Mixcoac Archaeological Zone opens its doors to the public

The Mexica affiliation site is located in the Benito Juárez neighborhood, a few blocks from Metro San Antonio.

Mixcoac Archaeological Zone opens its doors to the public
The Archaeological Zone of Mixcoac, an important witness of the pre-Hispanic occupation of the Mexican basin. Photo: Melitón Tapia, INAH.

Mixcoac, "the place where the cloud serpent is venerated", is a Mexica affiliation site, which reached its apogee in the post-classic period, between 900 and 1521 AD. The settlement was located on the shores of Lake Texcoco and was governed by the authorities of the Great Tenochtitlan. The archeological zone is located in the San Pedro de los Pinos neighborhood, in the Benito Juárez municipality.

The Mixcoac Archaeological Zone, an important witness of pre-Hispanic life in the Mexico Basin, with evidence of occupation from the Teotihuacan era to the Mexica, was integrated into the Network of Archaeological Zones open to the public, under the protection of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), adding 194 sites, of different cultures and temporalities, in the country. In turn, it is the fifth in Mexico City along with Templo Mayor, Tlatelolco, Cerro de la Estrella, and Cuicuilco.

The opening of the site, led by the director-general of INAH, anthropologist Diego Prieto Hernández, and the mayor of Benito Juárez, Santiago Taboada Cortina, was also the framework to recognize the work of archaeologist Roberto Gallegos, responsible for the academic project of this place, whose continuous work is a watershed for research, conservation, and dissemination of the Archaeological Zone of Mixcoac.

Gallegos received from the anthropologist a silver reproduction of the Caballero Águila, the highest award given by INAH to its staff for years of service rendered, and a diploma, which thanks to him for his persistent dedication and highlights his trajectory.

Prieto explained the difference between archeological zones that are not visitable, which exist and are there because centuries have preserved them, and those that are open to public visit.

"What does it mean that an area is open to public visits, that it has a visitor service area, a timetable, an interpretation center or, if possible, a site museum? In other words, it offers the minimum conditions for an adequate and understandable visit, because we want people to understand the sites and not just find mounds."

The head of the INAH commented that the Institute is occupied with ensuring that Mexico's archaeological zones are conserved and cared for, but also disseminated, understood, and enjoyed, "that is why in recent years we have continued to open archaeological sites for public visits, with great care, because an area does not only mean opening a fence, it requires attention, educational services, custody, protection work. A few weeks ago Cerro de las Ventanas opened in Zacatecas, and now Mixcoac, the second so far in 2019.

Mixcoac is one of the smallest archaeological sites in the country (7,200 square meters) and is like a flower in the middle of the asphalt, while it is practically embedded on one side of the Peripheral, surrounded by houses and roads.

In his speech, Mayor Santiago Taboada said that it is a privilege to have this area in Benito Juarez and thanked the INAH for the specialized work to preserve it. The work of archaeology, he added, "is sometimes not recognized as it should be; in the world of immediacy and novelty, few stop to look for traces of our roots, to investigate patiently, like Roberto Gallegos, whose task returned the dignity of the past to its site, and gave a new meaning to the history of the pyramid that resists on the corner of San Antonio and Peripheral.

INAH opens the Mixcoac Archaeological Zone, a window into the past of Mexico's capital.
INAH opens the Mixcoac Archaeological Zone, a window into the past of Mexico's capital.

The place where the snake of clouds is venerated

Mixcoac, whose name in Nahuatl means "where the cloud serpent is venerated", dates from the Teotihuacan period (400-600 A.D.), but the remains that can be visited today belong to its Mexica occupation (900-1521 A.D.).

At present, only a small part of the pre-Hispanic settlement, corresponding to its last stage, is preserved. The vestiges of the buildings, which have been partially restored and visitors will be able to see, are Pyramid dedicated to the god Mixcóatl, Oriente Platform and annex buildings, Central Patio, Poniente Platform and its ceremonial square; and adobe habitational rooms.

During a press tour, before the official opening ceremony, it was explained that this important pre-Hispanic site has been investigated for more than a century. The first description of the vestiges was made in 1916, by historian Francisco Fernández del Castillo, who called the site Mixcoac, when he identified the toponym "La serpiente de nubes" in the Map of Uppsala de Santa Cruz, elaborated in 1550.

Later, in 1920, archaeologist Eduardo Noguera, by the designation of Manuel Gamio, then director of Prehispanic Monuments, led the first archaeological excavation to study the great mound that was visible in the area south of Tacubaya, and that was known as "the teocalli de San Pedro de los Pinos".

Several actions have been carried out for its protection, mainly since 1961, when the construction of the Peripheral Ring caused a large part of the base to remain under the road, so it was important to safeguard it.

The information that has helped to understand the human occupation of the site and the region derives from the archaeological investigations carried out during the construction of Metro Line 7, particularly the San Antonio station, where important Teotihuacan evidence was found in the region.

Thanks to the efforts of Professor Roberto Gallegos and the Directions of Archaeological Studies and Site Operation (DOS) of the National Archaeological Coordination, the site has been made available for public visit through equipment and infrastructure actions: preparation of trails and ramps for people with disabilities, signage, and services for visitors.

An introductory room was also opened, which was adopted by the National Coordination of Museums and Exhibitions. Inside, you can feel the city's arteries vibrating. It is a cavity under the side of the Peripheral, which has preserved one of the few vestiges of Mexica architecture made of adobe. It is enough to go down to the site to see it, while upstairs hundreds of vehicles continue their course.

Archaeologist Eduardo Escalante, head of Planning for the Management of Archaeological Zones of the DOS, explained that the room intends that visitors learn about the history of the place and know the archaeology in Mexico City, for this, graphics and infographics of agile reading coexist with the remains of pre-Hispanic buildings.

The Mixcoac Archaeological Zone is located at 7 Pyramid Street, next to the La Pirámide Cultural Center and the Peripheral Ring, in the San Pedro de los Pinos neighborhood, in the Benito Juárez mayor's office. A few blocks from Metro San Antonio. Hours: Monday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Free entrance.

We will be energetic with those who damage the patrimony

Referring also to the enormous diversity of archaeological zones, which require care, the director-general of INAH explained that, unfortunately, "we cannot always arrive, as now in Mixcoac, on a festive basis", referring to the situation prevailing in El Tajín, Veracruz, a site inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List, where, last week, INAH confirmed the destruction of vestiges, located on a particular piece of land, within the protection polygonal. Diego Prieto emphasized: "We will be energetic with those who damage the heritage.

In its 80 years, "the INAH is and always will be for the care, legal protection, conservation, from the technical and scientific point of view, dissemination and social enjoyment of our archaeological, historical, anthropological and paleontological heritage," the anthropologist reiterated.

For his part, the national coordinator of Anthropology, Pedro Francisco Sánchez Nava, detailed: "effectively, work was done there, in an area adjacent to the zone of monuments, that is, it is not within the monumental part of the zone open to public visit; I was there yesterday ... It is outside the zone of monuments, (but) within the area of the perimeter. They are lands property of the State Government, they are invaders that did affect.

"The corresponding denunciations have already been filed, the damage has already been contained. There are more than 30 criminal charges; now we have to substantiate them, for that we have to do an expert work, a very deep report, and take measures, which are exemplary so that people understand that, regardless of the type of land ownership, the vestiges are the property of the nation and have to be respected.

He informed that some platforms were damaged, "it would be irresponsible to specify how the number of buildings, are making flights with LIDAR technology in the area and from that can be defined, with punctual expertise, based, For now, the impact of the invasion has been contained, now we have to look at the issue of land tenure and determine precisely the level of affectation.

"It has also been said that this caused fractures in the buildings... in the Pyramid of the Niches, that is false. There are indeed fissures in the buildings, but these are due to a geological fault that practically crosses the archaeological site and for a long period of drought that makes the constructions lose moisture. That happens with the buildings, and the issue is already in the hands of the Council of Archaeology and those responsible for the area, are also taking measures to prevent further damage, and are seeing the tasks of conservation of ornamental elements, to the structural part of the buildings themselves.

Finally, Sanchez Nava pointed out that, currently, there is no permit to build on these lands, "no request has been made, we do not know what they intended to do. Since antler, the use of machinery has stopped and we are very attentive. There are already circumstantial records, the corresponding criminal proceedings will be followed, for this, it is essential to make sustained expertise," he concluded.