Monday, November 13, 2017

Tamale Pots

By Angela Huster

In a few of our earlier posts, we've mentioned that there don't seem to be that many comales (tortilla griddles) at Calixtlahuaca. This suggests that the ancient inhabitants of the site were eating their corn in some way other than tortillas, such as hominy, atole (gruel), or tamales. Tamales are the most likely alternative to tortillas, and there is a great quote in the Florentine Codex about the diet of the the Quaquata (one of the groups in the Toluca Valley):

“Nothing grew in the land of these Quaquata; only maize, beans, amaranth; no chili, no salt. The principal foods of these were tamales, beans; also their principal drink was fruit atole. Popcorn was produced right there in their land” (Sahagún 1950-82:Book 10: The People. Pp 182-183).

Unfortunately, it's harder to identify pots for tamale steaming, since a large pot can be used for any number of other tasks. One possible candidate for tamale pots are the type that we call interior-incised ollas. This type of large olla has sloppy, deeply scored incision on the interior of the body below the neck. The incisions can't be seen unless the pot is broken, which means that they weren't there for decoration. The incisions are also problematic for most forms of food preparation, since any liquid food would get stuck in them and burn, but we don't see any evidence for scorched reside in the incisions. However, the incisions would have been helpful for keeping the lattice of sticks used to keep tamales out of the steaming liquid from sliding around, and the tamales themselves from sticking to the walls of the pot. This type is not found in Morelos or the Basin of Mexico, where there are much higher frequencies of comales.

Interior-incised olla sherds

The distribution of these pots among the different households at the site also supports the idea that they were used for steaming tamales. Once comales start to used in noticeable frequencies at the site (during the Yata phase), the frequency of interior-incised ollas varies inversely with the frequency of comales; households were picking one or the other!

Comal vs interior incised olla frequencies by household (Huster 2016: Chapter 8)

Works Cited:

Huster, Angela C.
    2016    The Effects of Aztec Conquest on Provincial Commoner Households at Calixtlahuaca, Mexico. Doctoral Dissertation, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ.

Sahagún, Bernardino de
1950-82 Florentine Codex, General History of the Things of New Spain. 12 books. Translated and Edited by Arthur J.O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble. School of American Research, Santa Fe NM, and the University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, UT.

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