After One Month of Excavation…

Posted on 19. Feb, 2014 by Kyle Ryan Urquhart in LORE-LPB, Michoacán, Pátzcuaro Archaeology, archaeology

After One Month of Excavation…

by Anna Cohen and Kyle R. Urquhart

The Temple Platform Excavations

Excavations at the platform on the south node of the site.

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

Excavations at a sunken plaza in a complejo on the western end of the site.

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.

Works Cited:

  • 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.

Consolidation and Preservation

Posted on 20. Jan, 2014 by Kyle Ryan Urquhart in LORE-LPB, Michoacán, Pátzcuaro Archaeology, archaeology

Consolidation and Preservation

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.

Casa 5128 prior to excavation

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.

Casa 5128 at the end of excavation

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:

Casa 5128 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.

Angamuco Mentioned in a Recent New Yorker Article

Posted on 29. Apr, 2013 by Christopher Fisher in Grants, LORE-LPB, LiDAR, archaeology

Angamuco Mentioned in a Recent New Yorker Article

In the El Dorado Machine, noted author Douglas Preston outlines the efforts to uncover traces of ancient civilization in the Mosquitia region of Honduras.  The Legacies of Resilience Team, including Christopher Fisher and Stephen Leisz, have been involved in this effort.  Check out the article here, which mentions the work at Angamuco and has a couple of quotes from Chris Fisher.

May 6, 2013 Issue

The Main Platform at Angamuco animated

Posted on 24. Apr, 2013 by Christopher Fisher in LORE-LPB, LiDAR, Pátzcuaro Archaeology, Technology, archaeology

The Main Platform at Angamuco animated

This animation shows the area of the Main Platform at Angamuco with and without the overlying vegetation.  A static image of this view has been featured in many recent publications.

A Yacata Gif

Posted on 23. Apr, 2013 by Christopher Fisher in LORE-LPB, LiDAR, Michoacán, News, Pátzcuaro Archaeology, Uncategorized, archaeology

A Yacata Gif

Working on new ways of presenting the LiDAR data – here is a yacata .gif.  It may take a minute to load – possibly was a bit ambitious with the file size.

Perspectives on Community Engagement

Posted on 22. Mar, 2013 by Christopher Fisher in LORE-LPB, Michoacán, Pátzcuaro Archaeology, archaeology

Perspectives on Community Engagement

Increasingly archaeologists are finding themselves at the center of intensive local debates involving issues of access and ownership, looting, patrimony, local, regional, and national politics, and the nature of community engagement and collaboration.

Our table and crowd at the community event

Rodrigo Solinís-Casparius, University of Washington, addressing the crowd

Issues ranging from how community-based research initiatives can be constructed to the actual financial inputs and contributions of archaeological projects to local economies have become a focus of scholarly interest within the archaeological community.

Another view of the crowd at our table

Most major archaeological projects have some element of community outreach built into their research design – with many doing substantially more.

Our table

For those that know me – unsurprisingly probably – community outreach is not my forte.  Though I realize the imperative of such programs I’m honestly not very good at talking to a non-academic audience.

Luckily for the project the LORE-LPB team is comprised of several talented graduate students and researchers who devoted considerable time and effort this season at better engaging the local community who own and use the land that Angamuco occupies.  These students deserve major kudos for the work they have done in this regard for the 2013 field season.

The next generation of archaeologists?

Yesterday we were able to discuss some of our findings, talk about the nature of archaeology, and the role our research can play in better understanding the prehistory of Michoacán at a community event honoring Benito Juarez.  I hope it is the first of many such activities.


Cynthia's new student

The importance of Lunch

Posted on 22. Mar, 2013 by Christopher Fisher in LORE-LPB, Michoacán, Pátzcuaro Archaeology, archaeology

The importance of Lunch

It has been said more then once that a field crew runs on it’s stomach – the LORE-LPB 2013 field season is no exception.  The theme this year seems to be hot food and animals!!

The LORE-LPB 2013 crew refueling mid-day

The best vantage point to see the excavation

Flor's new friend

Chris Fisher takes advantage of lunch for some quick shuteye

Cynthia takes a quick ride

Excavating a Purépecha Community Building – Casa 5128

Posted on 22. Mar, 2013 by Christopher Fisher in LORE-LPB, LiDAR, Michoacán, Pátzcuaro Archaeology, archaeology

Excavating a Purépecha Community Building – Casa 5128

Casa 5128 – a Purépecha public building

Casa 5128 prior to clearing and excavation

Excavation is proceeding well at Casa 5128 – one of two areas currently under excavation.  5128 represents a large building that dominates a small neighborhood of residential and public architecture near one of the largest pyramid complexes at the ancient city.

Casa 5128 during initial clearing

Casa 5128 is constructed on a large platform of stone and rubble that served to flatten a small hill that forms one end of the complex.  On top of this platform walls were constructed of uncut stacked stone with simple clay mortar.  We started excavation by systematically clearing rubble and debris to expose the original exterior and interior.  This also fully exposed the interior areas of the house so that they could be excavated.  At the close of the excavation season the walls and platform of the house will be stabilized and reburied.

Excavating through rubble and wallfall at Casa 5128

Exposing the first floor, Casa 5128

Excavation within the house interior shows a clear sequence of debris on top of a Late Postclassic floor (A.D. 1350-1520), with a second possible floor below containing a mixed Early-Middle Postclassic assemblage (A.D. 1000-1350).  This is followed by fill and debris that form the platform itself.

Clearing debris to expose the first floor, casa 5128

Excavating floor 1, casa 5128

Excavating floor 1, casa 5128

As of today (03/21/2013) we have fully excavated the interior of the house and exposed the platform at the base of the floor-area.  Now the hard part, mapping, drawing profiles, and making sure everything is fully documented prior to consolidation and reburial.

Exposing the platform at the base of casa 5128

Platform at the base of casa 5128 after excavation

Second view of the platform after excavation, casa 5128

Excavation has begun

Posted on 02. Mar, 2013 by Christopher Fisher in LORE-LPB, LiDAR, Michoacán, Pátzcuaro Archaeology

Excavation has begun

We have begun excavation at two locations within some of the Late and Middle Postclassic areas of occupation at Angamuco.  Here is a video of some of the first days of excavation at Casa 5128 – a large public building that dominates one cluster of residential and other architecture below the largest platform and associated pyramid at the site.  Music  – Chucho Valdez

One Day of Excavation at Angamuco

LiDAR shines a light on hidden sites – Angamuco mentioned

Posted on 09. Sep, 2012 by Christopher Fisher in LORE-LPB, LiDAR, Michoacán, News

LiDAR shines a light on hidden sites – Angamuco mentioned

A recent post by Curt Hopkins mentions the LORE-LPB work on the online BBC Futures section.

Click here to see the article ” LiDAR Shines a Light on Hidden sites.”