Thursday, July 21, 2011

What happened to the people of Calixtlahuaca after the Spanish conquest?

Most Aztec-period cities and towns continued on as Spanish-colonial cities after the Spanish conquest of 1521. From Mexico City to Cuernavaca to Xochimilco to Texcoco, and many others, these towns were settled by Spaniards (sometimes only a few, sometimes many).. Christian churches were built and the towns flourished in the Colonial economy and on into modern times, where they still exist today.

But not Calixtlahuaca. This Matlatzinca city went from a populated urban center and political capital to an abandoned ruin within a few decades after the Spanish conquest. The city of Toluca, on the other hand, was either nothing or a small village in pre-Spanish times -- no credible archaeological site has been found for pre-Spanish Tollocan. But by the mid-1500s Toluca had a large Franciscan church and convent, and the city went on to become capital of the state of Mexico, and the country's fourth major industrial center today.

We know that the occupation of at least some of the houses at Calixtlahuaca continued for a couple of decades after 1521, because we find ceramic figurines with Spaniards in Spanish dress and poses (see photo). These are in the final occupation layers of the site. But we don't think the occupation continued much beyond a few decades, because we did not find colonial middens with cow and horse bones, glazed ceramics, iron nails, etc. This lack of 16th century colonial debris is not a definitive indication of abandonment, however. In the Teotihuacan Valley, Tom Charlton reported years ago that rural Aztec villages continued functioning for up to a century after 1521 without obvious colonial material remains like these. But Calixtlahuaca was not a rural village - it was the most powerful capital between Tenochtitlan and the Tarascan Empire. So if it HAD continued to be occupied, we would expect to find things like: (1) a sixteenth century church; (2) these kinds of Spanish colonial artifacts.

So, what happened? Most likely, the residents of the city were forcibly moved into Toluca. The Spanish authorities instituted a practiced called "congregación" in which they moved native peoples into towns and cities (the better to control them, to con vert them, and to tax them). Many of the congregaciones left evidence in Spanish official archives, but any documents describing a congregación to Toluca have unfortunately not survived (Jarquin 1994).

But the abandonment of Calixtlahuaca is likely, given that in 1561, the Spanish crown granted land to found the village of San Francisco Calixtlahuaca, which was the origin of the modern town of the same name. I looked at the official decree today in the Archivo General Agrario in Mexico City. The text is accompanied by a crude map, showing the lands granted to the new town. Not being a paleographer, I had trouble reading the sixteenth century handwriting. There is a brief description in a catalog of the archive, however (Olmedo 1998:84). If the residents of Calixtlahuaca had kept living at the site, or if they had moved down off the hill to the site of the historical town, one would not think that the crown would issue a decree founding the town.

This area was part of the "Marquesado del Valle" estate of the conqueror Hernando Cortés. Soon after 1521 he started raising cattle and pigs in the vicinity of Calixtlahuaca, and the new town in 1561 was probably populated by his employees or subjects.

The main church in San Francisco Calixtlahuaca today dates to the nineteenth century. But the small church at the cemetery, just outside of town, is much older. Perhaps this was the main church from the sixteenth century, or perhaps an older church was torn down to build the modern one. The cemetery church has a fascinating carved stone relief embedded in its wall. This drawing is by Hanns Prem from 1970 (see Prem 1980).. The relief shows the Christian date at top "1563 año", and the date for that year in the Aztec calendar at the bottom (6 Reed). We have no idea whether this relief is from the village or from another place entirely. It would be fascinating if 2years after the founding of the new colonial town, someone put up a carving in both the Spanish and Aztec calendars. By the 1700s, there were at least some Nahuatl speakers in San Francisco Calixtlahuaca, as evidenced by a will published by Caterina Pizzigoni (2007).

This model is still somewhat speculative. We would love to have more data on what happened to all those people in the early to mid sixteenth century. According to published catalog, the Archivo General Agrario supposedly has another map and document from San Francisco Calixtlahuaca, from 1575 (Esparza et al. 2000:160-161), but they could not find it at the archive today (even when I showed them the published catalog entry). Maybe we will find additional sixteenth century documentation. But for now, the outline sketched above makes sense out of both the archaeological and the historical data.

Two years ago, the newspaper Milenio published a nice article on Calixtlahuaca and our project. It was called "Calixtlahuaca: La nostalgia del poder," referring to the fact that the positions of Calixtlahuaca and Toluca were reversed during the colonial period. Before 1521, Calixtlahuaca was a big capital city and Tollocan (if it existed at all) was a small village. Today, Toluca is the state capital, and Calixtlahuaca just a village. But that village has some great ruins (our site!) and the big city has none.

Source from :

For more interesting topics related to archaeology, visit archaeology excavations.

No comments: