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Mexpert's Blog

Travel news and information on Mexico from Mexico.

Category Archives: Archaeology

Standing tall: this six-foot pair of feet served as a column base in pre-Hispanic Mexico

Children of the Plumed Serpent, a major exhibit of pre-Hispanic artifacts, opened this week in Los Angeles. More than five centuries old, the 200 pieces on show are on loan from collections around the world, including the UK, Austria, Canada, Germany, the US and Mexico.

Among the prized works are the Nutall Codice, which may have been among the first batch of gifts Hernan Cortez shipped to Spain’s King Carlos V in the 16th century as proof of the marvels of the New World; it was borrowed from London’s British Museum. Another featured relic is also the show’s largest: a six-foot-tall (1.8 meters) column base in the shape of the feet of an Atlante, or giant; borrowed from the museum at Tula, in central Mexico.

Made of jade, turquoise, gold, seashells, pearls and other materials, these objects depict the way various cultures in Mexico, including the Maya, Toltec, Zapotec, Mixtec and Nahua, venerated the Plumed Serpent god, Quetzalcoatl. The show will travel to Dallas before arriving in Mexico towards the end of 2012.


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Plazuelas, near Penjamo, Guanajuato

What is a pocket planetarium? How important was astronomy to Mexico’s pre-Columbian civilizations? And why do galaxies belch? You’ll find the answer to these and other cosmological quandaries at Plazuelas this Friday night, when the grounds around the archaeological site in southwest Guanajuato state host a gathering of professional astronomers and avid stargazers.

Organizers expect between 1,500 and 2,000 people to attend this first ever sky-watching event at Plazuelas, located 12.5 km/7.7 mi from Penjamo, a town known for its rugged sierra landscape and outdoor life. (The site was chosen for its ideal stargazing conditions, so disregard the clouds in the photo above, they’re just there for dramatic effect.) There’ll be telescopes to observe Venus, Jupiter, and Orion and the Great Nebula, among other planets and constellations, as well as workshops and talks by experts.

If you go, dress warmly and take a lantern, if you have one. For more information about the event, Los caminos del cielo: el dia de la creacion, or Heavenly trails: the day of creation (astronomers are poets, too), call 01 473 102 2700, ext. 105, or email:

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Remnants of what is believed to have been the Yale, Harvard or Princeton of the great Aztec empire have been turned into an on-site museum in Mexico City’s Historic Center. The discovery of the Calmecac — where sons of the Aztec ruling class studied and were groomed for high office — is yet another reminder that hundreds of years of pre-Hispanic civilization lie buried beneath the capital.

The small underground museum is built around a raised platform that was once part of a much larger courtyard at the Aztec school for the elite. On display around the platform are 88 artifacts unearthed during the dig, which date from pre-Hispanic, colonial and modern times. Among the prized relics are two clay sculptures about six feet tall, in the form of a snail shell that’s been cut down the middle. The snail designs are considered iconic of pre-Hispanic architecture and descriptions of the Calmecac in codices suggest that a string of similar sculptures formed the cresting along the top of the building.

“Many factors indicate that this was the Calmecac,” said leading archaeologist Raul Barrera during a recent tour of the museum, “including its location on the northwest corner of the sacred great plaza of Tenochtitlan.” The platform and relics were unearthed by accident during excavation work begun in 2006 to expand the garage under Spain’s Cultural Center and the rest, as they say, is history.

  • Calmecac Museo de Sitio del Centro Cultural de España en Mexico
  • Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 11 am to 5 pm, Sundays to 3 pm
  • Free admission

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2011 was one of the busiest years ever for archaeology in Mexico, as my backlog of press releases from the National Institute of Anthropology and History clearly shows. Archaeologists uncovered amazing finds at nearly a dozen sites around the country, including Chihuahua, Durango, Morelos, Zacatecas, Tabasco, Yucatan, Chiapas, Quintana Roo and Mexico City (plus new sites were opened to the public). Top among these discoveries are a pair of ancient stone carvings of POWs that archaeologists found buried just south of the Ball Court at Tonina, in Chiapas, an archaeological site already famous for its intricate and well-preserved 3D murals. Kneeling with their hands tied behind their backs, the two statues, dubbed in Spanish the “Warriors of Copan,” are believed to represent captives taken in battle against the kingdom of Copan (in Honduras).

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Guanajuato went all out in 2010 to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial, putting together a spectacular wide-ranging expo that showcased Mexico’s history as well as its people, natural resources, art and industry. Each museum-worthy pavilion was not only captivating but also scheduled to close at the end of the year, as festivities came to an end. But all good performances deserve an encore, so officials announced this week that the venue will re-open October 15 as a permanent attraction.

“Thanks to the millions of visitors who requested that the Guanajuato Bicentennial Expo continue, the project has evolved into the Guanajuato Bicentennial Park, with the same goal, providing education, culture and entertainment…,” said Sergio Enrique Rodríguez Herrera, the state’s tourism development secretary. In addition to featuring the best of the expo, the park offers new exhibitions, such as Cinema and Revolution (Cine y Revolucion); Eternal Life (Vida eterna), displaying the latest archaeological finds from west Mexico; and Soulful Hands (Con el Alma en las Manos), showing the works of Guanajuato’s master craftsmen. To read more about the original expo, you can check Travelmex’s archived blog entries.

  • Guanajuato Bicentennial Park
  • Silao-Guanajuato Hwy, km 3.8, Silao, Guanajuato
  • T. (472) 723 8000;
  • Hours: Tue to Sun, 10 am to 8 pm
  • Admission: 25 pesos adults, 10 pesos children; free Wed


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Oaxaca’s famed ruins of Monte Alban became the first archaeological site in Mexico to offer wheelchair access with the recent installation of a solar-powered elevator and access ramp in the east corner of the North Platform, providing access to the main plaza. According to site director Miguel Angel Cruz Gonzalez, more access ramps are planned as well as greater accessibility for the visually impaired. Officials hope the new facilities will serve as a model for archaeological sites throughout the country. Located just 5 miles from Oaxaca City, Monte Alban is home to the legendary Tomb 7, whose spectacular gold burial offerings can be seen at Oaxaca’s Santo Domingo complex.

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Inventors of the original smiley face – ancient clay figures beaming from ear to ear (not the serious gent to our left) – Mexico’s Gulf Coast civilizations are showcased in a major exhibit opening this coming weekend in the port city of Veracruz.

Two years in the making, Veracruz: Ancient Cultures of the Gulf explores the origins of gulf society by bringing together more than 200 artifacts from the region’s four pre-Hispanic cultures: Olmeca, Huasteca, Totonaca and Remojadas. Dating from 1200 BC to 1500 AD, the pieces were borrowed from regional museums scattered across the gulf, from Tampico Alto to Cordoba, El Naranjo, Tuxpan, El Tajin, Palmillas, Santiago Tuxtla, Boca de Rio and Filobobos.

In addition to the smiling faces, known here as caritas sonrientes, the show includes a fascinating look at the different ways each culture depicted the shape of the skull. Says archaeologist David Morales, “those belonging to the Huastec are elongated, while the wider ones belong to the Remojadas, and there are those with deformations, which was a custom among the Olmec.”

Relics of the ancient ball game are also on show, says Morales, since it was in Veracruz that both the rubber ball and the game were created. The Totonac are credited with devising the ritual sport, in which players try to bounce a rubber ball through a stone hoop using just their hips. They also built the unusual Pyramid of the Niches, the star attraction at the most famous archaeological site in the gulf, El Tajin.

In other news from Veracruz:

• The International Afrocaribbean Festival, taking place in the port city from August 11 to 14, will celebrate the state’s African heritage with concerts (guaguanco, reggae, rumba, calypso, soca, ska), a food festival, talks on African influences on gulf culture, and more.

• Mexican hotel operator Grupo Posadas has announced it has begun building its second budget hotel in the state capital of Xalapa, the 144-room One Xalapa, scheduled to open in March 2012 next door to the Fiesta Inn.

  • What: Veracruz: Antiguas culturas del Golfo
  • When: From August until end of October, 2011
  • Where: Instituto Veracruzano de la Cultura, Calle Francisco Canal, corner of Zaragoza, Historic Center, Veracruz
  • Hours: 9 am to 7 pm daily; free admission


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