Monday, April 7, 2014

Calixtlahuaca’s Market Brought to Life!



By Brad Andrews
           In my earlier blog on how art and archaeology work together, I summarized the work of Michael Stasinos, professor of Art at Pacific Lutheran University. Michael has provided our project with a means of artistically bringing to life the city of Calixtlahuaca based on the archaeological efforts of the Calixtlahuaca Project. He has now finished the market scene, a site-wide shot of the Calixtlahuaca cityscape with a marketplace in the foreground. As I pointed out before, Calixtlahuaca’s actual marketplace has not been identified, but Mesoamerican archaeological and ethnohistoric scholars agree that it was an extremely important economic institution throughout Central Mexico and beyond (Smith 2003). By the time of the Spanish conquest the market was an important component of what is referred to as the highly commercialized Postclassic Mesoamerican world system focused on the Basin of Mexico (Smith 2001). As applied to the study of prehistoric societies, the world systems concept refer to a macro-regional network of trade that linked individual political units - societies – into larger functioning units. For Prehispanic Mesoamerica, it has been argued that the market was the primary means by which people provisioned themselves with daily material necessities, both utilitarian and ceremonial.

As I mentioned in my previous blog on the topic, Michael’s challenge began by selecting a photo of Cerro Tenismo, upon which Calixtlahuaca is situated, that provided a “sense” of the whole, but enabled the incorporation of details in the foreground. The foreground is the focal point of the market scene, which he masterfully brought to light in consultation with those of us working on the Calixtlahuaca Project. The details of the market-focused daily activities were inspired by other ancient Mesoamerican market scenes, photographs of modern Mexican markets, and ethnohistoric information from a variety of sources. Hours of painstaking revisions were necessary to give full magic to the final product. Besides the market, he incorporated a reconstruction of the monumental Structure 4 (pyramid complex in the central part of the scene), the hillside populated with domestic households, vestiges of the water control ditches that drained the site during the rainy season, temples that occupied the top of the hill (complete with smoke produced by the probable burning of copal incense), and an ethereal skyscape of clouds, complete with birds drifting round and about. Note the increased density of households in the upper left-hand portion of the cerro. This detail depicts the variation in the layout of the urban center that was identified during the project’s survey efforts. Lots to see here, much of which is unfortunately obscured at the scale needed for this posting.

We extend many thanks to Michael Stasinos for his invaluable contribution to our project. We hope you agree his efforts were well worth it!



Smith, M. E.
            2001    The Aztec Empire and Mesoamerican World System. In Empires, edited by S. E. Alcock, T. N. D'Altroy, K. D. Morrison and C. M. Sinopoli. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

            2003    The Aztecs. Second Edition ed. Blackwell Publishing, Malden, Massachusetts.

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