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.
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;
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.
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
You should keep two things in mind to read these
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
all that postmodern movement and buzz of life in Mesoamerica.