Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Visit to the Pyramids...of San Miguel

We took a day trip to the newly revealed pyramids near San Miguel de Allende, called Canada de la Virgen (there should be a tilde over the "n" in Ca-nhe-da but I don't know how to add it). Our guide was Albert Tyler Coffee, a Louisianan by birth but now with a Mexican wife and two kids, and living in San Miguel. He is a anthropolgist/archaeologist who helped with the archaeology and excavation work done on the pyramids. He told us many times during the day that these pyramids are not really newly "discovered", only newly unearthed and now known to Europeans. The indigenous people have known they were there all along and indeed, can point out other mounds of earth, here and there, that hide additional Mesoamerican structures.

We also were accompanied by "rangers" who were awarded jobs for their volunteer work in the archaeological process. In other words, they were the labor force. They watched us very carefully so that we did not remove artifacts or step where we shouldn't.

The pyramids were on private land, which is now owned by the Mexican government, but the approach is totally on private land. Therfore we had to walk the last kilomenter and a half to the site. You can see a shuttle van in the background.

There are four or five structures, only three of which have been uncovered. They date to 540 to 1050 AD. On the ride out to the pyramids I was talking with Albert and asking him some questions. I asked which of the many pyramids in Mexico were his favorites because he'd been to them all. He replied; "No bullshit, this one." The many features relating to the calendar and astronomical observations made it most intriguing for him. The pyramids are oriented on an East/West axis and on the equinox, the sun sets just about in the center of the notch, where the man is standing in the above photo. Other dates are marked as well, including the solstices, best days to plant and harvest, and other important dates in the Otomi year. These pyramids are the most northerly structures of the Mesoamerican culture and were abandoned quickly about 1200 AD due to drought or attack from the tribes to the north.

Skeletal remains of a human were found at the top of the above pyramid during excavation. Carbon dating showed the skeleton to be 770 to 440 BC. According to signage at the site, "...this means that the remains had been dead and mummified for 1033 years before he was buried in the Red Temple of the Canada de la Virgen." Whoever this person was, he must have been very sacred to the pyramid builders for them to haul around his carcass around Mexico for one thousand years before permanently planting him in his stone tomb.

A lot of pottery artifacts were found, and these were the great clues to the archaeologists adding much information about the people and their lifestyle. These skeletal remains were long referred to as a woman who was a warrior, and later didcovered to be bones of a 9 - 12 year old child. Note the triangular-shaped object sticking out of the top of her skull. This would have been done at the time of internment.

We were allowed to climb up into the top of the pyramid up a very steep set of stairs. Not too long ago, when the pyramids were still coverd with dirt and vegetation, cowboys used to ride their horses to the top up a ramp of fallen stones, to look for thier cattle. The pyramids are constructed of stone, some of it dressed, which I think one or two men could carry. The Otomi had no beasts of burden (i.e. horses, cattle, llamas) and no wheeled carts (except as toys) so they built these structures by carrying the stones in their hands or on their backs.

Coming down the stairs was more precarious than going up. Some of our tour group opted out of the climb. About half of my foot fit on the steps. It is theorized the steps are so steep for three reasons. First, the people who built them were quite small and secondly, a sacrificed body would tumble nicely down the steps, and lastly, because the stairs are so difficult to navigate attackers would be very vulnerable.

After the tour, we were taken to a nearby hacienda, the headquarters for a cattle ranch owned by five brothers, to have a typical, traditional Mexican lunch. Frijoles and arroz, tortillas and a picante sauce, quesadillas, nopali, papas, sopa vegetal, etc. All very delicious and prepared by the Senora above and below.

The Senora had a very primitive kitchen. She had no electricity, a woodburning stove, no running water, yet she fed 12 or 15 gringos without a hitch. It was, to say the least, a very interesting day. On the van ride back into town, most of us caught a quick siesta.


Linda said...

Wow. Stairs that are steep and difficult to navigate. A wood burning cook stove. Walking the last mile and a half. Skulls and artifacts lying around everywhere. Sounds like home to me!


Peggy said...

Wow! What a great tour. Fascinating stuff. I am glad it is being protected by those rangers.

Anonymous said...

Cool! I think this place looks awesome, I'd like to know that dude from Louisiana too!