The first formal archeology research in Sinaloa was conducted in Mazatlan 90 years ago.
On December 25, 90 years after the start of the first formal archaeological investigation in Sinaloa, which happened precisely in the city of Mazatlan.
It might seem like a short time; However, archeology is a young scientific discipline, since its origins are located just at the end of the 18th century, while in Mexico, its consolidation as a science and its institutionalization is given to the Porfiriato, when some archaeologists, in particular, Leopoldo Batres, They received great economic support in order to expose the great pyramids and unearth pre-Hispanic objects that would give account of our “glorious past” to celebrate the centenary of Independence.
From that moment, despite the change of regime and the emergence of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and National Indian Institute (INI), 80 years ago, the truth is that the dead Indian continues to be given more importance than to the indigenous alive. But here we are going to talk about the history of archeology in Sinaloa.
The history of archeology in Sinaloa
The first mention of archaeological remains from the state of Sinaloa is even prior to the work of L. Batres and has the stage of Mazatlan itself. This is the comment of the engineer Guillemin Tarayré, a member of the Scientifique du Mexique Commission during the brief reign of Maximiliano, and who passed through the port in 1864.
In his book Explorations minéralogiques de régions mexicaines suivie de notes archéologiques et etnographiques, published in 1869, states: “In the vicinity of Mazatlan, at a short depth in the flood and on the banks of the lagoons that extend to the south of the city they find stone weapons like axes, arrows, and mortars… ”
Thirty years later, in 1894, the geographer OH Howart, in his article “ On the Rock Inscriptions of Sinaloa (West Coast of Mexico) ”, briefly describes Las Labradas and other rock graphic sites in southern Sinaloa. On the other hand, Alfonso Toro, in 1925, was informed that in the vicinity of the Culiacán River they recovered a vessel with polychrome decoration when the Rosales irrigation canal was being excavated; They also pointed out that there were some stones with engravings nearby.
It is, let’s say so, the first time that a professional in the study of the past mentions archeological vestiges of Sinaloa, but it is not the first investigation itself. Such merit belongs to Carl Sauer and Donald Brand.
Archaeological records in Mazatlan
Sauer was already internationally recognized for his studies of landscape geography, while Brand was a young archaeologist. The pair of scholars embarked in San Francisco and arrived in Mazatlan on Christmas in 1929. They had barely set foot on the ground when they observed that ditches cut some concheros in which a large number of sherds were found. It is worth reproducing the full quote:
“We arrived in Mazatlan in December 1929, and from the first moment, we found by chance archaeological remains. The port is connected to the mainland by a road that crosses an estuary and at the west end of the road, there is a cemetery. The latter served as a defense site for the city during the 1929 revolution [refer to the Cristero War], and trenches were excavated in front of it. These caught our attention because they cut shells that turned out to be household waste in which there were abundant fragments of ceramics of a quality far superior to any of the modern Mexican ceramics. The fragments were fine-textured, well polished and decorated with figures in mahogany red outlined in black ”( Ibid .).
Vestiges at the Ángela Peralta Nautical and Pantheon School
The cemetery bardado that is referred to in the appointment of Sauer and Brand must be the current Pantheon Angela Peralta and the estuary of the Infiernillo.
Right in that area, the east of Old Mazatlan, is where, also when digging some ditches, but in this case to expand the Nautical School, there was the mud sculpture of a hunchback, known since then as “The Humpback of the Nautical ”, Which is on display at the Archaeological Museum of Mazatlan. Although I have to confess that I have always had doubts about this piece. However, recently, it was confirmed that the area effectively presents archaeological remains, among which the sherds of the polychrome Mazatlan type stand out, the same one that so powerfully called Sauer and Brand’s attention and that is an indicator of the pre-Hispanic occupation between 1200 and 1531 AD
Exploration in southern Sinaloa
The discovery in Mazatlan encouraged them to undertake the recognition of the Sinaloa coastal plain, repeating the route of the Spanish army during the Nuño de Guzmán campaign in 1531, between the Acaponeta River, in the north of Nayarit and the El Fuerte River, in the north of Sinaloa. Their tour lasted three months and in it, they say: “we had almost daily the opportunity to see traces of high aboriginal culture.”
Of course, the recognition was not systematic but was carried out with the help of informants and focused on the localities that had a certain infrastructure and/or the areas with the greatest potential for the establishment of human communities. This explains that, in the south of Sinaloa, they have only stopped at the Baluarte and Presidio river basins.
It was the lower part of the Baluarte river basin, along with that of the Culiacán River, “the ones with the most impressive [archaeological] vestiges on the surface” throughout the state of Sinaloa. They describe those of the Baluarte River as follows: “They are on low terraces above the flood level, but adjacent to the most fertile portions of arable land. These sites are well preserved and exposed to view. The land they occupy is not conducive or not at all conducive to agriculture, so that the ruins are invaded by the mountain. Neither the plow nor the floods have managed to destroy them, but the rain has concentrated human waste on the surface. ”
Although they were not lands conducive to crops in the first half of the twentieth century, since the introduction of irrigation systems, they became more than adequate and archaeological remains have been notoriously affected, but we will address that on another occasion; Now we better return to the story of Sauer and Brand: “The largest diameter of the old town, they wrote, is perhaps two kilometers … There is no doubt that this settlement was very large and was inhabited for many generations … Above Chametla, specifically between Chametla and Proxy, there are numerous mounds in the middle of a narrow alluvial plain, the most notorious among them being the so-called Loma de Ramírez ”. In addition, they highlight: “Nowhere else have we seen such a variety of objects.”
Indeed, the old Chametla settlement is perhaps the largest and most complex archeological site in southern Sinaloa. It covers more than 100 hectares and has more than 50 mounds of land, including two pyramidal bases almost 10 meters high and a ball court.
From Chametla they went to the valley of the Presidio River, specifically to Villa Unión, and when they arrived there, the locals told them that there were a lot of ceramic figurines and vessels, as well as pots with human bones. Which they verified when visiting a cut made by the river, where, in addition to abundant fragments of ceramic vessels and stone artifacts, they observed that “a pot had been cut in its entire length and inside the remains of a skeleton were seen ” What is the first mention of the famous burials in pots or funeral urns.
They also commented on other archeological sites downstream, but only visited one, located on the La Loma ranch, one and a half kilometers north of El Walamo. What gave the ranch its name, they write: “… it is an artificial pyramid approximately nine meters high and with a flattened tip … A larger but less visible mound is located a short distance to the south.” In general, they comment: “the objects found in the lower valley of the Presidio River are very consistent with those of the Baluarte, and it seems that the culture is identical to that of Chametla.”
So that, ninety years ago, Sauer and Brand recognized the cultural complexity of the societies that inhabited Sinaloan territory in pre-Hispanic times; which is reaffirmed year after year with the investigations carried out by INAH Sinaloa, which will be 25 years old on March 1, but that is another story.
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