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.