01 June, 2012

El Gran Viaje por los Cerros de Coixtlahuaca - Pt 1


As I mentioned in an earlier post (the first post since 2010), a lot has happened in the year and a half since I last wrote on this blog. One of those grand occurrences was a big survey project I was a part of in the Winter and Spring of 2011. This survey, the crew I worked with, the house and town I lived in, the work I did, and all the stress and joys that came with it were a big part of my life for about 5 months. I lived and breathed and loved and got completely fed up with survey in the Coixtlahuaca Valley. I walked for kilometers and kilometers, over hills and across streams, weaving through wheat fields and pulling myself up the sides of cerros (hills) using tree branches and grass stems while dangling over drops of 100 meters. I made it through many hairy situations--one of which rightly deserves its very own post because it was just that freaking scary--and I had some incredible experiences. Over the course of the next couple of months I will post about my experiences on this immense undertaking of a survey project in a series of posts. This time around, I'll just give a short introduction about the 2011 Proyecto Recorrido Arqueologíca del Valley de Coixtlahuaca.

The site of Inguiterria, the main Postclassic kingdom in Coixtlahuaca.
So the goal of the Coixtlahuaca Valley Survey Project was to do a surface survey of all 60,000 sq. km of the Coixtlahuaca Valley to look for signs of prehispanic occupation, measure the size of these occupations as well as any architecture that may be present, and date the occupations according to the ceramic material found on the ground. Running concurrently with the archaeological survey was a geomorphology study of the soils at selected sites that we had surveyed. The goal of the geomorphological analysis (geomorphology is basically the study of landforms and the processes that create and change them--in other words the study of landscape change over time) was to connect environmental and soil events or changes to prehispanic occupations. What we wanted to know was what effect did human settlement and agriculture have on the landscape, and vice versa. How did people adapt to the fluid dynamics of the soils, which are highly prone to erosion in this area? How did abandonment of settlement affect the surrounding environment? Etc.

Our survey area.
In total there were 3 survey teams and a 1-woman geomorphology team. My crew consisted of Leonardo, a Oaxacan archaeologist, Ellen, an American from the University of Georgia, and myself.

Ellen and Leonardo with one of our guides.
This was in Tulancingo on our second day of survey.

This is me. Being goofy.
For whatever reason, for the first 2 months of survey, my crew was consistently sent to the high hills, to scale 100 to 600 meter heights looking for signs of occupation. And just when you want to say "F*ck it" cause this is the 5th time this week that you have risked your life and you haven't found anything yet, you scale a mountain and find a site on top (I'm giving the side eye to you Cerro La Campana, and to you too, Cerro Solitario!) The funny thing about being sent to the hills, though, is that I do have a slight fear of heights, which made for some interesting (read: scary) times as I navigated my way along goat paths next to sheer drops that plunged down 100 meters or more. And if you are thinking that it shouldn't be too big of a deal cause I'm on a path, let me remind you that goats have tiny little hooves. And are generally much more nimble than I am in hiking boots.

View from one hill looking onto some others in the distance.
One day we covered all of those hills you see in
the foreground.
That is a post for another day.

Climbing up one of many hills we surveyed, early in the morning.

Resting after a hard climb up.
But as scary as it could be sometimes it was also really exhilarating and fun. And even when our hearts were beating furiously after we had scaled a particularly difficult section of a cerro and had made it, we still managed to laugh and have a good time (at least at first). We even had a slight gallows humor about it all. Once when we had to descend down this toe-slope of the Cerro Niate known locally as El Puente, which because of the barrancas on either side was so severely eroded that one false step meant a long slide down some rocky terrain, we stopped to take pictures of the descent, joking that we wanted a photo of where we going to die. It may not seem funny when you read it, but at the time we were laughing and it helped us, in a way I think, to make the trip down. Unfortunately I seemed to have lost that photo :(

It wasn't all sheer terror though. Sometimes we did fun things, like helping out the locals when they needed it (this photo is from one of those instances, which I will talk about in a future post).

Ellen and I participating in a village ritual.

Anyway, I will be posting more about my surveying adventures in the Coixtlahuaca Valley, so stay tuned. For now I leave you with this:

Well, hello there!

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