Guanajuato's Peralta monuments are colossal works of art

One of the state's 1,400 discovered archaeological zones, Peralta dates to between 400 and 600 AD and is notable for the enormous volcanic stone foundations that indicate it was once one of the greatest communities in the Bajio region.

Guanajuato's Peralta monuments are colossal works of art
Large-scale constructions from pre-Columbian Peralta in Guanajuato. Credit: Agenda Cultural Guanajuato

The archaeological zone of Peralta is one of the 1,400 detected in the state; it dates from 400 to 600 AD and stands out for its gigantic volcanic stone foundations; it was one of the largest settlements in the Bajío region.

Even though no one knows who built what is now the archaeological zone of Peralta or what its original name was, the descendants of the ancient Chichimecs of the Bajio region in the state of Guanajuato say it was built by their ancestors, while researchers think it was built by Otomian groups much earlier than the first Chichimecs.

Peralta is a good example of the monumental pre-Columbian architecture in that part of the country because of the size of its trapezoidal bases and the way they were built with volcanic and river stones. It is also impressive that its builders lived and worked there even though they lived in a dry area of the Andes.

Some people are confused because the name Chichimecas comes from the Nahuatl word Chichimecatl, which means "cord" and "dirty dog." The Mexica called all of the native people who lived to the north and east of their territory Chichimecas, including the Pames, Guamares, Zacatecos, and Guachichiles, without taking into account their language or ethnic group.

The archaeological site in question is near the town of San José de Peralta. It has a site museum and is about a half-hour drive from Abasolo, the capital of the municipality, and 20 minutes from Irapuato. Guanajuato has about 1,400 archaeological sites, but this is one of the biggest in the Bajio. It is 1,700 meters above sea level, in a large valley surrounded by hills, and on the banks of a dry riverbed that runs a few meters below.

The origins of Perlata archeological site are unknown

Long ago, people said that Guanajuato didn't have any pre-Hispanic history. However, when the Spaniards came to the area 600 years ago, the people who lived there had left Peralta, possibly because of a long drought. Even though no one knows for sure from what culture it came. People say that Guanajuato is the land of the Chichimecas, but these Chichimecas lived in the 1600s, not before Peralta was founded.

It's possible that the builders are Otomian groups, but we still don't have enough evidence to say for sure. The flat part of the valley was flooded every year until recently, when it became an agricultural zone. There might have been 10,000 people living there, and the hill could have fed that many people, which, for the time, was a lot.

Near the Lerma River, the part that is open to the public is made up of two buildings that face north and south out of a total of 20 that are spread out in different ways. The first of the building's six levels is made up of two basements that are connected at one corner. There are steps and a stage at ground level, and one of the basements is 80 meters long.

The other base was the ceremony center or main plaza. It was wider than the first double base but not as high. One side has the entrance and a semicircular platform where people could dance and priests could talk to the people. The other three sides have steps for people to sit on. One of the sides measures 140 meters in length, another 150, a third 160 meters and another side measures 175 meters.

Next to the big foundation, they found 37 more buildings, and 10 more on ranch land nearby, for a total of 48. The locals knew about the archaeological zone, but their grandparents did not want to tell the authorities because they thought they would lose their plots of land. In 1997, when aerial photos showed mounds that turned out to be buildings covered with dirt and grass, the area was officially named.

Archaeological digs showed that the city grew four times. The first building was made of adobe walls covered with rough, cut stone, while the stairs show a much more delicate work to keep the building stable. They have also found pieces of grass roofs that were polished and painted with mud. They had observation and surveillance towers, which could be seen when the area was reconstructed in models. However, the towers were not very high.

Few offerings have been found but of Purépecha origin -not of the original inhabitants, who arrived from the today's state of Michoacán in the year 1350 of our era. Also a Teotihuacan mask and obsidian knives, left in the place when the city was abandoned, covered with earth and vegetation.

Codices and models of this and other sites in the state of Nayarit show that there must have been more and more beautiful buildings in Peralta, but they are no longer there because they fell down. These buildings were made of adobe, wood, grass roofs, and bright colors.