Tag Archives: archeology

Circular temple to god of wind uncovered in Mexico City

Working at the site of a demolished supermarket, archaeologists dug 10 feet down to find a temple built more than 650 years ago, researchers said this week.

The circular platform, about 36 feet in diameter and four feet tall, now sits in the shadow of a shopping mall under construction. The site is believed to have been built to worship the god of wind, Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl, and the plans to preserve it and make it visible to the public with a large viewing window.

What archaeologists initially found below the old supermarket — shards of pottery and human remains — was expected, said Pedro Francisco Sanchez Nava, national archaeology coordinator for Mexico’s National Anthropology and History Institute.

But deeper down they were surprised to find the temple, which offers another example of how the Mexica-Tlatelolca people worshipped one of their principal deities, Sanchez said. Offerings found included an infant with no signs of trauma, bird bones, obsidian, maguey cactus spines and ceramic figurines of monkeys and duck bills.

The majority of the temple’s original white stucco remains intact. Archaeologist Salvador Guilliem said similar structures, round on three sides and with a rectangular platform on the fourth, have been found before, including in the same area.

The temple lies within the perimeter of a large ceremonial site in the capital’s Tlatelolco neighborhood, though much of that perimeter is invisible, covered by an urban landscape.

Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, researcher emeritus, said modern day Mexico City covers several different pre-Hispanic cities, including Tlatelolco and its rival Tenochtitlan.

Tenochtitlan was a center of political power while Tlatelolco dedicated itself to commerce, with an important market that was noted even by Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes. Eventually Tenochtitlan took control of Tlatelolco.

When the Spanish and their indigenous allies began conquering Tenochtitlan, residents of that city withdrew to Tlatelolco to continue the fight and Tlatelolco became the last site of resistance against the Spanish in the area.

The site of the recently uncovered temple is just yards away from where Mexican soldiers massacred protesting students in 1968.

Is the birthplace of ‘Uncle Tom’ in a Maryland hayfield?

The archaeological finds seem ordinary at first. A rusted belt buckle, shards of broken pottery and glass, remnants of an old clay pipe.

But in this detritus of lives lived more than 200 years ago on a southern Maryland farm known as La Grange, researchers in Charles County believe they have uncovered the birthplace of a key figure in African American history.

Josiah Henson is not a household name, but the autobiography the former slave published in 1849 provided integral source material — and some say inspired the title character — for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” published three years later. Stowe’s book, the most popular novel of the 19th century and one that has been translated into more languages than any other book besides the Bible, is credited with helping anti-slavery forces gain support for their cause in the years leading to the Civil War.

In his telling, Henson describes being born on a farm belonging to “Francis N” near Port Tobacco, Maryland, and he later relates the story of his mother being brutally attacked by an overseer. When his father sought revenge for the attack, he was punished with 100 lashes and had his right ear cut off. His father was then sold to another slave owner.

Julia King, a professor of anthropology at nearby St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said it took months of scrutinizing old documents and several weeks of digs at the 7-acre property to determine that this was indeed where Henson was born and lived for the first eight or nine years of his life.

She admits the evidence is not definitive.

“We’re not going to find a piece of ceramic that says ‘Josiah Henson was born here,’” King s as she led a tour of the excavation site. But she and others have discovered plenty of convincing clues, more than enough, she says, to make the case that this is Henson’s birthplace.

Located on the winding road between Port Tobacco and La Plata, the grand house built in the late 18th century by Francis Newman still stands on the property. The slave quarters are long gone, but after mapping out the land and taking shovel samples every 25 feet or so, King and her team believe they have located the site of the former structures. It is there, with just a few sample digs, that they have uncovered a trove of items dating to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They expect to find many more in the weeks ahead as the project continues.

King has spent her career as an anthropologist and says she doesn’t often get emotional about artifacts that she and her team unearth. This time, however, was different. She had just watched the remake of “Roots” when the digging portion of the project began. The realization that the miniseries was set at about the same time that Henson would have been enslaved hit her hard.

“I was really just overwhelmed with emotion,” King said. “And I was really just grateful that I had the opportunity to get this bigger story out.”

In his book, Henson tells of how his family was separated and he and his mother were then sold to an owner in Montgomery County, where a park now bears his name. He later tried to buy his way out of slavery but was cheated out of money by his former owner. Finally, in 1830, he escaped from a slave owner in Kentucky and made his way to freedom in Canada, where he founded a settlement for former slaves.

Henson’s story also is an inspiration for Janice Wilson, president of the Charles County NAACP, who says she wants to make sure others in the community learn more about him.

“He’s very much a part of American history, and we know that our history over the years has been denied or not really taught in history books,” she said. “It’s a proud moment here for African Americans in Charles County to know that someone with the same blood running through our veins was born here and was such a significant figure.”

What happens next to this site is unclear. The area believed to be the location of the former slave quarters is in a rolling hayfield lined by giant pine trees. King says that a great first step would be a historical marker to alert passersby to its importance. Perhaps more ambitiously, she’s trying to persuade the local high school to create a “Hamilton”-like musical based on Henson’s life.

“I just want to make sure everyone knows who he is and where he lived,” King says.

An AP member exchange.

Campus life: Remains of 18th century brewery found at College of William and Mary

College students have always had a taste for beer, and archaeologists have uncovered new evidence at the College of William and Mary to prove it.

The remains of what is likely an 18th century on-campus brewery were discovered just outside of the nation’s oldest college building when campus officials were looking to widen a sidewalk.

School officials say the discovery near the Wren Building will allow them to tell a broader story about campus life in the Colonial era that involved the interaction of slaves, Native Americans, faculty and students.

“This is exactly what we want,” said Susan Kern, executive director of the college’s historic campus. “It’s a marvelous find.”

Records have long indicated that the college had slaves who sold the school hops that slaves had grown on a nearby plantation. It wasn’t always clear, however, exactly where that brewing was taking place after the initial campus building burned down in 1705. Based upon cannon debris found at the site, officials believe the brewery they’ve found only existed until the Revolutionary War.

If known about by previous archaeologists, the brewery was never included in historical records or artist renderings. Instead, attention was generally focused on the main historic buildings like the Wren, which was built sometime between 1695 and 1700 and housed students and faculty, a kitchen and also served as a classroom space.

After it was gutted by fire, the Wren Building was rebuilt in 1716 and debris from its construction was placed in a large pit near the building site. Sometime after that – likely in the 1720s, although the exact date isn’t known – archaeologists believe the school built a small brewery right next to that trash pit. It would’ve provided beer for the few dozen students and faculty who were there during the Colonial era.

The brewery site itself isn’t large, with the brick outlines measuring 18 feet by 20 feet. A small addition measuring 18 feet by eight feet was added at some other point in time. The building’s remains were found only about a foot underneath the surface in a heavily trafficked area of campus near Colonial Williamsburg where students and tourists have been snapping photos of the dig site.

Archaeologists wrapped up the intensive excavation work on the site Friday, and will now turn to laboratories to analyze everything they’ve found.

One of the things they’ll be looking for is pollen residue, which would help prove that hops were in the area.

“Hops are flowers, essentially, and they should have pollen,” said Andy Edwards, lead archaeologist on the dig. “If they’re around, we should get their signature and that’ll help with the case.”

Other evidence strongly points to the building being a brewery, he said. In the middle of building’s outline is a fire pit, which he believes was used to boil water in a kettle used for the beer. The pit didn’t have bricks for a chimney base as would be expected in a home or kitchens and the dimensions of the building’s outline suggest it’s too large to be a smokehouse.

Edwards’ team also found a faucet, which is what would be used for a beer tap. Edwards said that for a brewery, the building was cramped. He said nobody would’ve been drinking beer at the brewery itself and that the beer wouldn’t have been very strong.

“Beer was beer. It was small beer, which is likely what they’re brewing. Small beer just means it were second or third brew and less alcoholic, like an ale today,” he said.