Monday, July 9, 2018

This Totonac concrete in Mexico is at least 1200 years old!

This Totonac concrete in Mexico is at least 1200 years old!

Knowledge of concrete could plausibly have made it into Mexico from the roman world, if not the precise recipe.  After that it was a case of local experimentation until you had a satisfactory product.

Attapulgite is a form of fuller's earth and is readily available from the south East USA from which they got their blue mineral as well.  I suspect it to be available locally as well.  It is a form of clay which narrows down were you look.
Recall that roasted lime stone was surely used almost everywhere as it is easy and obvious to anyone.  It produces a white powder that reacts with water to turn back into limestone.  Thus mixing with aggregate produces a natural mortar that will still last for field stone walls. 

Folks have been mucking with this stuff as needed surely forever.  Without protection though, the limestone weathers away in a century or so.  What will; be left behind is a string of boulders.

This Totonac concrete in Mexico is at least 1200 years old!

The mural and its concrete base laid face down on the damp, acidic soil of northern Vera Cruz for around 750 years!
The Totonacs of northeastern Mexico were the only known indigenous people in the Americas to independently develop true concrete.  They used this concreted to construct both floors and walls.   Its formula was similar to that used during the same era by the Romans, but not quite the same.  Their concrete was not quite as strong structurally as that of the Romans, but much more durable in humid, acidic soils.  You see . . .  the Totonacs mixed attapulgite into both their concrete batches used as bases for murals and their fresco murals.   However, their favorite color was Totonac Red, not Maya Blue.  Where did the Totonacs, Toltecs and Aztecs get their attapulgite?   That’s a good question.  There are only a couple of minute deposits of Attapulgite in Mexico.  These mines were barely large enough to meet the needs of one Maya metropolis.

Opening boxes that have remained sealed for many years is bringing back memories from the recesses of my mind.  At the time that Georgia Tech architecture professors and Georgia State anthropology professors prepared the syllabus for my Barrett Fellowship,  there was little interest among academicians in the United States in the cultures of Northeast Mexico.  They included the Totonacs, Huastecs, Tamaulis and a Mayan people without a name in western Tamaulipas.   When re-writing my syllabus, Dr. Roman Piña-Chan, Director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, added two weeks of study in this region.  The sites to be studied in person included El Tajin, Vera Cruz, Las Flores in Tampico, Tamaulipas,  Balcón de Montezuma, Tamamaulipas and Cuitzío or Tammapul, Tamaulipas.d

The province around Tampico was originally known as Am Ixchel (Amichel in Spanish) which means “Place of the Maya goddess Ixchel.”   Many decades later, I would learn that the region on the Gulf Coast of the United States between Mobile Bay and the mouth of the Apalachicola River was also known as Am Ixchel!   Obviously, there was maritime trade between the two regions.  

Attapulgite was transported by sea craft down the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers to ports in both Provinces of Am Ixchel.

The Mexican Consul in Atlanta was an architecture graduate from Georgia Tech.  He arranged for me to be designated an Official Guest of Relaciones Exteriores (Mexican State Department) which among other things meant that I was given an ID card from the Institutio Nacional de Antropologia E Historia (INAH).  That was a carta blanca to go anywhere on INAH archaeological and historical properties.  I wandered at will across many sections of archaeological zones, which were off-limits to most tourists and that were guarded by Mexican soldiers.  This access resulted in many extraordinary experiences, which bore fruit in the 21st century.  I was also allowed to bring home 100 kg of artifacts to use as teaching aids at Georgia Tech.  All artifacts were to be personally inspected and approved by Dr. Piña-Chan then shipped directly under diplomatic seal from Relaciones Exteriores in Mexico City to the consulate in Atlanta.  None of the artifacts were to be unique examples of the patrimonio nacional of Mexico.

While wandering around the suburbs of El Tajin I noticed a large chunk of concrete protruding out of the muck of the jungle floor.  Several pieces on its edges had broken off when the city was sacked by Chichimec raiders around 1200 AD.  I picked up the smallest chunk and tossed it into a plastic bag within my over-sized camera bag. 

I did not realize the full significance of this chunk of concrete until several days later, when I was back in Mexico City at the home of the Sotos in Colonia Nueva Sta. Maria.  Washing off the accumulated 1200 year old  muck, I discovered that the large chunk of concrete was actually a brightly colored mural!  OMG!   I was in big trouble now.   Murals were taboo.  They were considered unique works of art by the INAH.   I didn’t have time to return to Pozo Rico and deposit the artifact back where I had found it.  Besides, I was searched before and after being in remote sections of archaeological zones.  It would be difficult to explain the situation with the soldiers.

So . . . I decided to bring the chunk of the mural along to my next scheduled meeting with Dr. Piña-Chan.  He probably wouldn’t be too angry if I was upfront and honest with him.  I planned to give him the slide, showing the location of the mural, so INAH archaeologists could excavate it.   

Dr. Piña-Chan’s response surprised me.   He grinned ear-to-ear and thanked me for my discovery of the mural.  He said that a team of INAH archaeologists had scoured the suburbs of El Tajin for months, yet had missed the priceless mural.   He let me keep the little chunk of the mural’s edge as a reward.  I had already returned to Atlanta when the newly-discovered mural was excavated.  However, I suspect that it looked something like this mural below, which was excavated during the 1960s by archaeologists, working at El Tajin.  I photographed it while visiting the El Tajin Museum.  

The mural portrays the ancestors of the Totonac People crawling out of the mouth of a great volcano.  They are taught how to grow maize (Indian corn) then learn the ways of civilization.  Those readers, who are Creek or Seminole, will immediately recognize this story as the opening paragraphs of the Kashete-Creek Migration Legend . . .  which begins on the slopes of the Orizaba Volcano in Vera Cruz State, Mexico.

This mural portrays the Totonacs being created by crawling out of the mouth of a great volcano. 
Ceramic statue-brazier of the Ancient God


Commonly called the Old Fire God by anthropologists,  this deity is among the earliest recognized in Mesoamerican cultures.    Note that he is wearing a goatee beard.   The Hernando de Soto Expedition stated that once the Conquistadors entered the region that is now the State of Georgia, they observed that most of the kings and town chiefs wore goatee beards.   The king of Okvte (Ocute)  had a beard, which reached down to his belly button. 

The motif on the side of the brazier atop his head is the glyph for the planet Venus.  This glyph was also used by the Mayas and ancestors of the Creek People.  It can be seen on several shell gorgeots, excavated in Northwest Georgia and Southeastern Tennessee

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