Tijuana gringo  :  andar trás Mesoamerica

Archeology — Ancient America
Mexico, Guatemala, Belize & Honduras

– by Michael Arthur and Daniel Charles

Arqueo Logos = "Old Word" or
"Word(or knowledge) of the Old"

NOTE: South America was another world not yet touched here.

In the grey millennial morning of this twenty-first century, we know more about the ancient Americans than previous generations could have imagined. Mythological pipe-dreams (some still believe) of Lost Tribes of Israel, wandering Egyptians from Atlantis and mysterious calendar-worshippers from outer space have (mostly) given way to a concrete history of war and sacrifice by kings and priests who took hallucinogenic enemas, stuck stingray spines through their earlobes, cheeks, lips and foreskins, and yes, worshipped calendars.

Truth is stranger than. Archeologists and anthropologists have worked for two centuries transforming themselves FROM adventurers and grave-robbers who excavated with dynamite INTO scientists who use small shovels, trowels, toothbrushes, aerial photography, linguistic socio/cultural analysis and ground-piercing radar, even while delicately walking a tightrope over the chasmed gaze of nationalist pride and academic jealousy (peer review/decimation). They have painstakingly studied everything from bones to broken pieces of pottery, and by interpretation and analysis have uncovered facts and developed theories to illustrate and measure the ocean of cultures which flowered here to Aztec from Zapotec.

Orthodox timeline.

Gradually the double A : arqueologos y antropologos : have built up, criticised, and refined a master timeline for the entire region of Mexico and Central America.

Very roughly speaking the canon runs as follows:

  • Stone age peoples, hunter-gatherers, settling down into first temporary then permanent farming villages – from 20,000 b.c. to 4,000 b.c.(?)
  • Development of maize (corn) as staple crop – 8,000 b.c.(?)
  • "Archaic period" of permanent farming villages – 4,000 b.c. to 1,000 b.c.
  • "Pre-classic" civilized (city-town builders) period, especially rise and fall of Olmec "mother culture" – 1,000 b.c. to 100 a.d.
  • "Classic period" (Teotihuacan, Maya cities, Monte Alban, etc) – 100 a.d. to 800 a.d.
  • "Post-classic period" (Chichen Itza, Cacaxtla, Tajin, Toltec and Aztec/Mixtec "empires") – 800 a.d. to Spanish conquest in 1520 a.d.
  • Of course, lumping all the cultures of this civilization world into one little package like that is misleading – lacks depth and detail – but the simplification is useful for giving a general background to the field. It is also the way we neoEuropeans like to do things.

    Just so now you know already.

    Furthermore, the entire area is roughly divided into sub-areas:

  • the Maya zones of Guatemala, Chiapas and Yucatan;
  • the valleys and hills of Oaxaca;
  • the Gulf Coast;
  • Central Mexico;
  • the North
  • and the West (Michoacan and Jalisco);

  • But this division into areas, like the time-periods, is very simplified. Most of the people in these "civilized" (i.e. city-built) areas knew about each other and sent trade items and sometimes warriors into each others' lands for purposes of commerce and war. They naturally exchanged ideas as well as products, and examples of "foreign" influence abound. An entire neighborhood of Oaxacan artisans, for example, has been found in the ruined city of Teotihuacan, and Teotihuacan influence can be noted in Maya country. There is, furthermore, the very debated architectural relationship between Tula and Chichen Itza.

    Overall unity of ancient Mesoamerican civilization.

    Generally speaking, no matter how different the hundreds of individual languages, cultures and histories, the Mesoamerican civilization zone of Mexico and Central America is marked by several common factors shared by all ancient peoples here. They all eat/ate maize (corn) as the basic bread staple. They all engaged in the ball game ritual. They all had the 260/365 day dual calendar system. They all had the habit of building ceremonial/religious complexes at the centers of their towns with large plazas and pyramid/mound temples.

    Beyond those few points of modern scholarly agreement, the official/academic discourse regarding ancient America has at times been civilized, sometimes bitter, often cooperative, occasionally obstructive, usually competitive, always informative. Ideas about the ancient Mesoamericans have swung radically back and forth from the logically kooky (Atlantis) to the safe and ordinary (calendar worshipping peaceful stargazers) and then back again to the shockingly true (enemas and nagual).

    For example, for many years it was believed that Maya writing discovered on stone and ceramic was a system of hieroglyphic picture texts which were so philosophical they could only be understood by the metaphysically adept priests, peace-loving time-worshippers who never sacrificed anyone. Recent decades of work have finally shown that it is a truly phonetic writing system which is so complex that at times it flowers into hieroglyphic style. Scholars can now decipher over 80 percent of the carved and painted texts, and surprise, surprise, the Maya kings were motivated by universal human concerns: power and wealth and war and dynastic legitimacy. Beginning in the 1990s, books have been published replete with the histories of generations of kings, detailing the struggles between the great cities like Calakmul, Tikal, Copan, Palenque, Yaxchilan and dozens of others.

    The murals at Bonampak with bleeding fingernails, and the Maya writing deciphered at the end of the 20th century, have shown us that they, and other classical giants, had kings who made war on each other and practiced human sacrifice on dates to be determined (like wars) by planets (Go Venus!), sun and stars. It is, however, still anthropological gospel to say this practice was expanded by later cultures, most notably the Culhua/Aztec tribute state or "empire" of 1300-1520.

    Whatever may have been the facts regarding the expansion of this custom in the post-classic period, the various and sundry cults of human sacrifice were all thoroughly suppressed by the Spanish conquerors, and only replaced with European forms of death for religious purposes such as burning and garotting for heresy against the Church. The actual eating of victims was stopped. At the same time, however, the popular tradition of non-lethal self-sacrifice continued, with the accepted Catholic practice of self-whipping, wearing thorns, carrying weights, crawling on bare knees all the way to the church, etcetera, etcetera being quickly embraced by the Mesoamericans, who were already familiar with the concept of penance in order to seek harmony between Earth and Heaven.

    WARNING: Poet Babeling.

    With regard to Your Visiting the physical remains from the ancient Americans, there are tens of thousands of archeological sites, and many of them – both the famous, crowded sites, and little known, off-the-main-road sites – are officially open to the public. The interested traveler can now visit numerous archeological zones maintained by the governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. Some have been partly reconstructed, others still lie buried and asleep. There are also many museums in major cities and at several archeological zones.

    You can also armchair travel via computer web.

    In Mexico, the INAH – Instituto Nacional de Arqueología e Historia – maintains an somewhat accessible listing at their website www.inah.gob.mx for online research. With a little study in city or university libraries or on-line, interested visitors to zonas arqueologicas can prepare for their visit and gain some understanding of those peoples who built the ruined cities, as well as an appreciation for their descendants who often live nearby and work in the industry of tourism.

    If you want to read up (in English) on the subject of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations vis-a-vis archeological discoveries, Michael Coe is good, and for more specialized information on the Maya, try David Stuart and the late, great Linda Schele. Enjoy.

    Another excellent resource is the magazine Arqueología Mexicana published every two months from Mexico City and available in many bookstores across the country. The magazine is in Spanish. One excellent regular feature is a touring guide to different sites or areas of interest.

    Kooks and religious ProFit$.

    All this is to say nothing of the VonDaniken school of thought that the American Indians could never have built any of these things and that therefore it all came from Atlantis, Mu, or Outer Space (or maybe Inner Space?). Heh. Or the Moronic Church who says they were all escaped lost (white) Jews who lost their wars to the secondary (brown) people, and wrote their story on golden tablets buried in a mound in New York State that can only be read with crystal glasses... well, like many European and/or north american white people, maybe they even think that Jesus was like blue-eyed with blond hair. 

    *Sigh* but of course it doesn't matter what color of Jew he was. His ministry and sacrifice are what matters, eh?  Eh.

    Ahem... (clear my throat make preaching noises)....

    There is no doubt that some of these peoples were superb astronomers, mathematicians, and calendar makers. But just because they understood the movements and timings of planets, sun, and moon, does not necessarily mean that they came from outer space (or inner space, for that matter). No, no, just like the rest of us, they were all creatures evolved from corn dough and drops of blood from Quetzalcoatl's penis(?!?)... or should I say some dirt in Eden brought to life by Jehovah's breath... or should I say descended from Charles Darwin's simian ancestry... or... from stardust DNA ice-comets bombarding primordial Earth or... etcet....

    hee hee heh... ji ji je... "...very clever, young man, but it's Turtles All The Way Down!"

    Just what has this got to do with archeology anyway? Of the mind, my dear reader.  'Tis an archeology of the sociocultural mass-millennial mind, what?  What.  Now it's up to you to decide where to go from here...

    ...this question has been brought to you by culture wars lite.

    Thank you for reading with us.

    – Michael Arthur and Daniel Charles

    W a r n i n g

    You should keep two things in mind to read these "archeological" writings.

  • We write as poet, with artistic license. Neither of us are anthropologist nor archeologist. Howsomever, much of what I and I say depends on those scholarly shoulders we stand on and brains we read and pick, and whom shall we now thank and forevermore amen.

  • Most of our "information" is distilled from Mikey & Dano's lifetimes of reading and study, especially from scholars like those published in Arqueologia Mexicana, as well as books by such orthodox canon (both old and new) types as Casos, Matos Moctezuma, Freidel, Schele, Sahagun, Duran, Coe, Garibay K, Leon-Portilla, Ruz etc., etcet., et al.

  • These are our pages and we will say what we please or not to present or self-censor, especially : and especially We Thank You for surfing with us here.

  • Now get out there and visit the ancient ruins, new museums, old colonial cities and all that postmodern movement and buzz of life in Mesoamerica.

    Town & People
    Culture & Nature
    Countryside & Metropolis
    Valley and Mountain
    Ancient, Modern and Colonial Places

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   edited from a photo shot at dawn
   @ Chichen by Jim Duncan, permission
   from his Wandering through Yucatan
    Andar Tras Mesoamérica : Copyright 2002-2006 Daniel Charles Thomas