Monday, December 13, 2010

Greetings from Oconahua!

About a week from now I’ll be returning to the US, if all goes according to plan. I’m busy wrapping up my work here in Mexico and starting to pack my suitcases for the trip home. The holiday season is underway here now, as well. Sunday was one of the big religious celebrations of the year—the Virgin of Guadalupe’s feast day. The Virgin of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico. She is a version of the Virgin Mary who is said to have appeared to an Indian named Juan Diego in what is now part of Mexico City. There is a basilica (actually, there are two of them) build at the location where she first appeared which is a major destination for pilgrims each year. Pretty much every home, bus, and taxi here in Mexico has at least one picture or statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe and many girls here are named for her. Often on her day, you will see people set up altars to the Virgin in the street outside their homes. I saw one of them here in my town. There will be an altar, flowers, and decorations and chairs provided for people who want to come pray to the Virgin. These altars and the pilgrimages are often done as a show of devotion by someone who has asked the Virgin for help. There were also lots of fire crackers set off at all hours of day and night as is often the case in the days leading up to an important saint’s day.

The granddaughter of one of our workers here (and the daughter of another worker) was born on the Virgin of Guadalupe’s feast day, so there was a birthday party for her this weekend. It actually took place in the patio of my house here, so I got invited to join in on the fun. It was her third birthday, and most of the people here were kids ranging in age from 8 months to teens. There were 4 piñatas to be broken and 2 birthday cakes to be consumed. It was quite the afternoon! A couple of the fun things that were different from the parties I’m used to in the US were the cutting of the cake and the serving of the cake. After the Mañanitas were sung (the traditional Mexican birthday song) and the candle blown out, the birthday girl was told to take a bite out of the cake. As in leaning down and taking a bit bite out of the side of it. They had her do it to each of the cakes before they were sliced. Then the kids formed a line to get their cake. They line up according to height from shortest to tallest and get their cake in that order. Both of those events made me smile.

My photos this week are from the birthday party. One photo is of the birthday girl swinging at one of the piñatas. The small stick they had for hitting them broke, so someone got a huge handle to something like a shovel. There were a few scary moments as kids continued swinging while other kids were running in to try to grab some of the candy that had fallen out. The other photo is of some of the kids waiting in line for their birthday cake and jello.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


My work here is winding down just as the excavations are getting ready to get bigger. I have about a week’s worth of analysis left to do and about 2 weeks in which to complete it, so things are looking good for my getting finished before I am scheduled to leave. Excavations here in Oconahua started on a small scale a few weeks ago, with four men excavating. Hopefully sometime soon the money for the project arrives from the government so that excavations can expand to include many more workers and some more archaeologists.

The site here is known as the Palacio de Ocomo (Ocomo Palace) and consists of four huge platforms arranged in a square with an open area (known as a plaza) inside the square. There are also smaller platforms and foundations found underneath the modern town and in the areas surrounding the town. This site is believed to be more recent than the sites in the area like Los Guachimontones, which used circular arrangements for their big important architecture instead of a square arrangement.
I am not really here to work on this site, but to do the ceramic analysis that I need for my dissertation. Since the house I am living and working in is built on one of the huge platforms, though, I get a chance to visit the excavations several times a day and to help out a bit when needed.

This week’s photos are of the work being done at the Palacio. One is of the workers excavating. They are working on the outer wall of one of the huge platforms. The part in the foreground was excavated and restored last year. It shows three levels of walls, which are thought to be three different versions of the platform. After some time of using the platform, a new outer wall would be built and the platform would be made a bit bigger. The distance from the base of the wall (which is underground) to the top of the dirt pile is about 25 feet, so it is a pretty big platform! The other photo is of a team that came this week to take some readings using a ground penetrating radar. This device sends a signal into the ground and records how it bounces back. Once the results are processed, they can show things like rock walls hidden under the dirt. The orange box is the part that sends (and I think also receives) the signals. The other part has a monitor on it and is connected to the orange box by cables. The operator can see the results that are coming from the radar while the readings are being taken.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Just three more weeks to go until my return to the US. At this point I’m counting down the days. Things have been going pretty well here the last couple of weeks. My work is wrapping up and will be finished on time. Excavations here at Oconahua are underway, which gives me a nice distraction during the day when I want to take a break and also gives me much more company. I’m still living in the house alone, but at least there are a few people around from time to time during the day, so I’m not completely in isolation anymore.

This weekend I had all sorts of adventures. On Friday I went with a friend to a small conference in Michoacan, a neighboring state about a 3-4 hour drive from here. It was nice to meet some archaeologists who are working on other projects and hear about what they are working on. Friday evening I got back to Guadalajara too late to get a bus to Oconahua, so I ended up spending the night at a hostel in the city. The last bus that will get me to Oconahua for the night leaves before 6pm. I had been thinking about returning to Guadalajara the next day anyway, so wasn’t too bad being stranded there. It saved me several hours of travel time and cost me about $10 extra.

The reason I was thinking of coming back was an annual event in Guadalajara called the Feria Internacional del Libro (International Book Festival). It is a huge event with publishers from all over the world setting up booths to show their books and try to make deals with book buyers. There are lots of people making big deals to buy many books, but it is also open to the public. For under $2 anyone can attend for the day and wander through aisle after aisle of booths to look at (and buy) books. There are also things like book signings, talks by authors/illustrators/publishers and cultural performances. There is even a huge room set aside as the kid’s zone where they have games and activities for kids (and bigger people as well). I like to go to the FIL to look for archaeology books that I can’t find easily in the US. Most of the schools in Mexico send books from their presses there to display and sell, so there is a good variety there of scholarly work. Sometimes they are even available at a good discount from list price. This year I didn’t end up getting too much—I got a packet of several older books for about $7.50 and got a few back issues of Arqueologia magazine. It was fun spending a few hours wandering around looking at all the booths and books, as well.

Getting to the festival and back home were an adventure. The central part of the city (where I was staying and where the bus station is) spent much of Saturday slowly closing down the streets for a parade of some “monos gigantes” which I never saw, but assume are some big walking doll costumes or something similar. I just missed what turned out to be the last bus from my area of downtown to the Expo center where the book festival was being held. After waiting nearly an hour for another to show up, I gave up and walked about a mile to another bus route. It turned out that the buses there didn’t exactly go where I wanted, but got within a few blocks. My bus driver was very nice and let me know the best place to get off the bus and gave me directions on how walk the rest of the way there. After the festival, I had to take that same bus route back since most of the other routes going downtown were using alternate routes or just skipping downtown. That left me walking a couple of miles to the bus station, where I thought I was quite fortunate to find out that the very next bus leaving was one of the few each day that go to my town (instead of going to the closest large town and requiring me to wait up to an hour for the next bus to my town). It turned out to not be so fortunate, perhaps. About half way into the trip home, we hit a solid wall of traffic from an accident that had closed the road. We happened to be near a turn-around that could take us to an alternate route. The driver attempted the turn, and the bus died in the middle of it and wouldn’t start again, even with the help of a passenger who was a mechanic. The bus that left Guadalajara 15 minutes after ours came by soon, and we all got on it. It was full before we got on and our bus was full, so we were all crammed in very tight as the bus had to drive backwards for a long time to get to the alternate route and the passengers then had to try to help the bus driver pull out into the road across a couple lanes of heavy traffic since the driver couldn’t see anything because of all the people. The alternate route was some pretty small, windy, and not always paved roads through the countryside. I would have enjoyed seeing the new route if I could have actually had a good view of a window through all the people. After another hour or so we’d finally gotten rid of enough people so that we could almost all have seats, when we met another bus that was disabled and had to take on all its passengers as well. Our poor bus driver (of the second bus) was supposed to end his route at about 6:30 in Etzatlan, but ended up having to take those of us from his first disabled bus pickup to Oconahua and those from the second disabled bus pickup to San Marcos, which I think is the first town in the neighboring state of Nayarit. He got us to Oconahua at about 7:30 and left us at the edge of town to walk the rest of the way. My day was filled with lots of bus delays and rerouting and lots of walking as a result, but I did have a nice time at the FIL and eventually made it home safe and sound.

One photo this week is from the book festival. It shows a tiny part of this huge event. Probably the funniest arrangement of booths was in the “religion” section. On one side of the aisle was a Catholic publisher selling things like calendars, book marks, prayer cards, and lots of books for Catholics. Across from it were Pentagram press with a variety of books about the occult. Next to that booth was one about “futbolismo” or “soccerism.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a photo to capture that fun juxtaposition, so the photo I’m sharing is a more generic one of some other publishers’ booths. My other photo is of some buses and people (including my parents) at the New Bus Station in Guadalajara. I almost always use the Old Bus Station, since it serves the areas and routes that I travel most often while I’m here. It is much more crowded and dirty than the New Bus Station.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Greetings from warm and sunny Oconahua!
This time of year has beautiful weather here in Mexico. This week we’re having highs in the 80s and lows in the 40s and not a drop of rain. Weather-wise, this is probably the best time of year to be here. It will be quite a shock to my system a month from now when I suddenly land in Kentucky in the middle of December.

My work here is going pretty well. I’m nearly finished with the data collection that I came down here to do. Work has begun at the archaeological site that I’m living at, so I’ve been getting to go outside and play in the dirt some, as well. It has been nice to get outside to enjoy the great weather and to do some excavation rather than sitting indoors all day studying the ceramics.

For the last couple of months, I have been giving English lessons to some kids here. I have two students who come regularly—they show up a couple of times a week for lessons and sometimes come by on other days to chat or to have me practice flash cards with them. It has been a lot of fun for me, and they are really learning a lot of new English words and phrases. Their favorite lessons are colors and numbers. They never seem to tire of having me go over the number cards I made or naming the colors for me.

They are teaching me a lot about childhood and education here, as well. I’d never been able to figure out the school schedule here, since I would see kids going to or from school at all sorts of hours. I’d also wondered why it always seemed like half the kids in town weren’t in school on any given day. It turns out that they do half days for the elementary school here. The students (or their parents) get to choose between going to school in the morning or afternoon. So at any given time, at least half the kids in town really aren’t in school. They either attend from about 8:30 to noon or 2:30 to 6:00 five days a week. I was pretty surprised to hear that they go to school so few hours each day. I think when they get to high school age, they go for the full school day like we do in the US. At that age, quite a few of the kids, particularly ones who plan to go on to college, will go to a larger town to go to a prep school instead of attending the local secondary school.

My photos this week are of the kids I’m tutoring and the schools here in Oconahua. The school in the picture is the local elementary school. It is pretty typical of the elementary schools in this part of Mexico. The buildings tend to be one story with windows all along the walls of the classrooms and with doors opening out onto the school’s courtyard area rather than into a hallway as is more typical in the US. Like most buildings here, they don’t have heat or air conditioning. My other pictures are of the two girls I tutor most often. The older girl, Liz, appears at the food stand where we ate lunch the day I took her to Teuchitlan with me to visit the archaeological site there. The younger girl, Anahi, appears in a photo at today’s parade in town. She is the girl with a doll strapped on her back and holding up the banner.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Days of the Dead

Greetings from Etzatlan, where I'm spending a few days in the big city-- or at least the larger town.

Only about 7 weeks remain until my return home. My lab work is going well, and will probably be finished a couple weeks before my scheduled return home. It has turned out to be a very productive trip.

This week was one of the Mexican holidays that people always ask me about-- Day of the Dead. Day of the Dead isn't really just one day. It spans a couple of days at the beginning of November. The focus is on remembering friends and family members who have died. People build altars and put food, drinks, and other things on them for the dead people they want to honor. Some people believe that the souls of the dead come and consume the spiritual essence of the offerings. They also go to the cemeteries to fix up and decorate the graves. Gifts of flowers, alcohol (for the adults), toys (for the kids), and similar things are often left at the graves. In some towns, people even stay overnight in the cemetery and/or have a picnic at the grave.

I didn't really get out to see the Day of the Dead activities this year, so this week I'm sharing a couple of photos from the last time I was hear for the holiday. One photo is of some of the goodies that are available for sale for Day of the Dead. Included are some miniature altars (the little things with green cloth) with miniature offerings, candy skulls, and candy coffins. The other photo was taken at the cemetery in Teuchitlan when the graves were decorated and the families were arriving for the evening. It was really interesting to be in the cemetery when it was so beautifully decorated and when there were hundreds of people in it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Here comes the dry

Greetings from a rapidly drying Oconahua!
Yesterday I was out walking around on top of a giant platform at the archaeological site here and noticed that the plants under my feet were starting to get brown and crunchy. The dry season is truly upon us. As I mentioned before, during the rainy season, which lasts from May or June until October or November, most of the annual rainfall falls. For much of the season it will rain for a while every afternoon or night, which really makes everything lush and green after a few weeks. The dry season, which covers the rest of the months of the year, sees very little rainfall and things get drier and drier until the area resembles a desert. The last of the regular rainfall here this year took place in the last week of September, so we are currently about 3 weeks into this year’s dry season.

My timing of my trip this year won’t let me observe the dramatic changes in Oconahua, since things will still be only about 3 months into dying off when I leave in December. The time to really get to see dramatic changes is when the dry season turns to the rainy season in what are the late spring and early summer month in the US. In 2004 I was here during those months and decided to take weekly photographs of the change from April and May before the rains started through my departure in July. When I left in July, things still weren’t as green as they would be later in the rainy season, but it still gave a really good look at the changes.

This week I’m sharing two of those photos. They were taken from on top of the largest pyramid at Los Guachimontones (the site I worked at in Teuchitlan) and look across part of the site and show the town and lake in the valley below. The picture where everything is shades of brown was taken at the end of the dry season and the picture with all the pretty green grass and trees was taken a few weeks in to the rainy season. The difference is amazing, isn’t it? At the time the site was occupied, things would have looked very different. The site was surrounded by pine forests and the natural springs on the hill hadn’t yet dried up.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Greetings from Oconahua!

I was so busy with my mom’s visit that I didn’t get a chance to post anything last week. We spent the first week of her visit living and working in Oconahua, then went to Guadalajara for the last few days. There were all sorts of interesting things going on in Guadalajara when we were there, and we took advantage of our time there to visit various attractions that one or both of us hadn’t been to before.

One of the interesting things that took place during our stay in Guadalajara was the Virgin of Zapopan’s holy day. This particular Virgin is a small idol that is said to have come from Spain and be made of corn husks. Her home is in the town of Zapopan, which is now a part of the city of Guadalajara. She spends much of the year out visiting other churches in the area, ending up at the Cathedral in downtown Guadalajara. Mom and I went to see her there on Monday, which was the day before her trip back home. The cathedral was full of people wanting to visit her before she made the trip. Most people just walked in and waited in the line to get up to the front to see her, but while we were there one woman was making the trip by walking on her knees. I’d seen that for pilgrimages to see the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City, but never in Guadalajara before. I’ve heard that sometimes people will travel their entire journey on their knees, but I’ve only seen people making the trip across the church yard or up the aisle that way.

On Tuesday morning, there was a big parade to move the Virgin to Zapopan. It is a big deal in Guadalajara—there were estimates that perhaps 2 million people would be lined up along the parade route. She begins her journey at sunrise, so by about 6am the festivities had started with church bells ringing, drums beating, and fire works being shot off. Mom and I didn’t make the trip to see the parade since Mom had to leave for the airport at 7. We did watch part of the parade on TV, though, as we were waiting for a cab to be able to make it through the traffic and closed streets to pick her up.

We did get to see a big parade on Saturday, though. My photos this week are from that parade. It was a parade to kick off the big annual October Festival that takes place in Guadalajara. This isn’t a German-inspired Octoberfest, but a celebration of the culture of Mexico and Jalisco (the state that Guadalajara is in). One photo is of some girls who I guess must represent country girls from the time of the Revolution? They are wearing some typical country costumes and dancing with prop rifles. I can’t imagine going an entire parade dancing in those boots, but there were some folks in the parade in even more improbable footware! The other photo is of some people dressed up in traditional Indian costumes. That’s not to say that it’s how the pre-Hispanic folks actually dressed, but it’s how they are traditionally depicted in modern times. You’ll find dancers dressed like this at in many parades, at touristy locations like the Zocalo in Mexico City, and at archaeological sites on the first day of spring (a traditional day to visit archaeological sites to pick up the good vibrations). Some of the costumes are very beautiful, and it’s fun to listen to the rattles around their ankles as the participants dance.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Party time!

Greetings from Oconahua. I hope everyone had a great feast day for the Angel Michael on Wednesday. We certainly celebrated it in style around here! My mom timed her trip perfectly and arrived in Guadalajara on Tuesday evening. After spending the night there, we headed back to Oconahua to take our naps to get ready for the evening’s fun.

We arrived at the plaza at about 9pm in order to find some food for dinner and find a spot to sit for the evening. Seating is at a premium when there are a few curb areas and a few benches and hundreds of people milling around hoping for a place to rest for a while. We ended up getting the last available curb space with a partial view of the plaza. We dined on treats like tacos, hot dogs, hot cakes, and churros from the various vendors at the festival. We also made a trip up to the church where we got to see the remains of a “carpet” made of colored sawdust that had been created outside the church and saw the crowds of people inside waiting for their turn to approach the town’s patron saint statue for their blessing.

The musical entertainment for the evening was a group of young people performing some banda music followed by a professional banda group to entertain us for the rest of the evening. We spent the evening listening to music and waiting around for the night’s main attraction—the castillo. They were still building this framework tower with fireworks attached to it when we arrived, and it wasn’t set off until 1am. The fireworks are set off right in the plaza, so the crowd occasionally gets to try to dodge stray ones that fly their direction or brush off the embers of ones that have fallen from the sky. It certainly keeps you on its toes! After that, we hit the candy booth to pick up several types of dried fruits and headed home for the night. The party kept on going without us, though. When I woke up at 5:30, there was still music coming from the plaza.

My photos this week are from the festival. One is of my mom eating a hot cake—she got hers with honey on top, while mine had cajeta (caramel sauce). The other photo is of the most impressive part of the castillo lighting. You can’t see it very clearly, but it has text asking for a blessing from the saint, the year, a picture of an angel, and a few other details.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Greetings from Oconahua! Another week here has flown by and I’m now closing in on the mid-way point in my stay here. I’ve finished up working with the artifacts from my excavations and have now moved on to those excavated by some of the other archaeologists who have worked on the project. It is interesting and a bit frustrating. It is interesting to see what others found in their excavations, since I’d already seen all the artifacts from my excavations at least twice before. All the interesting sherds in the bags I’m working with now are new to me. The frustrations come in trying to get the information I need from the excavations (since I didn’t do them myself, I’m not very familiar with where each bag of artifacts came from) and in trying to find the bags I need in the lab. The lab has hundreds of crates, each filled with dozens of bags. Trying to locate the correct crate and bag can be a daunting task at times.

Life here in Oconahua is relatively exciting these days. Last week we had the celebrations from the bicentennial. This week the town’s annual festival began. The towns around here each tend to have a patron saint and there is a big celebration each year around the time of that saint’s feast day. Oconahua’s saint day is on September 29. In the time leading up to the saint’s day the town gets festooned with decorations strung across the main streets and the plaza fills with things like food and beer stands, trampolines (that kids pay to jump around on), and candy vendors. Some are run by local folks and some belong to traveling vendors who go from festival to festival. At several points during the day, the church bells begin to ring and someone shoots off what are basically really big bottle rockets. In the evenings there is live music in the plaza and on some evenings there is a castillo in the plaza. A castillo (what I like to call “flaming tower of death”). Is a metal framework that has a bunch of fireworks strapped to it and sits at ground level. Someone lights the fuse and the fireworks go off for several minutes, often shooting into the crowd gathered around to watch it. I’ve never been hit by one, but I’ve had to duck a few fireworks. I attended every night of the festival (about a week and a half) in Teuchitlan for 2 years in a row when we ran a beer booth there, so I’ve not bothered going to the one here in the pouring rain that we’ve had every night so far. I am planning to attend on the final evening next week, when my mom will be here to go with me.

This week’s photos are of some of the food that I enjoy here in Mexico. One is of a treat I bought on Independence Day last week. It is 3 fruit/root foods together in a cup. It contains the colors of the Mexican flag in the red watermelon, the green tuna layer, and the white jicama layer. Tuna isn’t the fish (that’s “atun” in Spanish), but is the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. Jicama is a crunchy root that reminds me a bit of potato—it is super crunchy, has a mild starchy potato taste, and is slightly sweet. As usually happens with fruits, veggies, and lots of other items you buy around here, this came topped with lime juice, chili peppers, and salt. I passed on the hot sauce that was also an optional topping. The other photo is of two things with names that are almost English—a lonche and a chocomil. The lonche is a sandwich that is grilled and comes in a dense bread roll called a birote around here and a bolillo pretty much everywhere else in Mexico I’ve traveled. My typical lonche order comes with ham, lettuce, tomato, onion, jalapenos, cheese, and cream. Chocomil is a chocolate milk drink made with icy cold milk (often with ice crystals in the milk) and topped with cinnamon. Drinks ordered “to go” around here often come in a plastic bag with a straw in it, as this one does. This is one of my favorite meals here, and I buy one from a lunch stand outside the market nearly every time I’m in Teuchitlan.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Happy birthday, Mexico!

Happy bicentennial! This week, Mexico turned 200 years old. This year is actually a dual centennial—200 years of independence and 100 years since the Revolution of 1910. Some of the larger cities had very elaborate celebrations over the last few days, and even the small towns like the one I live in celebrated the occasion. In the US we treat Cinco de Mayo as the major Mexican holiday and many people seem to think that it is like our 4th of July holiday. In Mexico, the 16 de Septiembre is a much bigger holiday and is the day that celebrates Mexican independence.

In 1810, a group that included Father Miguel Hidalgo was planning a revolt against Spain to take place late in the year. The Spanish learned of the plot and ordered the arrest of Hidalgo. Hidalgo learned of the arrest orders and called his people to mass by ringing the church bells on the night of September 15. At this mass, he rallied his people to fight by giving a famous speech that is known as the Grito (a grito is a yell), saying things like “Viva Mexico!” and “Viva la independencia!” Each year on September 15th at the independence celebrations, people recreate this famous shout. This is usually done in the town plaza after the church bells ring for the 11pm hour. September 16th is the day observed as Independence Day. Celebrations include things like parades and games for children.

This year in Etzatlan, they had bicentennial activities for about a week, including things like concerts and performances by dance groups. Here in Oconahua there were decorations put up in the town plaza, and last weekend had an exposition of old photographs from the town history and live music in the plaza on Saturday night. On the 15th there was live music in the evening and, of course, the Grito at the appropriate time. On the 16th there was a parade. The parade was led by a brass band and mostly consisted of group after group of school children marching with their classes and wearing their school uniforms. Some of the classes went a bit further and dressed in costumes to look like people from the early 1800s.
This week my photos are 3 different groups that did recreations of Hidalgo’s famous Grito. Each group had someone dressed as Hidalgo (wearing a wig with long white hair or with a bald top and long white sides) and carrying a banner with the Virgin of Guadalupe on it. The rest of the groups usually consisted of girls wearing fancy dresses and boys wearing military sorts of suits. A few groups included people dressed as the campesinos (the country people) and carrying torches or weapons like machetes and pitch forks. My favorites were the group of tiny kids who included some boys with big fake sideburns and the group of high schoolers with the girls wearing what looked suspiciously like their fancy dresses from their 15th birthday parties.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rain rain go away

The sun has just gone behind clouds again, but a few minutes ago I was enjoying our first sunshine in about 3 days. Even though we are currently in the middle of the rainy season, the name is a bit misleading. Unlike the solid days of rain you might picture (as I did before I spent a rainy season here), the rainy season around here is just the time of year when nearly all the annual rainfall happens. That rain mostly falls in afternoon showers or overnight, so most of the days are free of rain and bright and sunny. The last time I saw an extended period of rain like this, the remains of a hurricane were passing over Mexico. I suspected that might be the case this time as well, but I didn’t have any way to watch the news to see for sure. There is a TV in one of the bedrooms here at the house, but it didn’t have an antenna. I knew I’d seen one somewhere when I was snooping around the house when I first moved in, and I finally located it yesterday. It was in the fireplace in the lab, of course! So today I caught the news and saw them covering the destruction caused by a hurricane that passed over the country. They were showing all sorts of towns that were completely flooded, so our couple of days of having the streets here turn into rivers doesn’t seem so bad. I was used to that in New Orleans anyway. Hopefully the steady rains are over now. The rainy season will be winding down over the next few weeks, and it should be pretty much over by early October. Then the long dry season begins and lasts until May or June. The very lush landscape that I see now will slowly return to desert-like conditions over the winter and through the spring.
This week I decided to share more photos of Oconahua. One is of the view from the front of my house. It looks over the yard of my across-the-street neighbors and shows a bit of the rugged volcanic mountains just beyond the town. Yes, that’s my laundry drying on the fence—I have to wash my clothes in the kitchen sink and dry them on the fence. The other photo is of the front of my house. The house works well for our purposes and could be a really nice place if someone decided to finish it. I’m not sure what the fate is of the house. It has been purchased by the state and sits on top of the archaeological ruins here. Perhaps it and the others nearby will someday be razed to allow for the reclamation and study of the site.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Greetings from Mexico!
The days keep flying by here with pretty much each the same as the last. I’m working 7 days a week on my data collection, although on the weekends I do let myself take more and longer breaks than during the week. The highlights of my weeks are the 2 trips I get to make to Etzatlan each week to use the internet and buy groceries and the 2 phone calls I make to my husband each week. Those help keep me connected with home and also give me something to look forward to every couple of days. Life here has really gotten into a routine for now, which means I can focus on my work more but that I don’t necessarily have anything new and exciting to write about. I did get a request this week for more info about the ceramics I’m working with, so I’ll share a bit about that this time.
My current project is to collect some very detailed information about each of the thousands of sherds that I’ve selected randomly to be a part of my study. The sherds I’m working with now are the ones that I excavated (or actually that my workers excavated) back in 2003 and 2004. The mostly date from two pretty distinct periods—either from the time that the site was originally built and occupied or from a much later reoccupation. The site was originally occupied in the first few centuries AD and then was reoccupied roughly 1000 years later. Most of the ceramics are very quickly identified as being from one time period or the other since the early folks almost always used white clays for their ceramics and the later folks almost always used red clays for theirs. For each sherd (broken piece of pottery) that I’m studying, I have dozens of pieces of information that I collect ranging from things like the pottery type (a name given to that style of ceramic by the archaeologists) to any damage done to the sherd to the sherd’s weight and dimensions. This is much more detailed than what we would normally do with the sherds, which is mostly just to divide by type and then count how many of each type we have for each area of excavation.
This week’s photos are of one of the ceramic vessels we found in our excavations. It was found in front of one of the platforms mixed in with a lot of stuff that had collapsed off the top of the platform over the centuries. Usually we do not find all the sherds from the ancient pots—in fact, we may only have one or a handful of sherds to represent a small portion of the whole thing. This time, though, we have nearly the whole pot. The type name for this particular pot is Huistla, which is the name of an archaeological site in the region. The sort of pot is is known as a molcajete (mole- cah-HAY-tay). Like this one, most of the Huistla molcajetes we find have lots of incisions inside them. You can see them in the photo as stripes inside the bowl. These bowls often have 3 legs to support them, as well, but this one is just a simple bowl. The theory is that these were used for food preparation tasks (like crushing peppers) like modern molcajetes are.
This is no ordinary molcajete, though. The molcajetes date to the reoccupation of the site, which would have already been collapsed ruins by the time the new occupants arrived. This molcajete was probably an offering that was buried in the collapsed material by the new residents of the site. It was pretty common practice to bury whole pots underneath or near a building as a sort of offering. It was also common to do what archaeologists refer to as “killing” the pots that are in the offering. You can see that this likely happened to this pot because it is complete (though broken) with a “kill hole” in the base where it would have been struck to cause the damage. All this evidence added together makes me believe that this bowl was placed in the ground and intentionally broken as an offering by people who came to occupy the site centuries after it was originally occupied and abandoned. Most of the sherds included in my work are much smaller than the pieces that this bowl is in. The smallest piece of the bowl, which you can see on the left side of it in the overhead shot, is pretty typical of the size of the sherds that I usually see in my work.

Friday, August 27, 2010

August 27, 2010

I’ve now been in Mexico for about a month. The time has gone by pretty quickly and I have just under 4 months left in this trip. Four months seems like forever looking at it from this direction, but it doesn’t seem so much if I can just think of it as repeating the last month four more times. it is funny how time is like that. I’ve been getting a lot of work done here in Oconahua. I am busy collecting data like crazy for my dissertation. During the daylight hours, I mostly work at that. Once the light gets too dim, I switch tasks and do data entry and read/take notes/write things that I need to incorporate into my dissertation. Doing this 7 days a week is starting to make my eyes sore, so I think I’m due for a break sometime soon. Hopefully an opportunity to get away for a day or two presents itself soon.

I spend most of my time alone here in the house, but I do have visitors from time to time. There are a couple of guards (a father and son) who keep an eye on the archaeological site and the house that I’m living in. One of them likes to stop by nearly every day for a little while to chat. Other people come to the house from time to time to tend to the deer or the garden growing here, but they usually don’t talk to me when they are here. Today, however, I had a couple of visitors. I was taking a break in the afternoon when I heard some tapping outside. I looked out the window and saw that there were 2 young girls knocking at my door. It turns out that they were daughters of the guards. The older girl, who is 10, came by for a social call and brought her niece, who is 3, along to visit as well. It was so cute how they just came over and knocked on the door and struck up a conversation. It was also nice to get to talk to children. It is so much easier than talking to adults because kids tend to understand me even when I don’t speak properly and to use words that are more likely to be in my vocabulary. After we discussed our families, our pets, the people that she knows who live in the US, her schooling, and a festival that is coming up next month, I had to send them on their way so I could return to work. The visit was a very nice change in my routine and a great break from my isolation, as well.

This week’s photo is taken from the top of one of the mounds at the archaeological site. It shows the house next to where these girls live, which is nearly identical to theirs from the outside. In the photo, the house is just to the right of the electric pole in the center of the photo. The house is very close to mine, but is very different from the modern cement structure I live in. Their house is the traditional adobe house that I mentioned before is still pretty common in this town. I’m not sure how many rooms they have in their house or how many people live there, but I’m willing to bet that the ratio of people to rooms is greater than what I am used to! The photo also shows you some of the landscape around the town. It really is a beautiful setting during the rainy season when it is all lush and green. It will be interesting to see how it changes as things start to dry up here in another month.

Friday, August 20, 2010

It is a chilly, rainy evening as I sit here to write this blog entry, although when I post it a couple of days from now it will probably be a warm afternoon. We are in the middle of the rainy season here and it rains nearly every night. This keeps the temperatures down. I would guess that the high temperatures reach the high 70s and low 80s most days, with overcast days sometimes staying in the 60s or low 70s. The evenings are starting to get a bit of chill to them, as well. The hottest temperatures of the year come in the late spring months just before the rainy season starts. At that time of year the temperatures can easily top 100 and the lush landscape I am enjoying now turns nearly desert-like. The summer months are usually the downtime for archaeologists around here. With the frequent torrential rains, it becomes difficult and even unsafe to excavate. The lovely walls of dirt that we leave in the afternoon may be a collapsed pile of mush by the time morning arrives. Instead, the archaeologists usually turn to paperwork, writing, and lab work this time of year, all of which can be done from the relative comfort of their houses or labs. The project here at Oconahua isn’t having a lab season this year, so I am all alone in the “lab” (what would be the family room of the house we are using) while doing my work. Assuming the permits from the government and the money arrive on time, there will probably be other archaeologists moving back into the house after the rains stop sometime around early October.
This week I wanted to share a photo with you of something surprising that is in my back yard here—a deer. When I first arrived at the house, I saw what I thought was a statue of a deer standing up in the back yard, but then it disappeared. I thought perhaps it was something that the guards had put up for some sort of joke or target practice and that they had taken it down when they realized someone was going to be living in the house. But then it reappeared later that evening and walked around. It turns out that they captured it somehow and have it tied up to a long rope and living in the yard. It is very cute and is pretty friendly. It appears to have had a cut behind one of its front legs, which may be how it ended up being captured and living in my yard. Several times a day, family members of the guards will stop by to give it food, and it will come out then to greet them. Sadly, I doubt that it is going to be a long-term pet. I imagine that someday soon it will vanish from the yard, and I may be offered a nice meal that includes my friend the deer in it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Greetings from Oconahua!
I’ve lived in this town for over a week now and am slowly getting used to it and life here. It is a much smaller town than Teuchitlan and has much less going on. There are very few shops or places to eat here and the archaeological site gets only a handful of visitors a week while the site in Teuchitlan now often gets hundreds or even thousands a day.

My work is now well under way, with me spending many hours a day staring at broken pieces of pottery and recording information about them. The pottery is anywhere from about 600-2000 years old, depending on which particular piece I’m examining at the time. It sounds like it could be interesting, but I assure you that it is not—at least not after the first hour or so. But this work is what I am here to do and will be occupying the majority of my waking hours until just before Christmas.
My photos this week are both from the town I am now living in. The first is a helpful map of the town. It is painted on the side of the first building that you encounter when entering the town from the highway. As I mentioned before, the town is quite hilly and all the streets are cobblestone. The house I am living in is in the bottom right hand corner of the map. If you look at the map closely, you can see 2 red and black shapes (they are supposed to be pyramids) . The street to the left of them is the one I live on. Follow it to the bottom of the map, and there I am waving at you. The two blue things that look like large rivers are in fact arroyos and are both dry except for during and just after a downpour. There are a few other points of interest on the map. One is the black line to the left of town. That is the highway that connects us to the outside world and is where I go running since it is pretty much the only flat and even surface around. On the far right side of the map there are a couple of rectangles that denote the location of the soccer fields. The map has one labeled as belonging to Oconahua and the other to a neighboring town. The bottom left area of the map has a large rectangular area with little marks in it. Those are crosses and that is the town cemetery. I’ve not made it there for a visit yet, although it is only a couple of blocks from the house. In another 2 months it will be all decorated for the Day of the Dead, so I’ll probably take lots of photos of it then. It was a rather noisy location this weekend because of a funeral. Much like the jazz funerals of New Orleans, the funeral processions here include a live (and noisy) band that accompany the procession to the church and then to the cemetery.

The second photo is looking down the street I live on from the center of town. I live way down at the bottom of the hill. You may have noticed that the house on the right side of the picture is made of adobe. There are quite a few adobe houses here in Oconahua. They are almost completely all gone now in Teuchitlan, but are still pretty common here. A fair number of people here live in small houses with only 1 or 2 rooms and use the yard for activities like cooking, doing laundry, and raising livestock. When I return to the house from my morning run, I can often see women out under a tin roof connected to the back of their house cooking breakfast. The house I’m staying in is pretty basic, but it is a modern mansion compared with what seems to be the typical house here.

Friday, August 6, 2010

I’m now in my 2nd week of my trip. I think I have about 21 weeks left to go. It seems like such a distant time when I’ll be returning home, but there is so much work to be done before then that hopefully it will fly by and be productive. I’ve had a busy week. As I mentioned last week, there was no house for me in Teuchitlán and my only prospect was a pretty miserable one. Since my budget wouldn’t allow me to stay for an extended period in a hotel, I moved into the lab. The workers dug out a cot for me, so I was able to sleep much more comfortably after the first night in the lab, when I slept on a broken loveseat. There was a bathroom and I was able to use a coffee maker to heat water to bathe and wash my hair. Big issues were going to arise soon, though, from the lack of cooking facilities and the lack of a place to wash my clothes. I got to escape the lab and Teuchi for the weekend when I went with a friend to stay at his house in Guadalajara. He and his wife took me around all sorts of place, but unfortunately I was horribly sunburned from a trip to the new museum (that I will discuss in detail below) and I think also a bit sick from the altitude change. These combined to make me pretty ill for part of the weekend. I’m feeling much better now, although I’m starting to lose my poor burnt skin on my neck. If that’s the worst of my illnesses while I’m here, I’ll be thankful and glad that I got it over with early!
I’m happy to report that my living situation seems to have improved as well. As of today (Tuesday), I’m now living in a real house. Yay! It is in a town called Oconahua and located about 30 minutes west of Teuchitlán. There is a major late archaeological site here that some of my friends have been working at. Part of the town has expanded onto the site, so the state bought much of the main area of the site and the houses located on it. One of the houses, located right on one of the main structures at the site is a large and recently constructed house and is the home and lab for the archaeologists when they are working here. Right now it is the rainy season and the house is unused, so I was offered the opportunity to use it to live and work in. Once I figure out how to work the hot water heater, I’ll have nearly everything I need to survive here—including the kitchen and hot water that I was missing in the lab. The town is in a beautiful setting and is quite a bit less developed than Teuchitlán. I’ll be posting some photos from here sometime soon, after I make it through the photos of Teuchitlán that I already have taken to share with you. I’m sort of on the edge of town, but there are two guards who live a few yards away and are very friendly and helpful. It is their job to watch over the site and the house, and they’ve already told me that all I need to do if I need any help is just yell out the window or tap on my gate (that’s the usual way to knock on someone’s door around here—you tap on their gate with your keys). One of them offered his daughters to accompany me when I asked him about where to go shopping in town for the things I need for the house, which I thought was very nice.
Now for my real topic of the week—the site museum. There have been plans in the works for quite a while for there to be a museum constructed for the Guachimontones site. There are already a couple of museums in Teuchitlán. One is at the local government’s Casa de Cultura and contains what I think are mostly artifacts donated by people in town and some copies of things that are in museums in the US but originally came from this area. The other is more of a town history sort of museum with things from the more recent past. This new museum is one that will display artifacts actually uncovered by archaeologists at the site. When I was here 2 years ago they were excavating the land that would be the eventual location of the museum. This winter, there were announcements that the museum would open this spring or summer. Now the plan is for it to open in early December. It is supposed to open sometime this year as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebrations, so it has to open sometime this year if it is to make that goal. Right now it is still an empty shell perched on the hillside about halfway between the town and the site. The entire side of it that faces the town is constructed of glass and gives an amazing view of the town, the lake, and the countryside. It also includes things like a classroom and a theater. The lab will be moved here as well and has a giant window looking in on it so that people will be able to observe archaeologists working in their natural habitat. I’m not sure how thrilling watching someone count pieces of pottery will be, but people seem to enjoy that sort of thing. I always enjoy sharing our work with the public and am really excited about the museum and even about people getting to look in on us working.
We were at the museum on Friday with some folks who were there to help with planning some of the areas of the museum and its grounds as well as developing some flow to tours of the site. It was really interesting stuff, but I didn’t realize we were going to be outside for about FOUR hours, so I got a terrible sunburn on pretty much all exposed skin. My photos this week are not of my spectacularly burnt self, but of the museum. One photo is the museum up close-ish. The other is it as seen from the base of the hill leading up to it and the site. Since we are now about 3 months into the rainy season, the landscape is beautifully lush. I think the museum contrasts nicely with all the greenery and looks nice perched up there on the hillside. In the dry months, when the greenery fades and the area turns into a more desert-like environment, it won’t be as noticeable, I think.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

After about 12 hours of travel on Tuesday, I arrived safely in Teuchitlán. Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding about when I was arriving, so the person who was supposed to meet me and take me to my new home wasn’t here, so I had to spend the night in a cheap hotel in town. The next day I learned that there wasn’t actually a place for me to live—one possibility had been located, but I needed to go check it out and make arrangements to rent it. We went to visit the place, and it is pretty miserable, but it may be my only option. It is a single room above an empty garage located along the highway that passes outside of town. It does have running water and a light bulb, but that is about it. The noise from the highway is loud and constant with cars, trucks, and hundreds of buses a day. The single room in the house faces the highway and the entire front wall from waist-height up is made up of windows, so I would have to cover them to dampen the noise and so people on the road wouldn’t see into my room. The landlord is hesitant to rent it to me, though, because I do not have anyone he considers appropriate to cosign the loan with me. He wants someone with money and who is a life-long resident of the town. Since we couldn’t come to an agreement yesterday, I had to sleep on a painful love seat in the lab for the night. Today we still couldn’t come to an agreement, so I’m sleeping in the lab again but on a cot this time. To be honest, I think I’d rather stay here than rent the other place, so perhaps I will just live in the lab on the cot until something else comes up for rent in the town. The lab does have a shower (but no hot water) and a bathroom, so the only things missing are a place to hang my laundry to dry and a place to cook and store food.

We have changed labs again this year, and the one we have now is by far the best we have had. It is much lighter thanks to the larger space, the white walls, and the presence of several windows and sky lights. There is plenty of room for all our crates of artifacts and our work tables and the atmosphere is much less gloomy than in the previous labs. This lab is toward the western edge of town, where buildings are further apart and more of the lots are used for raising animals than in the middle of town. We are near the new church, so the church bells wake me in the morning when they announce that it is time to get up to attend the 7am mass. The streets around us are all still cobble stone, unlike most near the center of town which are now paved with cement blocks. It is a pretty peaceful area, but not always very quiet. There are frequent noises from the animals around us, from the people and workshops nearby, and from the highway, which is only a block or two away. Some time I want to record the noises in the morning hours to share with you all so you can hear what a town in Mexico sounds like. It is nothing like my nearly silent suburban life in the US!

This week’s photo is taken out one of the windows of our lab. You can see the wet cobblestone street (it is rainy season here) and the horses that live across it. Horses are important here in Teuchitlán. Many people raise them here, and they are still a major mode of transportation. Some of our workers even ride them to work regularly.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Returning to Mexico

I'm getting ready to go back to Mexico for a 5-month stay. This will hopefully be the final data collection trip as I work on my dissertation. As in previous years, I will be living and working in the village of Teuchitlán in Jalisco. This is a town of a few thousand people located about an hour west of Guadajara at the foot of the Tequila Volcano.

During my other trips, I have sent out email updates of my adventures in archaeology in Mexico, but I decided that switching to a blog format would make more sense this time around. I'm hoping to get the chance to go back in and add many of my older messages from years past and share those older photos, but my internet time in Mexico is very limited. So we shall see how it goes! This is my first experience blogging, so hopefully it goes well!

I'll be leaving early Tuesday morning to make the flights from Kentucky to Guadalajara. From the airport, my trip to Teuchitlán consists of a half-hour taxi ride followed by a 2-hour bus ride. If all goes well, I will be at my new home about 12 hours after leaving my home in Kentucky. This year will be a mixture of the old and new for me-- the artifacts I'm analyzing and many of my coworkers are old friends, but the lab building and my home will both be new to me. As always, I'm very nervous and anxious about my husband, family, friends, and all the comforts of home for a very different life. Everything is different in Teuchitlán from the language to the food to the pattern of daily life.