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Cities beneath our feet

Ed Fesler

Poking around an archaeological site that's still being dug out is fun. It was my first experience. Five friends and I had the further pleasure of having it all to ourselves while we were there. Work had been suspended for a few weeks and only a watchman and his grandson were on the premises. No guides were offering their services, no vendors were waiting to grab customers as they came and went..

Lately, the discoveries have been written about in the local newspapers lately. The Internet, adding more information with scholarly papers by archeologists, provided incentive to make the trip. One of our group has made a hobby for 20 years of the cultures of ancient Mexico and could show us the differences as we went along.

The watchman had time to talk and answer questions - as did the young man in charge of the small but excellent museum of artefacts in town. This fellow was not an archaeologist, but had absorbed a lot of information from them. Although we were a small group, he also had the time to show us a half-hour film by the lead archaeologist, Phil Weigand. Unusual were the clay figures showing crowds of people going about their business 2000 year ago. (As of now, there is no charge for visiting anything.)

It's an important archaeological site because it proves that while other ancient peoples were erecting wonderful monuments and societies in eastern Mexico, the westerners were no slouches and weren't too far behind, if at all. Previously it was believed the westerners were hardly out of the Neanderthal stage of development. A corollary is to accept the fact that the region was more densely populated than formerly believed.

It's now proved that the ancient westerners had their own religion, cities, different burial practices, different languages, and far different pyramids, round instead of square - which is what these excavations are all about. Since 1999 the Mexican government has recognized them as a unique culture. Where did they come from? DNA places all Indians of America in Northern Siberia before 13,000 years ago.

The site is easy to get to except for the last mile. Thirty miles west of Guadalajara, with good roads to the pueblo of Teuchitlan, it would appear a breeze. But the last mile up a steep rocky trail is to be attempted only by a four-by-four, especially if the rocks are slick with rain.

With 250,000 archaeological sites - many of them mapped by the Spaniards shortly after the Conquest - one almost stumbles over ruins, especially in the better-watered southern portion of Mexico. There are buildings under Guadalajara and its principal suburbs. Ruins are visible from the Periferico. So it was hardly a surprise recently when a local TV station panned their camera over a large bare field 5 miles from Guadalajara and said there was a large buried city underneath; a great local archaeologist was along to confirm it.

With so many cities under their feet, it's no wonder that Mexicans put up finest archaeolgical museum in Mexico City.

Published or Updated on: October 9, 2008 by Ed Fesler © 2008
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