UCCESSFUL ARCHAEOLOGISTS HAVE UNENDING PATIENCE, AN OPEN MIND, AN EYE FOR DETAIL, AND A DEFT TOUCH. THEY LEARN ALL OF THIS BY DOING THE WORK. TO THE UNTRAINED EYE, SOIL IS SOIL. BUT AN ARCHAEOLOGIST WITH A SPRAY BOTTLE AND A TRACK HISTORY IN THE TRENCHES WILL SPY THE BARELY DISCERNABLE OUTLINE OF A BURIAL PIT OR THE TRACINGS OF A WALL IN THAT DRY DUST. “You need to be in the dirt to see it,” says anthropology professor Kristin De Lucia. So, last summer, De Lucia took Class of 2019 members Emily Kahn, Cameron Pauly, Hannah Post, and Audrey Swift to the village of San Miguel Xaltocan, just north of Mexico City. She put them in the dirt of a once-thriving agricultural community. De Lucia is no stranger to San Miguel Xaltocan. She began digging there as a grad student and has continued since joining the Colgate faculty in 2016, using funds from the National Science Foundation and Colgate. Pauly, Post, and Swift are anthropology majors — archaeologists in training. They started the project as a scholarly job shadow. Kahn, a history major and museum studies minor, joined up to learn the origins of the art works she hopes someday to curate. The students worked alongside De Lucia, codirector Enrique Rodríguez-Alegría and other faculty members from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, and locals outside the Iglesia De San Miguel Xaltocan. Twine defined the 6- x 4-meter trench in the yard. They swept aside layers of soil, 10 centimeters per stratum. After each layer, work paused and the students measured the diagonal of the rectangle to ensure that the walls remained parallel. They sifted and screened to reveal shards of pottery, jawbones of faithful dogs, walls of adobe brick, and the bodies of long-dead villagers. Meanwhile, the grackles sang along from the limbs of the old acacia tree, its broad canopy blocking out the hot Mexican sunshine. Traditionally, where you see a Colonial-era church aboveground in Mexico, you would expect to find a precolonial temple underground. The massive stones of an indigenous pyramid provided ready-made foundations for Catholic structures imposed on the population by their conquerors. Layer by layer, De Lucia and the students have turned back time, and although the churchyard in San Miguel Xaltocan has yielded up any number of pottery shards and pet teeth, it does not provide evidence of such a temple. De Lucia has uncovered a mystery. Why did Spanish invaders place the iglesia on this spot if not to take advantage of sturdy masonry? The question will keep her busy as she continues her research in Xaltocan next summer — and as she analyzes the team’s other finds, detailed here. Top right: Cameron Pauly ’19 sifts for an artifact. Bottom right: Hannah Post ’19 takes notes in preparation for exploring level 13.
There are multiple Xaltocans in Mexico. San Miguel Xaltocan — the original — is approximately 50 kilometers northeast of Mexico City.
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Published on Nov 1, 2017