Cascade Park

Cascade Park

Thursday, February 7, 2019

A New Archaeological Site

There was one more place outside of Tehuacán that I wanted to see… a new archaeological site which was only opened to the public last year.  It is often referred to as "Viejo Tehuacán" (Old Tehuacán), but its real name, in the language of the Popoloca tribe who lived there, was Ndachjian.  From the year 900 it was the most important religious and political center of the Valley of Tehuacán.

The ruins are located at the top of a hill overlooking present-day Tehuacán.  It was most likely inhabited by the elite of the Popoloca tribe while the peasants lived and farmed in the valley below.  The Popolocas were conquered by the Aztecs, but the site continued to be occupied until the Spanish conquest.

It was already four o'clock in the afternoon when we arrived, and the site closes at five.  We walked at a quick pace to try to see all of the ruins scattered across the hilltop.  The signage did not give much information, so we were left to conjecture about what we were seeing.

After passing some unimpressive remnants of structures, we came to a larger cluster of ruins around what appeared to be a temple.  The remains of columns suggest that the temple was surrounded by a colonnade.

Nearby were the foundations of what we assume was a residence.  We think that the plaster on top of the foundations is there to give us an idea of what the walls would have looked like.  It appeared that the base was built of stone but that adobe was used for the rest of the structure.  That might explain why so little is left of these buildings.

We then came to a complex of ruins built around the main temple of the site.  This was the most impressive area.

It wasn't until I googled Ndachjian afterwards that I found out that only one month ago archaeologists made a big discovery here.  At one of the structures facing the main temple (a structure that I did not photograph), they found images of the god Xipe Totec.  Xipe Totec was a fertility god that was worshipped by many of the tribes of central Mexico.  However, this was the first time that archaeologists have found a temple dedicated solely him.

XipeTotec, was known as the "Lord of the Flayed Skin".  According to Mesoamerican mythology he cut the skin from his body to give nourishment to humanity.   Human sacrifices in his honor were especially grisly.  The victim had his skin removed, and one of the priests would then wear the skin as a symbol of regeneration.

After nearly an hour of exploring the ruins, we returned to the new museum at the entrance to the site.  Although they were about to close, they allowed us to quickly view the collection.  

The recently discovered finds are not on display yet, but there was a carving of Xipe Totec that has been uncovered earlier.   The god is either portrayed without skin, or, in this case, wearing the skin of a sacrificial victim.

Some of the later sculptures show definite Aztec influence.  For example, this statue of a goddess, with her necklace of human hearts and skull, is very reminiscent of the famous statue of the Aztec goddess Coatlicue in the National Anthropology Museum.

These painted, clay images are more typical of the Popoloca culture.

Excavation at this site continues.  It would be interesting to return to Ndachjian in a few years and see what else has been uncovered.

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