Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Remains of pre-Hispanic sweat lodge found near La Merced, Mexico City

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a pre-Hispanic sweat lodge near La Merced, a market area in the historic center of Mexico City.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said in a statement Tuesday that the temazcal, as a domed, pre-Hispanic sweat lodge made out of mud or stone is known, was found during an excavation at a property on Talavera street, which is now known for the sale of baby Jesus statues.

Temazcales were used by indigenous people in Mesoamerica for medicinal purposes, spiritual rituals and childbirth.

Archaeologists found blocks made out of adobe and tezontle –a volcanic rock – that were used to build the sweat lodge as well as a bathtub used to heat the structure with steam. Based on the remains they found, the INAH team concluded that the temazcal was five meters long and about three meters wide.

INAH said the discovery has allowed archaeologists to pinpoint the location of Temazcaltitlan, one of the oldest neighborhoods of Tenochtitlán, the Mexica capital that would become Mexico City.

Site of a tannery that operated during the last century of Spanish rule.
Site of a tannery that operated during the last century of Spanish rule. Edith Camacho/INAH

According to a chronicle of pre-Hispanic times in Tenochtitlán, a temazcal was built in Temazcaltitlan to bathe and purify Quetzalmoyahuatzin, a noble Mexica girl.

Hernando Alvarado Tezozómoc, a noble indigenous man who lived in colonial times, wrote in his Crónica Mexicáyotl that ordinary residents of Tenochtitlán also bathed there.

The head of the INAH team that found the temazcal said the discovery is the first concrete evidence of Temazcaltitlan’s vocation as a center of bathing and purification.

Víctor Esperón Calleja said the neighborhood belonged to the district of Teopan (also known as Zoquipan), which was the first territory built on Lake Texcoco and occupied by the Mexicas. It is believed that the female deities of earth, fertility, water and the pre-Hispanic beverage pulque were also worshipped in Temazcaltitlan.

In addition to the temazcal remains, on the same Talavera street property archaeologists found the remnants of a home that was possibly inhabited by a noble indigenous family shortly after the Spanish conquest and structures of a tannery, which operated during the last century of colonial rule before Mexico gained its independence in the early 19th century.

“The findings suggest that in the 16th century this area was more populated than we initially thought,” Esperón said.

“Given that it was an area of chinampas [floating agricultural gardens], it was thought that there were few houses but at this property we have evidence of the wooden pilings and stones that were used for the wall foundations [of a home],” he added.

Esperón said that the methods used to build the house allowed archaeologists to date it to the first century of colonial rule between 1521 and 1620.

The walls of the four-room home were decorated with red motifs and its floor was made of adobe blocks, features that the archaeologist said indicated that it was “inhabited by an indigenous family, possibly of noble origin.”

The tannery, Esperón said, likely made leather from cattle slaughtered at the San Lucas abattoir, which was located close to where the Pino Suárez Metro station now stands.

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