Discovery reveals harsh living conditions and cultural resistance of the Mexica
The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Discovery reveals harsh living conditions and cultural resistance of the Mexica
Located on a site in Lagunilla, in the Historic Center of Mexico City, one of the skulls shows porotic hyperostosis, a disease associated with malnutrition. Photo: Melitón Tapia / INAH.

Translated by Liz Marie Gangemi

MEXICO CITY.- After the crucial August of 1521, one of the first actions undertaken by the Spanish rulers was to create a new composition on top of the ruins of Tenochtitlan, for which they expelled the natives to the periphery, to locate the socio-political center of their nascent viceregal city there. However, far away from those foreign eyes, from their homes, the Mexica maintained multiple acts of resistance that today show themselves through archaeology.

Such is the case of the recent discovery of the remains of a Mexica dwelling and four children’s graves dating from the early Colonial period (1521-1620), still carried out in pre-Hispanic fashion, according to a project of archaeological salvage being carried out on a site in the neighborhood of La Lagunilla, in the Historic Center of Mexico City, which is being led by the Ministry of Culture of the Government of Mexico, through the National Institute of Anthropology and History.

After indicating that this initiative of the Archaeological Rescue Directorate (DSA) of the institution begun last November, the archaeologist in charge of the project, Juan Carlos Campos Varela, said that, in historical terms, this area corresponded to the neighborhood of Cotolco and belonged to the Atzacoalco, one of the four major territorial divisions of Mexico-Tenochtitlan.

The importance of this -together with the other recently discovered Mexica offering, which was also from the viceroyalty period but in the former partiality of Cuepopan-is that it reveals the difficult living conditions endured by the natives who could not flee from Tenochtitlan neither during its siege nor after its fall.

The latter, explains the researcher, is inferred because the four graves of the infants do not have traces of ritual sacrifice, for which the causes of their deaths-which will be determined by physical anthropology tests- would be more associated with a period of crisis.

A clear indicator is the skull of the oldest infant, who may have died between the ages of six or eight years old, according to the size of its bones and teeth, in which porotic hyperostosis is seen in the eye sockets, a disease directly associated with anemia, infectious processes, parasitosis and imbalances in the diet.

The hypothesis could be proven by verifying whether the youngest infant was unborn, perhaps spontaneously aborted by a food deficiency or maternal stress and, on the other hand, if results of previous archaeological salvages are considered.

"Three years ago, we excavated in front of the area where we are now working and found three adult and four infant graves, also from the early Colonial period. Meaning, if we add up those children with those that we have today, the evidence indicates that, at least in this neighborhood of Cotolco, those who most died were the infants".

“Although”, says Campos Varela, “it is difficult to determine the sex of each of the remains of the four newly discovered children, which will be investigated in a laboratory, their remains are of special interest: two had no offerings and were only primary burials placed in the early viceregal strata; the probable unborn was accompanied by two tripod ceramic mounts and was contained within a round pot -35 cm in diameter and 50 cm high-, which tells us of the continuation of a funeral practice that sought to return it to the maternal uterus, represented by the pot".

Of all, the most complete offering is that of the infant between six and eight years old: five small vessels, two spinning winches and a blue pigmented figurine, which, by its iconography, represents a woman holding a little girl in her lap, for which, probably, the bone remains could be female.

Of note is that on the site another offering was located, a blue pigmented vessel -30 centimeters in diameter and 35 centimeters high-and contained the bones of a bird within. Although it lacks the attributes of Tláloc, God of Rain, its coloration could associate it with the aquatic world, revered in the pre-Hispanic manner.

In a historical coincidence, the area where the remains of the pre-Hispanic era were found will continue on in the 21st century, since the archaeological salvage of the INAH was carried out before the construction of a residential high-rise, by the Mexico City Housing Institute.

The activities that took place until the end of June consist in the excavation of a 148 square meters area, where the vestiges of Mexican architecture were discovered, before they are protected with geotextile and covered up to give way to the contemporary work.

The recording of the pre-Hispanic house, consisting of four rooms -one of them possibly the kitchen, due to the discovery of a tlecuilli (stove), a hallway and a small indoor patio that contained what was possibly an altar, allows us to see the daily living spaces of the late Postclassic period (1480-1521 AD), by the borders of Atzacoalco and Cuepopan, and the borders of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco.

"It is interesting to find rooms with stucco walls, considering that lime was not common there before the arrival of the Spaniards, families of priests or warriors who had access to certain foreign resources, even though they were not part of the ruling elite," concluded archaeologist Campos Varela.

As part of the DSA project, the more than 200 intact and semi-intact items will be stored, among which includes toys, whistles, dishes, pots with lids, coins, and medals, from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

The group of experts, including archaeologists Alejandra Núñez Mejía and Marisol Bautista Roquez, supported by geologist Gloria García Tovar and 15 technical workers are treating and cleaning the pieces, while it is determined with the National Coordination of Conservation of the Cultural Heritage of the INAH, what specific artefacts will undergo further restoration processes.

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