Heaven on Earth: The archaeological site of Cañada de la Virgen

10/05/2021

Until a few years ago, the state of Guanajuato did not have archaeological sites open to the public despite being one of the states in the Bajío with the highest concentration of archaeological remains. The inhabitants of the surrounding municipalities visited the site of Cañada de la Virgen to make offerings, perform rites or simply as a family outing; some people even came to plant vegetables, acts that allowed an appropriation of the structures as part of their identity.

Heaven on Earth: Here is the archaeological site of Cañada de la Virgen. From Wikimedia Commons
Heaven on Earth: Here is the archaeological site of Cañada de la Virgen. From Wikimedia Commons

It would be thought that the site was occupied by Náhuas groups in pre-Hispanic times due to the type of constructions in the place, but thanks to archaeoastronomical data it was concluded that Otomí-Hñahñu people were the ones who settled there. As in other regions of Mesoamerica, three constructive stages were found in the area, ranging from 540 to 1050 AD. The splendor of the city is located by the researcher between the years 640 and 900, corresponding to the Epiclassic period.

These dates were obtained from carbon 14 studies carried out both at Oxford University and INAH laboratories, on objects such as charcoal, seeds and bones, the latter dated by collagen and amino acids. The zone is conformed by five architectural complexes and they have the conditions to be visited: Complex A or House of the Thirteen Heavens; Complex B or House of the Longest Night; and Complex D or House of the Wind. Also Complexes C and E.

The House of the Thirteen Heavens

The House of the Thirteen Heavens or Complex A, is conformed by a pyramidal base of 16 meters high, a sunken patio and three platforms, corresponding to the spring equinox, trade and winter solstice, respectively. In each one of them burials with offerings were found, composed by objects related to rites to Xipe Totec and a xoloescuintle dog, which helped the deceased in his trip to the Mictlán.

This complex was considered a fundamental space for the observation of the sky, hence its name, since the patio was filled with water during the rainy season and its reflection gave the sensation of the sky on earth. In the highest part is the Red Temple, considered the largest in Mesoamerica by its measures (14 by 12.80 meters), and encloses mural painting of abstract meaning, due to its linear strokes in red and black, related to day and night, with Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca.

The House of the Longest Night

Set B or House of the Longest Night is composed of several structures such as the pyramidal base, one more sunken patio and a series of platforms that indicate mixed functionality of the spaces. It is considered to be astronomically linked to the winter solstice.

As in the main complex, in this one there is a sunken patio but, unlike the first one, the base is not in front but in the southwest corner of the complex. This space is surrounded by rooms containing hearths and, in general, it has a complex water conduction system.

In this space different burials were found, such as La Niña de Lluvia, El Decapitado and a series of bones. "To simply place a bone splinter, a tibia or a fibula, indicated a process of sacrifice and burial, so we can identify a great paraphernalia for the cult of death". The ensemble is completed by a temazcal bath surrounded by a series of walkways that lead to it.

The House of the Wind

The so called House of the Wind or Complex D is a circular structure that presents three constructive stages, in which the access ramp was modified when building each one of them. In the upper part there is one more temple with two entrances, to the east and west; the form of the temple simulates a bullpen and its interior was painted red.

It is a circular structure that at the beginning had a function focused to the feminine part of the universe and later, with another constructive stage, towards the masculine one; at the moment it is associated to the God of the Wind (masculine).

The interpretations of the investigators indicate that the site was not habitational, according to them, the uses are referred only to processional and ritual matters related to agrarian, hunting and harvesting cycles; it highlights its high acoustic capacity that helps to the full spoken communication from any point of the structures without the need to raise the voice.

Regarding commercial activity, studies indicate that it was part of the Mesoamerican corridors due to the existence of obsidian from Cerro de las Navajas, in Hidalgo; turquoise from Arizona; jade from Soconusco, and shell, both from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, the presence of this last material is due to the central position of the site in the geography of the region.

By Mexicanist, Source INAH