Friday, May 30, 2008

Mexican Traditions and Cacaxtla-Xochitecatl Pyramids - see part 3

The next slide show is a miscellanea of the events of this past week. One of which included an "interactive" play in which we participated in a theatrical dramatization of the new generation of Mexicans who forget their cultural traditions and threaten the family unit.

There are also photographs of an optional "adventure," where I invited the students to follow me in a quest to find the pyramids of Cacaxtla and Xochitecatl in the present day state of Tlaxcala, Mexico. The following are descriptions for both archaeological sites taken from Wikipedia:

Cacaxtla was the capital of region inhabited by the Olmeca-Xicalanca people. It is not known with certainly the origins of the Olmeca-Xicalanca, but they are assumed to come from the Gulf coast region, and were perhaps Maya settlers who arrived in this part of central Mexico around 400 CE.

The term "Olmeca-Xicalanca" was first mentioned by Tlaxcalan historian Diego Muñoz Camargo at the end of the 16th century. This historian described Cacaxtla as the principal settlement of the “Olmeca”, although what we today refer to as the Olmec culture ended ~400 BCE, that is, almost 800 years earlier.

After the fall of the nearby city Cholula (ca. 650 - 750) -- in which the Cacaxtlecas might have been involved -- Cacaxtla became the hegemonic power in this part of the Tlaxcala–Puebla valley. Its ascendancy came to an end around 900 CE and, by 1000, the city had been abandoned.

The centre of the city of Cacaxtla was the 200-metre-long, 25-metre-high Gran Basamento – a natural platform offering a fine defensive position and commanding views over the surrounding terrain. The city's main religious and civil buildings were located on this platform, as were the residences of the priest class. Several other smaller pyramids and temple bases stand in the vicinity of the main platform.

Because Cacaxtla's main basamento was not excavated until the 1980s many of the original coloured wall decorations have been preserved and can be appreciated in situ by visitors to the site. Of particular interest is the fact that most of the murals seem to combine the symbology of Altiplano cultures with influences from the Maya, making Cacaxtla unique in this regard.

The most famous of Cacaxtla's preserved paintings is the "Battle Mural", or Mural de la batalla, located in the northern plaza of the basamento. Dating from prior to 700, it is placed on the sloping limestone wall of a temple base and is split in two by a central staircase. It depicts two groups of warriors locked in battle: on the one side are Olmec jaguar warriors, armed with spears, obsidian knives, and round shields, who are clearly trouncing an invading army of Huastec bird warriors (some of whom are shown naked and in various stages of dismemberment).


Xochitécatl is a small ceremonial center located on a hilltop overlooking Cacaxtla, about 1km (a half mile) to the east and in plain sight of Cacaxtla. It was probably inhabited, at least in the classical period, by the same people living in Cacaxtla. A curious circular pyramid stands atop this hill, 180km (590 ft.) above the surrounding countryside. Beside it are two other pyramids and three massive boulders (one about 3m/10 ft. in diameter), which were hollowed out for some reason. Hollowed boulders appear to have been restricted to the Puebla-Tlaxcala valley. Excavation of the Edificio de la Espiral (circular pyramid), dated between 1000 and 800 B.C. (middle formative period), encountered no stairways. Access is thought to have been by its spiral walkway. Rounded boulders from the nearby Zahuapan and Atoyac rivers were used in its construction. Rounded pyramids in this part of Mexico are thought to have been dedicated to Ehecatl, god of the wind. The base diameter exceeds 55m (180 ft.); it rises to a height of 15m (50 ft.).

The stepped and terraced Pyramid of the Flowers, made of rounded boulders, was started during the middle formative period. Modifications continued into colonial times, as exemplified by faced-stone and stucco-covered adobe. Of the 30 bodies found during excavations, all but one were children. Little is known about the people who built Xochitécatl. Evidence suggests that the area was dedicated to Xochitl, goddess of flowers and fertility. The small museum contains pottery and small sculpture, and a garden holds larger sculpture.

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