinalco, and the history of the area. Gerardo gave some good tips on local attractions and points of interest. Greenberg also interviewed some other people I do not know, about Toluca museums, hang-gliding and monarch butterfly watching in Valle de Bravo, and about the natural and cultural attractions of the Nevado de Toluca volcano.

The INAH guards at Calixtlahuaca complain that not very many visitors come to see the site. There are many things that could be done by the relevant officials to improve the site, its publicity, and the visiting experience. There is no guidebook for the site. I wrote one, but can't get it distributed. The sign to the site on the highway going north from Toluca is in error, leading motorists to exit at the wrong place. There is little promotion of the site within the city of Toluca or the State of Mexico. The site infrastructure (signs, walkways, bathrooms, museum) leaves much room for improvement. A couple of years ago an aide to a politician asked me what could be done to improve Calixtlahuaca and the number of visitors. I listed the points outlined above (and some others), but little was done.
The Nevado de Toluca volcano
One of the problems is that the site and museum are split between three administrative units. The site is a  federal (INAH) archaeological zone. The museum was built and is owned and managed, by the city of Toluca. But the objects within the museum (mostly from García Payón's excavations in the 1930s) are controlled by the State of Mexico. It is difficult to get all three to work together.

Toluca street food: blue-corn quesadillas!!
Well, enough of my complaining. We've done our part with media interviews, public lectures, school lectures, and things like this blog. I was VERY PLEASED to see that a prominent international travel show was featuring Toluca (with mentions of Calixtlahuaca). Check out the  broadcast, and please go to Toluca and Calixtlahuaca! And, not mentioned in the show, make sure to sample the chorizo (the best in Mexico) and the blue-corn tortillas.

-Mike Smith

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sherd Digitizing

Archaeological reports are often illustrated with drawings of artifacts, rather than photographs.  Historically, this may be due to the difficulty of taking photographs or the cost of reproducing them. However, there are still at least two good reasons to use drawings rather than (or at least in conjunction with) photographs. First, drawings often reproduce better than photos; by the third copy of a copy, most photos are incomprehensible blurs of pixels.  Second, even in an original, schematic drawings often do a better job of presenting the characteristics of interest than photographs.  For example, it’s quite difficult to take a photograph that accurately presents the profile (cross section of the original pot shape) of a sherd, but drawing one isn’t all that hard.
Following this general logic, we drew several examples of each type in the Calixtlahuaca Project type collection.  The drawing was a piecemeal process over several field seasons, followed by an intensive push last summer to finish things off.  Especially during the last season, students from UAEM’s Tenancingo archaeology program did much of the drawing.  Hopefully, this provided them with a general idea of what Postclassic ceramics look like in the Toluca Valley, and knowledge of how our project chose to classify that diversity.

Rosario and Edgar drawing in the lab at the Colegio Mexiquense
Once back at ASU, we continue to rely on a dedicated team of student volunteers.  Here, they scan the field drawings and then trace the image of each sherd in Adobe Illustrator. With the exception of a few artifact types where showing relief is important (such as figurines), the resulting drawings are schematic, with paint colors represented by standardized shades of grey.  The images can be combined in various ways and will be useful not only for illustrating things in the next couple years, such as our final informe for the Mexican government, but also for publications years from now.
Kea digitizing in the office at ASU