Tag Archives: archeology

NCSU in Oaxaca: Monte Alban Archeological Site

Students and faculty from North Carolina State University Department of Horticultural Science are in Oaxaca for a study abroad course on Sustainability in Emerging Countries.

NCSU students and faculty setting out to explore Oaxaca

Here’s what a few students say about our first day at Monte Alban.

“We went to see Monte Alban first to give us background about Oaxaca and culture we are stepping into.”

Climbing the pyramids for a long view of the archeological site

“People here in Oaxaca take pride in this historic archeological site.”

Copal tree flowering and with seed pods — sap used for ritual incense

“You don’t know what people are talking about until you see the significance of this place.”

A long view of Monte Alban, with Observatory in distance

“It was a good foundation for what we would see and experience.”

Monte Alban is one of those spectacular archeological sites that grasp your attention, teach about the sophistication of Zapotec leadership and demonstrate the astronomical prowess of indigenous people.

Guide Pablo Gonzalez explains development of this major Mesoamerican site

The visit there gave students an opportunity to see native plants and understand the local plant life and landscape.

Pencil cactus becomes tree, with poisonous sap

As we climbed the temples and examined the plant life, saw the glyphs carved into the stone, and understood the ancient systems of water retention and cultivation, we gained a greater insight into the importance of Oaxaca as the source of corn that was first hybridized here almost 10,000 years ago and spread throughout the world.

At the top of the Zapotec world, 1,000 BC to 800 AD

We approached from the north side of the Monte Alban. The site is on a mountain-top between the city and the ancient ceramic making village of Santa Maria Atzompa.

Caretakers take a break in front of “Los Danzantes,” the Dancers, carved stone

The glyphs and carvings tell a story of conquest and dominance over surrounding villages, as well as the glyph language of rectangles and circles. Figures carved upside-down into the stone represented conquered leaders from local villages.

Another view of Los Danzantes

The gold treasures from Tomb 7 are on view at the Santo Domingo Cultural Center next to the church. They were wrought by Mixtecs who occupied Monte Alban in the late classical period.

Stelae carved with circles and rectangles — ancient vocabulary

Students participating are studying agriculture, horticulture, landscape design, business, and nutrition. Each day, they have an intensive discussion with their professors about food sourcing, fertilization, bio-diversity and cultural impact on climate change.

In the clouds at the top of Monte Alban

Zapotec rulers lived high above the agricultural valley below. Humans leveled the mountain where the elite lived. The Spanish named the place Monte Alban. When they arrived the mountain was covered in trees with white blooming flowers.

A videographer with the group will make a documentary about the experience

Students will write a paper and receive three-credit hours toward their degree program. We have one doctoral student with us, too.

From Mexico City: Under the Cathedral, An Aztec Empire

Far below Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest in the Americas, lies the archeological treasure trove that was once Tenochtitlan, the City of the Aztecs. It is known as Templo Mayor.

Archeological discovery continues in Mexico City under the Cathedral

First discovered and excavated in 1978, archeologists believe there are seven pyramid levels beneath what is now visible at the site next to the great Catholic church.

Only a fraction has been excavated under the Cathedral

It was the Spanish practice throughout New Spain, in Mesoamerica and South America, to destroy indigenous religious/cultural edifices and use the building materials to construct churches and administrative centers on top of the toppled.

Braziers used for sacrifice in Templo Mayor Museum

Each layer, filled in with silt by a succession of Moctezuma‘s, who built taller and grander edifices to mark their ascendency to lead the Aztec empire, now sinks into the swamp that underlies the great North American city.

Stucco and painted friezes in the Eagle Temple, Templo de las Aguilas, Tenochtitlan

Most of the buildings in the historic center of Mexico City are sinking, leaning and are at risk of toppling. The entire Zocalo area is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for this reason.

Entry to Carmelite Ex-convent Santa Teresa, circa 1616, Mexico City

Next to the Templo Mayor is a contemporary art exhibition space that was once home to Carmelite Ex-Convento de Santa Teresa, built in 1616. You will pass by as you exit the archeological site onto Moneda Street that borders the Palacio Nacional.  Click here for a printable Map.

My camera is square; the floor isn’t. Extreme slant!

The Ex-Convento is leaning dramatically. Its front gates have always been closed. Over the New Years holiday weekend, when Jacob and I visited the Templo Mayor, lo and behold, the gates were open and I wanted to explore. As I stepped over the threshold, we entered a dizzying space — stepping onto a steeply tilting floor. My instincts were to grab the walls.

Sistine Chapel-esque, Ex Convento Santa Teresa ceiling

When I stay in Mexico City, I usually choose the Hotel Catedral, just two blocks from the Zocalo at Donceles 95. Nothing fancy. Good customer service, basic rooms, clean, and a delicious breakfast.

Torment of Cuauhtemoc, by David Alfaro Siquieros, at Museo Bellas Artes

There is so much to revisit, see and do, within eight square blocks. I never tire of repeating visits to the Rivera, Orozco and Siquieras murals. I never tire of eating at Azul Historico or Los Girasoles or El Mayor. I never tire of people watching.

I’ve watched this dig develop over the last two years

I always ask for a room at the back of the hotel facing the Cathedral. For the last several years, I have watched a vacant colonial house being transformed into an archeological dig from my hotel window.

On the walking street, Francisco I. Madero, Mexico City

All around the area there is transformation related to restoration and archeological discovery. Beneath Argentina Street you can see newly exposed Aztec carved stone covered by plexiglas pyramids. It gives perspective about where we walk and what came before us.

Black Christ, Metropolitan Cathedral, Mexico City

Mexico City is now one of the world’s most important travel destinations. It is safe and filled with amazing art, culture, food and shopping. I hope it’s on your bucket list.

 

 

Tenochtitlan: Aztecs Under the Cathedral, Mexico City

The Aztecs dominated Mexico for over two hundred years and left a legacy for many more centuries than they existed. They created modern Mexico and called themselves Mexicas.

Tenochtitlan under the Cathedral, Mexico City

Remains of the Aztec Empire and their city Tenochtitlan continue to be discovered in the heart of Mexico City after archeologists started excavations in 1978.

 

Yesterday, I spent three hours in the archeological site and adjoining museum and it was not enough. While nowhere near as extensive as the famed Anthropology Museum, this archeological site holds the keys to the kingdom. Many Mexicans claim their identity from the Aztecs, and nationalism and its attendant symbols are rooted here.

 

For all the times I have visited Mexico City, I must confess that this was my first visit to Tenochtitlan. Bad me. I would recommend it as a starting point to anyone wanting to know more about Mexico culture, beliefs and identity.

Serpents are important Aztec symbols

Serpents are important Aztec symbols

The museum holds many important pieces that have been discovered over the years, most recently the wall of skull masks.  Skulls figure prominently in pre-Hispanic Mexican tradition, symbols of conquest, ancestor worship and the continuous journey of life to death.

Skull wall detail

Skull wall detail

Ceramic and stone sculpture of deities like the Chac Mool, Tlaloc and Eagle Warrior are housed here, too, along with trade jewelry and articles used for ritual sacrifice. There is a section on natural history, textiles and other art forms.

   

The site is different each time I view it above from the restaurant terrace at El Mayor (top floor, Libreria Porrua bookstore).  A tribute to INAH‘s dedication to restore Mexico’s pre-Hispanic history.

 

On this day, it was cloudy and overcast, the sky filled with rain clouds. My photos are shades of gray and muted colors as I continue to practice with the new Olympus mirrorless camera with Zuiko 12-40mm lens.

 

How to Enter Tenochtitlan: By foot, walk by the front of the Cathedral toward the Palacio Nacional. Make a left turn at the plaza with all the larger than life bronze sculptures by Javier Marin. Continue to the end where you will see an entry kiosk. Admission is 65 MXN pesos (about $4 USD at today’s exchange rate).  Wear a sun hat or take an umbrella for shade. No food or beverage allowed.

Three stone figures lay where they were found

Three stone figures lay where they were found

Two spaces left in the Textile Study Tour, February 3-11, 2015, featuring the ikat rebozos of Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico. Contact me!

 

Ancient Rocks and Rainbows: San Pablo Villa de Mitla

On Thursday this week, Lupita came to visit. She is age 10, soon to be eleven next month. We were looking through photographs on my computer and found one when she was a toddler playing in a pile of wool.

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She might want this photo for her quinceañera. That got us to talking about being young and Zapotec. As we scrolled through photos, I stopped on a photo of the San Pablo Villa de Mitla archeological site. What’s that? Lupita said. You haven’t been to Mitla? I asked. Do you want to go tomorrow?

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I was actually struck by the fact that here we are just 10 miles and 20 minutes from one of the most amazing archeological sites in Mesoamerica and Lupita hasn’t been there. She hasn’t been to Monte Alban either. We have a lot of traveling to do. Next week, I’ll take her to Yagul. Maybe another young friend, Cristobal, will come, too

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When we got to Mitla early Friday morning, the place was empty.  I explained how important this post-classical site is and how special it is to be Zapotec with a proud and ancient history. Here and at Monte Alban, the Zapotecs commanded a great nation. There are so many more ancient rocks yet to uncover.

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Lupita climbed up the temple steps and then down into the tombs. We talked about how the ancient burial ritual was to move the bones of the those buried before aside to make way for those who had just died. They would be buried in the same tomb. We compared how this ancient Zapotec practice is exactly the way it is today in her village of Teotitlan del Valle.

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Next week we will go to the cemeteries to celebrate the dead and their return to visit loved ones. Dia de los Muertos is about the continuity of life and it occurs to me that there is no greater tribute than burial in the same resting place as a beloved ancestor.

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We talked about the history of the Spanish conquest, conversion, how the conquerors took the ancient rocks from the temples and used them to build church walls to attract the people to the new religion.

Codices etched in plaster, painted with cochineal

Codices etched in plaster, painted with cochineal

I showed Lupita the example of the wall integrated into the Mitla church structure and pointed to the carved patterns that most Teotitlan del Valle weavers have incorporated into their rug designs.

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Biznaga cactus in bloom, an endangered species

There’s a lot of activity in Mitla now, fresh paint, new hotels and restaurants, since the town just became a Pueblo Magico.

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We finished up our day together with lunch in Tlacolula at Comedor Mary. Then, I got Lupita to school in time for the start of her 1:30 p.m. classes.

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With the day only half-finished, I got into my creative side, making flower pins from wool I had felted last year. After “cooking” the finished flowers in hot water with a bit of vinegar, I took them up to the terrace to hang on the line to dry. Oops, why not take a photo? It was such a gorgeous day. When, I returned to the terrace with my camera, this is what I saw.

LupitaMitlaRainbowBest20-20 A magic end to a magical day.

 

 

 

 

Pueblo Magico Malinalco: Hand-loomed Rebozos and Pre-Aztec Pyramids

The magical town of Malinalco in the State of Mexico is a short thirty-minute ride from Tenancingo de Degollado. One of Mexico’s greatest rebozo weavers, Camila Ramos Zamora, and her family live and work here.

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Her father was a rebozo weaver from Tenancingo and he moved to Malinalco to marry Camila’s mother. They established a workshop that makes some very amazing ikat/jaspe rebozos on the back strap loom. Some use natural dyes. Most have intricate, lengthy fringes called puntas or rapacejos, that in my opinion represent fifty percent of the beauty of a rebozo.

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This week, Came’s son José Rodrigo Mancio Ramos, received the special award for a major piece using natural dyes in the National Rebozo Competition sponsored by FONART and held in Tlaxcala. He carries on the family tradition for creating and executing outstanding textile art.  The punta on his winning piece is made in the pointed style preferred by the Spanish aristocrats who came to Mexico in the 18th century.

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I visited Camila Ramos Zamora’s two shops in Malinalco as well as the amazing Augustinian church built in 1560. I’ve never seen such detailed, dramatic frescoes as these. The church is a sight to behold.

Here’s a note from Mexico expert Silva Nielands: The Paradise Garden murals in the monastery were not painted by the Augustinians who built it, but by the indigenous people who were taught the painting process.  The murals are a mix of European (saintly) themes full of local imagery.  The plants, animals, etc. are all important to the indigenous culture and are like a full encyclopedia of the herbal/medicinal, etc.  http://utpress.utexas.edu/index.php/books/peterson-paradise-garden

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Many towns in Mexico were settled by different Catholic orders: Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Augustinians and Jesuits, missionaries competing for converts. The Augustinian church dominates the central zocalo and is the only Catholic church in Malinalco.

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I admired the black rebozo this woman on the left was wearing as she and two friends exited the church. One friend jumped in to help her put it around her shoulders so I could see the weaving and the very long fringes. I think they were delighted that I noticed and paid them special attention!

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My friend Mary Anne hiked up to the archeological site which she reports is an easy, shaded climb up about 400 shallow steps through amazing landscape.

Malinalco Pyramid

Our group from Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico wandered Malinalco independently to explore and discover.  We all met up at Las Placeres for a great lunch on the shaded patio complete with tamarind mezcal Margaritas — mi favorita.

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This experience has been so wonderful, that I want to bring you here with me.

  • So, I’m scheduling a study tour from February 3-11, 2016  to learn about and meet the rebozo weavers of Tenancingo.
  • Meet in Mexico City on February 3 with overnight there.
  • Travel to and stay in Tenancingo  from February 4 to 10
  • Participate in hands-on workshops and demonstrations
  • Travel to Metepec and stay overnight in Metepec on February 10
  • Travel to Mexico City on February 11 to depart for home OR stay on your own through President’s Weekend in Mexico City to enjoy the museums and world-class restaurants

In addition, we will take a day trip to the silver capitol of Mexico, Taxco, a Pueblo Magico, explore the Pueblo Magico ceramics village of Metepec and the Pueblo Magico village of Malinalco.

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We will eat great food, climb ancient pyramids at important though remote archeological sites and immerse ourselves in Mexico’s folk art. We’ll even have the option of a respite with massage and facials.

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Send me an email if you are interested in this study tour!

More information coming soon.

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