by Anna Cohen and Kyle R. Urquhart
The Temple Platform Excavations
Beginning in mid-January, the project has been excavating on the southern edge of the site within the largest ceremonial neighborhood yet identified at Angamuco. Our work has focused on a transect of excavation units between the largest yacata (pyramid) and an associated altar. In addition we have tested several adjacent plazas and terraces. Florencia Pezzutti (CSU), Rodrigo Solinís Casparius (UW) ,and Cinthya Cardenas (UADY) are currently exposing units in the main plaza.
The main purpose of this work is to understand the timing of occupation, construction phases, and life-history of this critical area of the site including plaza areas and associated architecture. A second goal is to explore ritual practices at Angamuco. Ethnohistorical sources from western central Mexico such as the Relación de Michoacan (c. 1541 CE) have limited information on Purépecha religion. For example, the first part of the Relación was entirely devoted to Purépecha religion, but much of that text is missing (Warren 1985). Any available information refers to the time period leading up to the Spanish conquest and details of Purépecha religious practices preceding the Late Postclassic Empire remain largely unknown. How did Purépecha religion manifest in public contexts? What kinds of materials were used in ritual activities? How did religious practices change throughout broader political changes in the Pátzcuaro Basin? The yacata excavations aim to provide a foundation for addressing these types of questions. In the coming weeks, we will continue to carefully expose the areas around the altars and document any ofrendas, burials, and building phases.
Neighborhood and Complejo Excavations
Anna Cohen (UW) and Kyle Urquhart (CSU) have been leading an effort to test different complejos around the site. Excavation is occurring in associated sunken plaza and domestic structure contexts in order to better understand neighborhood and complejo level organization at Angamuco. Neighborhoods were important social, political, and economic units in Mesoamerica. They played a central role in the urban organization of the Aztecs, the Maya, and the Mixtecs, although the specifics of how they functioned varied between cultures (Arnauld et al. 2012; Carballo 2011). Complejo is a term introduced by Chris Fisher to describe socio-spatial units that are visible at Angamuco and that are smaller than a neighborhood (Fisher and Leisz 2013).
The Relación does mention that Purépecha neighborhoods were political units that were involved in social activities such as marriage, but there is limited information about how they were organized or what roles they played in larger government affairs. How were Purépecha cities like Angamuco organized? Are there differences in neighborhood-level social and economic activities? How did the daily activities of people living at Angamuco change throughout broader Purépecha political changes? The neighborhood and complejo excavations will address such questions. Anna’s dissertation research will focus on ceramic changes in public and private contexts throughout political initiatives in the lake basin. Kyle’s Master’s thesis will attempt to understand emic perspectives of neighborhood-level political organization through the use of historical research, GIS, and LiDAR spatial data. Over the next few weeks, we hope to test at least one other complejo in a different neighborhood on the eastern side of the site. This will provide us with additional samples for addressing questions about site occupation, function, and organization.
- Arnauld, M. Charlotte, Manzanilla, Linda and Smith, Michael E. eds. (2012) The Neighborhood as a Social and Spatial Unit in Mesoamerican Cities. Tuscon, AZ: University of Arizona Press.
- Carballo, David M. (2011) Advances in the Household Archaeology of Highland Mesoamerica. Journal of Archaeological Research 19:133-189.
- Fisher, Christopher T. and Leisz, Stephen (2013) New Perspectives on Purépecha Urbanism Through the Use of Lidar at the Site of Angamuco, Mexico. In Space Archaeology: Mapping Ancient Landscapes with Air and Spaceborne Imagery, edited by D. and M. Harrower, pp. 191-201. New York: Springer.
- Warren, J. Benedict (1985) The Conquest of Michoacán. Normal, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
Archaeology, by its nature, is a destructive process. Once material is removed from its original context, that contextual information is gone. It exists only in the form of data recorded by the archaeologist who excavated it. Furthermore, the removal of debris, fill, and sediment from ruins exposes underlying architecture to the elements. Unless additional steps are taken, the effects of mechanical and chemical erosion will damage any features that have not been removed during excavation. In order to preserve sites for future generations, archaeologists must consolidate standing architecture and refill open units once excavations have concluded. As we prepare to begin excavations for the 2014 field season, lets look back at how our preservation efforts from last year have held up.
In 2013, we excavated a large community public building labeled Casa 5128. Below is the structure prior to our excavation. The overlying vegetation has been cleared, but the rubble and wall fall has not been removed.
Below is the same structure towards the end of the 2013 excavations. The rubble from the collapsed portion of the walls has been removed, exposing the standing portion of the walls underneath. Our excavation uncovered several floors and a central hearth, which were recorded and removed to expose the underlying platform fill.
Once excavations were concluded, the rubble from the collapsed wall fall was packed inside to brace the standing portion of the walls, and the excavated sediment was poured back into the interior of the building. This helped stabilize the structure to protect it against erosion. Here’s the same structure one year later:
The forest has largely reclaimed Casa 5128, which is now more protected than it was before excavations began. It is now almost impossible to tell than anyone excvated here at all.