Geoffrey McCafferty



[00:00:00] Well, I became interested in archaeology at a very early age because my father was interested in archaeology. So I was constantly digging holes in the backyard through the sprinkler system. I took an anthropology class in high school, and we excavated at the Calico city dump, in Southern California , where Louis Leakey had decided that there was probably some form of fossil humanoid. He never found that. In college I took a variety of archaeology classes and finally graduated with a degree in Ancient Near Eastern History and Archaeology. But finding very few jobs, I took a job in construction. During my construction phase I built a variety of buildings, but that all came to a stunning climax when the scaffolding that I was working on collapsed, and I fell, and I broke my back. I spent six months in a brace. And during that time I did a lot of reading on archaeological topics and I decided that was the direction I should be going. My grandparents located Mixtec codices and gave those to me, so I had a pretty good library of codices to work with as I recuperated. I went down to Mexico after I recovered and found out about the graduate program in Anthropology at the Universidad de las Américas, where I enrolled the following fall. Universidad de Las Américas is in Cholula. It’s actually on the archaeological site of Cholula , where I’ve been working for the past fifteen years.


[1:21:00] Working with Mixtec codices provided an interesting way to start getting into the minds of the Precolumbian Mixtec. But the symbolic system is much broader than simply reading the books, because everything within the material culture has a symbolic charge to it. One of the things I have discovered, looking at the Great Pyramid of Cholula itself, is that the iconography encoded in the architecture, both through murals and through architectural façades, is also another way of recording the same symbols as appear in the Mixtec codices. The Great Pyramid of Cholula has a staircase resting on a frieze of “grecas” as part of an architectural façade. If this were painted in a Mixtec codex, it would be a very recognizable symbol of a mountain with a staircase resting on a frieze of grecas. And if you were to translate that into the Mixtec writing system, it would come out as the Mixtec word ñundiyo, which means “the mountain of the stairs,” which is precisely the name of Cholula as recorded in the glossaries in the early sixteenth century. I do not swear this is true, but I think it implies that the symbolic system encoded on the pyramid can all be related to a larger body of symbolics that is best portrayed in the Mixtec codices.


[2:41:00] I was working on the material culture from a series of post-classic households. And one of the large artifact classes was spindle whorls. My wife, Sharisse, started working with the spindle whorls and through that we got interested in spinning and weaving technology, and it was clearly a very gendered artifact class. In Precolumbian Mexico, spinning and weaving were predominantly female tasks. Some of the other tools associated with spinning and weaving have not been securely identified in the past. The most significant examples, I think, are the bone battens that were found in Tomb 7 at Monté Alban . We were the first to identify those as weaving battens and then, from that, to identify the tomb itself as that relating to a shrine of an important woman—perhaps a goddess-impersonator, perhaps an important lineage head. But one way or another, the artifacts associated with the principal individual of Tomb 7, and to some extent the skeletal remains themselves, identify that individual as female.


[3:46:50] The identification of ethnicity in archaeology is one of the thorniest problems. Ethnicity is a very fluid, dynamic set of identities that is problematic, even in sociocultural anthropology. To then project that back into the past and infer it through archaeological remains is problematic. Cholula was recorded as a multi-ethnic site through the ethnohistoric documents. In Cholula I have looked at vessel form from the point of view that foodways are one of the most coherent ethnic indicators that have been demonstrated in sociocultural literature; and, therefore, looking at vessel form as an indicator of foodways should be a viable way of recognizing ethnic change. One of the clearest indicators in Precolumbian Mexico is the comal, the vessel form that is used for producing tortillas. In 800 A.D., comals were introduced in central Mexico . Before that, comals did not exist. After that, they were an enormously prevalent artifact in any given household assemblage. So something happened at that time that made a major change in foodways and, symbolically, the tortilla was probably an important change in the food symbolism of central Mexico . Is this ethnicity? I tend to think it is. The question is: Where did the comal (and through that where did the tortilla) come from, or was it simply an innovation? There is some evidence that the tortilla may have come via the Gulf Coast from Central America . This is a pretty tenuous, connect-the-dots game, but I think that is one direction to go to try to understand the movement of ethnic groups or at least ethnic foodways.