Skip to comments.The Roman Head From Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca, Mexico: A Review Of The Evidence
Posted on 12/18/2004 4:26:41 PM PST by blam
The Roman Head from Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca, Mexico: A Review of the evidence
Paper prepared for the 66th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in New Orleans, Louisiana (April 18-22, 2001).
Romeo H. Hristov (b) and Santiago Genovés T. (b)
(a) Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM 8713 1, U.S.A.
(b) Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas-UNAM, Ciudad Universitaria 04510, México, D.F., MEXICO
Abstract: Since the publication of the complementary research on the apparently Roman head found in Central Mexico (Hristov, Romeo and Santiago Genovés 1999 "Mesoamerican Evidence of Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Contacts, Ancient Mesoamerica. 10 (2): 207-213) this find has been discussed in many publications, the focus and the competence of which have varied significantly. This research report attempts to summarize the present day situation with the find, its degree of reliability as evidence of pre-Columbian transoceanic voyage, and its implications in the future studies of the mentioned topic.
From the early sixteenth century until present many hypotheses of Pre-Columbian transoceanic contacts have been discussed (Sorenson and Raish 1996). With the only exception of the well-established Medieval Norse contacts with North American Indians (McGee 1984) all of the mentioned hypotheses share a common critical weakness: the lack of support in direct archaeological evidence, that is, genuine Old Word objects found in Pre-Columbian archaeological contexts (Willey 1985: 358). During the XIX and XX centuries some more or less reliable finds of such objects were reported from Mesoamerica; however, until the present time none of them have been accepted as incontrovertible evidence of interhemispheric contact before 1492.
Among the mentioned data one of the most trustworthy is a small terracotta head of supposed Roman origin found in Mexico (García Payón 1961, 1979: 203-205; Heine-Geldern 1961; see Figure 1a, b). The figurine was discovered in 1933 during the excavation of a burial offering in the Pre-Hispanic settlement of Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca, located nearly forty miles NW of Mexico City (Figure2). The offering was placed under three intact floors of a pyramidal structure and, besides the head include different objects of gold, copper, turquoise, rock crystal, jet, bone, shell and pottery. Although the burial itself was dated between 1476-1510 A.D., Ernst Boehringer, a respectable classical archaeologist, has argued that the head is a Roman work from the II-III century A.D. The considerable discrepancy of more than a one thousand years between the figurine and the other artifacts in the offering has originated certain suspicions about the reliability of the find, and therefore it was not generaly accepted as evidence of transoceanic contacts in the 34th International Congress of Americanists (Vienna, 1960).
In 1995 FS Archaeömetrie in Heidelberg, Germany has performed a thermoluminescence (TL) age test of the piece which established its age limits between IX century B.C. and the middle XIII century A.D (Schaaf and Wagner 2000, Hristov and Genovés 2000). This result clears up the doubts of Colonial manufacture of the artifact, and makes the hypothesis of Roman origin among other possibilities- applicable. The identification of the head as Roman work has been further confirmed by Bernard Andreae, a director emeritus of the German Institute of Archaeology in Rome, Italy. According to Andreae
"[the head] is without any doubt Roman, and the lab analysis has confirmed that it is ancient. The stylistic examination tells us more precisely that it is a Roman work from around the II century A.D., and the hairstyle and the shape of the beard present the typical traits of the Severian emperors period [193-235 A.D.], exactly in the fashion of th e epoch." Andreae cited in Domenici 2000: 29).
On the other hand, an examination of the field notes of the archaeologist in charge of the excavation as well as the site itself have not revealed, in either case, signs of possible disturbances of the context (Hristov and Genovés 1999). During the last three decades over a dozen of references concerning re-use of small Olmec artifacts in Classical (III-IX centuries A.D.) or the Postclassical (X-XV centuries A.D.) contexts have been published, which give sufficient credibility to the appearance of a piece from the II-III century A.D. in context of the late XV century A.D (Navarrete 1982). Especially suggestive in this respect is the discovery of a small Olmec mask from the first millennia B.C. inside a XV century A.D. burial offering in the Great Temple of Mexico-Tenoctitlán (Matos 1979). Furthermore, the recent discovery of a Roman settlement from the I B.C.-IV A.D. centuries in the Lanzarote island, Canary Archipelago (Atoche Peña 1995) suggest a possible relationship of the Roman find from Mexico to some trans-Atlantic voyage during that period.
Figure 1. Frontal and lateral views of Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca head (Photo Romeo H. Hristov, 1993).
Figure 2. Location maps of the archaeological zone of Tecaxic-Calixtiahuaca in Mexico (inset) and structures in the zone (after García Payón 1936: 18).
The publication of the complementary research of the apparently Roman head discovered in Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca (Hristov and Genovés 1999), has generated much controversy, and has been discussed in publications in at least sixteen languages, as well in several radio and television programs. Three of the objections against the reliability of the evidence deserve especial attention.
The first one, formulated before the TL analysis, is that the terracotta head is a Colonial-period object, introduced in an unclear way in a pre-Hispanic context; in fact, it is catalogued as such in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City. This supposition, however, is not based on any concrete fact. On one hand, the three undisturbed floors under which the burial was found, and above all, the gold pieces of the offering are sufficiently clear indications that the context did not suffer any alteration during the Colonial period. On the other hand, the result of the thermoluminescence (TL) age test clears up any doubts that the piece was manufactured at least two century before the celebrate voyage of Columbus in 1492.
The second objection is that the artifact, although seems to be Roman could have been imported by the Spaniards during the firsts decades after the Conquest, and re-used in funeral context dating to the early Colonial period. This idea is more consistent than the previous one, but neither is supported of any data in the description of the excavation. As mentioned previously, the settlement was destroyed and abandoned in A.D. 1510, that is, about a decade before the Spanish Conquest. If we assume that the burial dates to Colonial times, we would expect to be find traces of clear intrusion through the three superimposed floors of the pyramid, under which the offering was deposited, especially if we bear in mind that complete repairing probably was not performed, due to the disuse of the structure. However, in the detailed report of the excavation (García Payón 1979: 204-205) there is not any mention of alterations of the floors under which the burial was deposited. Another possibility is that the head could have been imported into the New World by some European visitor between A.D. 1492-1510, and somehow found his way to Central Mexico (Down 2000: 24-25). In this regard we must remind we that during the mentioned lapse of time the Matlatzincas were under Aztec domain, so the artifact would have come to the Toluca Valley most probably through the Aztec "pochtecas", but in any case with Aztec knowledge. In this context, however, the lack of the slightest reference about any encounter of the Aztecs or their vassals with Europeans is inexplicable in the otherwise detailed and reasonably reliable late historical tradition in Nahuatl. And such silence makes the proposed idea highly improbable if we bear in mind: (1) the deep religious and political meaning of the Aztec belief that bearded foreigners coming westward from the Atlantic would conquer and destroy their kingdom and, (2) how fast Moctecuhzoma II was informed about the Spaniards arrival in Veracruz in 1518, and the great impact of this event among the Aztec rulers.
The third objection is that the head was "planted" as a joke to José Garcia-Payón. Similar situations have happened in the past (Buttrey 1980: 13), and probably will happen in the future as well. For this reason, we believe that it is a good idea to keep in mind such a possibility, if personal impartiality and prejudices are not confused -or pretend to pass- for respectable scholarly precaution. In an informal letter to the Editorial Office of Ancient Mesoamerica dated from March 6, 2000, Paul Schmidt from the lnstituto de lnvestigaciones Antropol6gicas at UNAM, Mexico City, suggested such a possibility. Below are a few paragraphs from his letter that are self-explanatory:
"...the figurine was planted in Don Pepe's [José Garcia Payón's] dig, the saying goes, by Hugo Moedano. Don Pepe took it so seriously that no one had the heart to tell him it was a joke. This I remember having been told by John Paddock....Taking into consideration Hristov's known unethical behavior and the obvious controversy which would result from the publication, I find it extremely hard to believe that two of the three serious and professional referees ... would support the article.".
In late 1996 Schmidt informed Hristov that "everybody knows that the head is Colonial" and that García-Payón was not present during the excavation, so surely somebody had "planted" it as a joke. Neither the thermoluminescence (TL) age limits, nor the excavation report supports the suspicion of Colonial manufacture and intrusion of the artifact into the apparently pre-Hispanic archaeological context. In 1997 Hristov personally asked Fernando García Payón, José García Payón's son, if he knew something about the first objection. His response was that during the 1960s his father frequently was asked if he was present during the excavation, and he always assured them that he had been.
A few months later Hristov asked Schmidt again if he could remember the source of his information about the "planting" of the head, and Schmidt informed him that he believed to have heard from John Paddock that Hugo Moedano "planted" the head. By that time both (Paddock and Moedano) had passed away. Therefore, the only option we had was to ask several of the respectable and usually well-informed Mexican scholars of the older generation. None of them had ever heard such a story, neither from Hugo Moedano nor from John Paddock (Román Piña Chán, Angel García Cook, Luis Torres Montes, Carlos C. Navarrete, and Jorge V. Angulo, personal communication to Romeo Hristov 1997). At that time we stopped further investigation of the mentioned allegation. Recently, however, Romeo Hristov asked Fernando García Payón if he knew something about a possible "planting" of the artifact by Hugo Moedano. His response was that Hugo Moedano "...had never been present during the excavation", and this was just "nonsense". (Fernando García Payón, personal communication to Romeo H. Hristov April 04, 2000).
As final remarks we would like to emphasize, once again, that in its fundamental aspects such as domestic plants and animals, knowledge and use of metals, writhing and language systems, and religious beliefs, among others, the Old and the New World civilizations until the early sixteenth century were firmly different and, consequently, independent from each other (Hristov 1998: 237, Hristov and Genovés 1998: 52-53). However, there are also some data of various kinds and levels of credibility that suggest the existence of a few sporadic, most probably accidental, transoceanic voyages before Columbus, which apparently had very limited -if any- cultural and biological impact. The find of an apparently Roman head in Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca, Mexico, seems to support the occurrence of one such voyage across the middle Atlantic, possibly somewhere in the first centuries of the Christian era.
On the other hand, notwithstanding that the Canary Islands were discovered around 1334 A.D., the highly probable contacts between the ancient Mediterranean world and the Canaries were confirmed only a decade and half ago with European and African objects found in the archipelago in archaeological context prior to fourteenth century A.D. In 1987 a Roman settlement dated between the first century B.C. and the fourth century A.D. has been discovered in the Lanzarote island (Atoche Peña et al. 1995), and more recent archaeological research has proved that not only Romans but also Phoenicians and Berbers reached at least two of the Canary islands (Tenerife and Lanzarote), as early as the sixth or fifth century B.C. (Behrmann et al. 1995, Atoche Peña et al.1997). The implications of these discoveries in the discussion of possible Pre-Columbian Trans-Atlantic contacts are obvious, and it is not entirely unreasonable to expect in the near future that systematical archaeological studies in the Caribbean, Central America and Brazil may provide more -and more conclusive- data related to small scale Trans-Atlantic voyages before 1492.
This study is a result of the joint efforts and discussions of both authors, and was generously supported by the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología de México (CONACyT, grants 5393-H0994 and 3362-T9309), Lloyd E. Cotsen Foundation, F.A.R.M.S./Brighm Young University, and NEARA Foundation. The thermoluminescence (TL) test is entirely work of Günther Wagner from FS Archäometrie, Germany, and Peter Schaaf from the Instituto de Geofísica at UNAM, Mexico. Permissions to take photographs and sample for TL test were granted by the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City. We thanks to Richard Townsend, David Kelley, John Sorenson, Stephen Jett, Luis Torres Montes, Carlos Navarrete, Fernando García Payón, Bernard Andreae, Victor Blanco Labra, J. Huston McCulloch, Mari Carmen Serra, Felipe Solís, Erendira Camarena, Dolores Villaflores, Enrique Ariño Gil, and Pablo Atoche Peña for useful information and suggestions. Assistance with the preparation of the English version of the manuscript was provided by John Sorenson, Stephen Jett, Joanne Harrison, Anna Halasz, and Clay Ford. Gerardo Jiménez and Rúben Gómez were kind enough to prepare the drafts. Or course, any error of facts and interpretation is responsibility of the authors.
I doubt they ever made it back to Europe.
Which Clive Cussler novel had Dirk Pitt finding the contents of the Library at Alexandria in Mexico?
Statue Found In Olmec Ruins In Mexico
Q. With all of the new technology available today, we should be able to know precisely when the first European ships reached the New World. What is the latest news? It was a group of Vikings who made landfall around 900 A.D., right?
A. Wrong! It is now confirmed that a Roman ship reached Brazil around the year 19 B.C.! Here is the whole story
Two thousand years ago, the most valuable commodity known to man was salt. This is because most fresh meats and fish were preserved by packing in salt. In fact, salt was so valuable, it was used in place of coinage. This is where the word salary emerged (as well as the expression hes not worth his salt). The Romans had a large salt production facility on Ilha do Sal (Salt Island) in the Cape Verde Islands, which are 350 miles off the coast of West Africa. This location is directly in the path of the hot, dry winds of the Sahara Desert, which can easily blow 60 knots from the east. It is believed that this Roman merchant vessel was heading for Salt Island to pick up a load of salt and to provision the local army garrison when a fierce Sahara storm started. Roman ships were clumsy by modem standards and would have no choice but to lower their sails and to run with the winds to avoid capsizing. The Sahara winds can blow for many days and the Salt Ship was carried to Guanabara Bay (near Rio de Janeiro) in Brazil. In the middle of the - Bay is a large submerged rock lying 3 below the surface called Xareu Rock (named after a local fish that congregates here). The ship appears to have been travelling at a high rate of speed when she struck the rock. She broke into two pieces and settled in 75 of water near the base of the rock.
In the late 1970s, a local fisherman using nets around Xareu Rock kept catching some large (3 tall), heavy earthen jars which tore his nets. He mistakenly thought these were macumbajars, which are used in local voodoo ceremonies and then thrown into the sea. So, as the jars were hauled up, he smashed them with a hammer and threw the small pieces back into the water in an attempt to prevent tearing his nets in the future. If he had only known what treasures he was destroying! In recent years, a scuba diver was spear fishing around Xareu Rock and found eight similar jars that he took home. He sold six jars to tourists before the Brazilian police arrested him with the two remaining jars for illegally selling ancient artifacts. Archaeologists immediately identified these as Roman amphorae of the 1st century B.C These containers were originally used to carry water, grain, salted fish, meat, olives, olive oil and other foods necessary to feed the ships crew and to provision Roman outposts. One of the worlds foremost authorities on Roman shipwrecks, Robert Marx, found more artifacts and confirmed this as an authentic Roman shipwreck. The worlds foremost authority on Roman amphorae analyzed the clay in the jars and confirmed that these were manufactured at Kouass which was a Roman seaport, 2000 years ago, on the coast of modem-day Morocco. The Institute of Archaeology of the University of London performed thermo luminescence testing (which is a more accurate dating process than Carbon 14 dating) and the date of the manufacture was determined to be around 19 B.C. Many more amphorae and some marble objects were recovered, as well as a Roman bronze fibula (a clasp device used to fasten a coat or shirt).
So, why haven't we heard more about this fantastic find? One would think this news would make headlines around the world The short answer is politics. At the time the amphorae were confirmed to be "Roman", the large Italian faction in Brazil were extremely excited about this news. The Italian ambassador to Brazil notified the Brazilian government that, since the Romans were the first to "discover" Brazil, then all Italian immigrants should be granted immediate citizenship. There are a large number of Italian immigrants in Brazil and the government has created a tedious and costly citizenship application procedure for Italians that does not apply to Portuguese immigrants. The Brazilian government would not give in and the Italians in Brazil staged demonstrations. In response, the Brazilian government ordered all civilians off the recovery project and censored further news about the wreck hoping to diffuse the civil unrest. The Brazilian Navy continues to excavate the wreck in secret. We only know about it because of what Robert Marx learned before he was dismissed and what the University of London has leaked. This shipwreck may help explain some other intriguing Brazilian finds: - Several hundred ancient Roman silver and bronze coins were unearthed near Recife, Brazil. Did these once belong to the castaways of the Salt Ship?
- A tribe of white, mostly blonde haired, blue-eyed "Indians" has been found in a remote region of the Amazon jungle. Could these be the descendants of the shipwrecked sailors of the Xareu wreck? DNA analysis of these Indians will surely bring some interesting facts to light!
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Interesting. I wonder if there is any evidence of contact with Mesoamerica in ancient ("pre-Columbian") Europe.
Could be Bacchus. Hat made of grape leaves.
Some crops are native to the Americas, yet some upper class Egyptian mummies show traces of these crops--which had to be imported since they were not cultivated in Africa or Europe or Asia.
Are you referring to "corn" (which in earlier centuries was also used to refer to wheat, etc., evidently depending on the context)?
Coca and tobacco.
Hadn't heard of either of these. Interesting.
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