When Dr. Joseph Mountjoy of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro was doing excavation work in the Banderas Valley of Mexico last summer, he received a rare glimpse of the religious life of the Aztatlan culture around 1,300 A.D.
While excavating on one of two burial mounds, near a temple mound, Mountjoy's group found the cremated remains of human infants in several bowls and jars which were buried around the temple's altar.``Sun god worship was very common along the west coast of Mexico during this period,' said Mountjoy. ``It seems that infants who died were cremated in order to have their spirit go directly to the sun god in the form of smoke from the fire.
``I don't believe this involved infant sacrifice,' said Mountjoy. ``There was not a lot of human sacrifice of this kind known in the history of west Mexico.'
In all, Mountjoy's group recovered 10 whole pottery vessels and some turquoise from the site. Five of the pottery vessels had cremated remains of infants in them, he said. They also found six stone monuments at the site that are believed to have been related to sun god worship.
Mountjoy is a professor and head of the UNCG Department of Anthropology. He reported on the results of his summer excavation work in November at the first Symposium of West Mexicanists, sponsored by the University of Guadalajara, in Mexico.
Last summer was Mountjoy's third field trip to work on the ceremonial center of the Aztatlan culture, located in the Banderas Valley along the coast of west Mexico. The site has deposits of ancient cultures that range from 300 B.C. up to the time of the Spanish conquests. The major monuments at the site were built by the Toltec related Aztatlan people, beginning about 1,000 A. D.
During the excavation work at the first burial mound, Mountjoy and his group found remains of five restorable pottery vessels that were left as offerings, along with a large spiked incense burner. He said no on has ever found one of these spiked incense burners in good archaeological context in west Mexico before.
The group also found several sites of the pre-Aztatlan people who inhabited the valley around 500 to 1,000 A. D. On one of the sites, they found a stone statue about a foot high. The statue was carved in the form of a human mounted on a large phallus. Mountjoy said this was the first phallic statue known to have been found in west Mexico, and one of the rare instances in which an archaeological team recovered such a stone statue from an excavation site. All of the archaeological finds are stored in a museum in Mexico's Puerto Vallarta.
Mountjoy has been doing excavation work in Mexico since l964. During that time, he has made 15 different field trips ranging from a summer to a year in length.
He said the Aztatlan culture is particularly interesting to him because it is associated with with the development of metal working in Mexico around 900 A. D. The culture also has strong ties to the Mixtec and Aztec peoples later encountered by the Spaniards.