Our field season has begun, so I would like to introduce the project to you in this post. I'll continue to post through the week bringing you up to date on our progress.
This project, formally titled "Household spaces and everyday practices at Postclassic Xaltocan, Mexico," is designed to full the requirements for a dissertation in the anthropology department at Northwestern University. Put simply, I want to see how commoners living at Xaltocan changed their everyday lives when they were incorporated into the Aztec empire. A little history about Xaltocan:
Xaltocan is an archaeological site and modern town in the northern Valley of Mexico. It was formerly a human-made island in Lake Xaltocan. The lakes in the Basin of Mexico were drained in colonial and modern times, so Xaltocan is no longer an island.
The site was founded at about 950 A.D., and grew to become an important regional center. In 1250 Xaltocan entered into a war with its neighbor Cuauhtitlan. In 1395 Xaltocan was defeated by Cuauhtitlan and Cuauhtitlan's ally, Azcapotzalco. Colonial documents report that residents of Xaltocan quickly fled when they were conquered, and moved to Meztitlan, Otumba, and Tlaxcala. In 1428, with the formation of the Aztec Triple Alliance (commonly called the Aztec Empire), Xaltocan fell under Aztec domination. Colonial documents report that the site was then resettled by the Aztec ruler with tribute payers from elsewhere in the empire. Residents of Xaltocan paid tribute to the Aztecs until the Spanish conquest.
My project will compare houses dating to the period of warfare with Cuauhtitlan (roughly 1250-1400) with those dating to the period of the Aztec empire (1400-1521) in order to look for changes in household life. We will also test the account that the site was completely abandoned when it was conquered. The excavations we have just begun are focused on an area in the southeastern edge of the site, where two small mounds are located.
Here is a photograph of the two mounds, taken from the north, looking south. Mound 122 is in the foreground, Mound 124 in the background.
Surface survey and a test pit on Mound 124 suggest that there are houses dating to both before and after Xaltocan's incorporation into the Aztec empire, so we are excavating here.
In order to locate the houses a detailed topographic map was made and a study using geophysical remote sensing techniques (magnetrometry, electrical resistivity, and ground penetrating radar) was undertaken last week. This project was made possible by a collaboration with the Laboratory for Archaeological Prospection at the Institute for Anthropological Investigations at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. I'll post about this study next time.