22 May 2011

The Calandar Stone at the Tamtoc Archeological Zone, San Luis Potosi, Mexico and Spatially Related Symbols of Hegemonic Powers in the City, Part I

I am posting this series of blog entries that will later be featured as a commentary in the new Spring volume of Urbana (http://www.tamuk.edu/geo/Urbana/ which is expected to be available in a week or less.

Drawing by Néstor Mora Alvarez, Courtesy of El Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH)-National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico

About a year ago, I visited the newly opened archeological zone of Tamtoc in the State of San Luis Potosí in Mexico. I was impressed by many things at this site, but particularly by a carved stone relief near the spring at the edge of the river, which defines the perimeter of the settlement. The relief which is known as el monolito de Tamtoc (the monolith of Tamtoc) or la Piedra Calendárica de Tamtoc--Monumento 32 (the Calendar Stone of Tamtoc, Monument 32—the official title) which was recently excavated (February 2005) represents a significant find on multiple levels. The featured drawing is a detailed drawing by Néstor Mora Alvarez of the relief of the Stone Calendar (Monument 32) which brings more clarity to its carvings than a photograph of the object. I would like to use the symbols and setting of this relief as a springboard for a broader discussion of various elements of urbanism.

The relief monument is dated from 1150 to 700 B.C.E. and is linked with the Olmec culture (previously thought to be located exclusively in lower Mexico) and not the Huasteca culture (the culture associated with much later settlements at Tamtoc); changing dramatically the previous commonly perceived geographical extent of the Olmec. The central figure represents a sacrificial priest (woman/man, but predominately female with a jaguar face or mask—probably indicative of a shaman as an intermediator of the underworld thus the jaguar mask), who is surrounded on both sides by two decapitated women from which blood or water stream from them, who appear to be floating or in a transitory state. There are 13 streams from the figures, representing a 13 month calendar. The figures are standing on skulls, presumed to be a reference to the cycle of life and death. The birds in the center represent the four corners of the earth. The symbols found in this relief are archetypical ones of life (blood and water), death, sacrifice, spiritual intermediation and transcendence, which are found in Mayan religions, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, and are potent, but also volatile metaphors which rest on a hierarchical authority--both spiritual and earthly. The monument being found near a main spring and related hydraulic works for irrigation at Tamtoc, presumably built by the Olmec, is not inconsequential but essential to the establishment and maintenance of power by the leaders of the village. It can be presumed that the leaders were fully aware of the audacious nature of this relief, its possible impact on the villagers and apparently felt a need to solidify their control over the populous with a daring statement.

To Be Continued

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