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    Contemporary central mexican ceramics : A view from the past Essay

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    This is an exploratory paper, a unique diachronic study of glazed (usually lead glaze), low-fired earthenwares of central Mexico. Seifert (1974) has demonstrated that most research on these wares has utilised a synchronic approach to study the technology, the aesthetics, and the sociocultural framework associated with the production of the pottery. Although not always formally stated it is generally assumed that the modem ceramic complexes have a substantial time depth and reflect a synthesis of Spanish and indigenous traditions which occurred during the first century following the conquest. Archaeological data which clarify the trends in the historical development of glazed earthenwares will validate or modify hypotheses put forward on the nature of ceramic syncretism after the conquest primarily using contemporary data. In a slightly broader perspective the above mentioned data are of significance as part of a controlled study of methods and processes of archaeological interpre tations.

    A study of the development of wares and styles, which arc still being manu factured and which can be studied in an ethnographic context in which some of the socio-cultural correlates arc known, will provide basic information for the inter pretation of prehistoric archaeological data. In this article I shall present preliminary results from my studies defining the introduction and the development of glazed earthenwares in the eastern Teoti luiacan Valley, Mexico. I realise, of course, that this region  is rural and peripheral to areas wherein major developments occurred during the Colonial and Republican periods. My results might mirror only selective diffusion and accep tance of ceramics from other areas in which the major changes took place. However, it is the only area in the Valley of Mexico for which both excavated and surface data arc available for the periods between a.d. 1519 and a.d. 1969.

    As I have indicated elsewhere (1972) most archaeologists conducting research in the Valley of Mexico have ignored or eliminated the archaeological data of the postconqucst periods. Outside of the Valley, in the Huejotzingo area near Puebla, Schmidt (1973) has reported a postconquest ceramic sequence similar to that of the Otumba area in the Tcotihuacin Valley.  The data upon which this article is based were gathered through surface surveys and excavations during 1968 and 1969, in the eastern part of the Tcotihuacin Valley, near Otumba. The main orientation of the research was directed to the recovery of a complete archaeological sequence for the period a.d. 1519 to a.d. 1969, effectively completing the ceramic and settlement pattern sequences defined by Sanders (1965) and Millon (1970) for the Teotihuacin Valley as a whole. I chose the Otumba area for detailed surveys and excavations because of the readily available and abundant documentary data relevant to the archaeological sites and  because of the previous surveys in the region (cf. Charlton 1969).

    I planned to use the data recovered to test theories and assumptions used in the interpretation of prehistoric archaeological data, using the known historical data of the postconquest periods as controls on the accuracy of the interpretations (1972b). As part of the research I also conducted and directed studies of contemporary ceramics, including the manufacture and marketing of locally produced tourist type tradewares and glazed domestic earthenwares. The market studies included both the locally made ceramics and those imported from other parts of Mexico. These studies are continuing (Charlton in press). From the sites excavated in 1969 (Charlton 1972b) I have selected eight, spanning a period of time from c. a.d. 1650-1675 to a.d. 1969, to define the introduction and the development of domestic glazed earthenwares in the Otumba area of the Tcotihuacin Valley. The sequence into which the sites are arranged has been formulated on the basis of a Tripolc Graph Scriation using glazed and unglazed earthenwares (Charlton 1972b: 210), a Bar Graph Seriation of the Majolica Complexes within each site (Seifert 1974b), and the available documentary data (Charlton 1974). The eight sites selected for this paper have similar and comparable durations (cf. Cowgill 1972: 384-5), based on the dating of the Majolica Complexes present in each (Seifert 1974b).

    With one exception, Santa Maria Tilmatlan, the archaeological deposits at the sites arc unmixed with significant amounts of earlier or later materials. At Santa Maria Tilmatlan the Colonial period site is situated over a Mctcpcc phase Tcotihuacan period site and some mixture has occurred. All the earlier materials were separated during analysis and the frequencies presented here were calculated on the basis of a Late Aztec-Early Colonial period deposit. A third point of comparability between the sites involves the ntidden nature of the deposits. Structural features occur only in TA-247, C.A. 15. The deposit at Santa Maria Tilmatlan has been disturbed through intensive cultivation since the late eighteenth century and no evidence for structural features or midden deposition was noted in excavating. However, the positive identification of this community and its significance with reference to the processes involved in the introduction of glazed earthenwares, outweigh the disadvantages mentioned above.  I have subjected the excavated glazed earthenware sherds to two basic studies. The first involved the establishment of a ceramic typology using a Ware-Type Form-Variety format similar to that used by Parsons (1966) in his discussion of Aztec ceramics.

    In establishing this typology I have used all excavated sherds, bodies and rims, decorated and undccorated, recovered through screening during excavation. Low-fired glazed earthenware is the Ware category. The types, based on the nature of painted decoration or the absence thereof arc Monochrome (no decoration), Bichrome (one painted colour on a plain background), Polychrome (two or more painted colours on a plain background), and Dolores Hidalgo Poly chrome (a contemporary trade ware from Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, charac terised by flaring sided bowls with multicoloured interior decorations). These types arc further subdivided into Form Classes and Decorative Variants, detailing specific forms and specific decorative motifs. In this article I am utilising only the Ware and Type levels of analyses. The types probably reflect the relative amounts of decorated as opposed to undccorated surfaces on the vessels within a given site rather that the relative frequency of whole vessels which are completely decorated or undecorated. They are, however, useful categories by which to classify sherds. The second study of glazed earthenwares was conducted by Thomas (1974). This was a study of sherds from selected sites (see Tabic 1) to determine the methods of pottery making used at various times during the postconquest period in the Tcotihuacin Valley. From mould scams, neck/shoulder angles and thicknesses, and concentric basal or wall striations, sherds were identified as wheel or mould made.

    Thomas has indicated some of the inherent difficulties in determining the  relative significance of wheel as opposed to mould made ceramics. *… At any one site the number of sherds indicative of the technology used was minute in comparison with the total number of sherds examined. … A number of sherds were too small to have any identifiable characteristics on them’ (1974: 2). Never theless her findings arc significant in understanding the introduction of a new ceramic tradition (wheel made, glazed earthenwares) to Mexico. The ceramic data from the Tcotihuacin Valley do not suggest any direct, obvious, immediate, or striking ceramic acculturation on the part of the Aztecs during the sixteenth century and the first half of the seventeenth century. The Aztec III ceramic complex, manufactured and in use at the time of the conquest, underwent an initial sixteenth century florescence resulting in the production of Aztec IV Black/Orange. The aesthetic influences were handled to such a degree within the canons of Aztec Black/Orange style that most scholars have recognised the Aztcc IV innovations but have attributed them to prcconquest manufacture. With the exception of this florescence the major trends in Aztec ceramics from a.d. 1519 to a.d. 1650 involve increasing frequencies of undccorated wares, a decrease in burnishing and polishing, and the increased use of Red/Orange and Red/Brown slips on plain vessels.

    Outside the Teotihuacin Valley, in Texcoco, Tenochtitlan, and possibly Tonala (Jalisco), there is evidence of Spanisli influence on ceramics, both in terms of a Spanish ceramic tradition and in terms of a modification of aboriginal ceramic traditions for Spanish tastes. The wares include Majolicas, glazed earthenwares, and Tonala brunida ware (Roberta Rciff Katz, personal communication, 1974). In the Tcotihuacan Valley similar ceramics do not make their appearance until after a.d. 1650, at which time lands freed by declining and centralised Indian popula tions were being exploited by the Spanish in Ranchos and Haciendas. Table 1 suggests two mechanisms whereby glazed earthenwares were introduced. Santa Maria Tilmatlan is an Aztec community which persisted into the eighteenth century. TA-246, C.A. 16 appears to be the midden of a Spanish Rancho or Hacienda. The two sites  have Majolica complexes which indicate that they were occupied at the same time. However, the glazed earthenwares at TA-246, C.A. 16 represent 50-2 per cent, of the total ceramic assemblage, the rest consisting of unglazcd Spanish earthenwares of the seventeenth century and some tin enamelled Majolicas.

    At Santa Maria Tilmatlan glazed earthenwares represent only 0-57 per cent, of the assemblage which is heavily Aztec in origin (table 2). Not only arc the two sites occupied at the same time, but the glazed earthen- ware complexes at each show similar frequencies of wheel and mould made sherds (tabic 1). I suggest that glazed earthenwares were introduced as part of the ceramic inventory of Spanish settlers during the seventeenth century. Access to such wares by the surviving aboriginal population was restricted as evidenced by their low frequency at Santa Maria Tilmatlan. An intermediate situation occurred at Ranchos and Haciendas of the same period (e.g. TA-247, C.A. 15) owned and operated by Spaniards but worked by Indians. In these sites there occurs an interesting amalgam of Aztec and Spanish ceramic traditions, midway between the complexes reported from TA-246, C.A. 16 and Santa Maria Tilmatlan. These sites, as I have noted elsewhere (1974), served as alternative population foci for the Indians and resulted in an incomplete application of the Congregation policy’ in the area.  From the time of their first introduction during the seventeenth century’ until the first decade of the nineteenth century, the glazed earthenwares increased in frequency from 19-9 to 49*1 per cent, of the ceramic assemblage (table 2). Although the data are presently incomplete there appears to have been a gradual shift from the use of the wheel to the use of moulds in ceramic manufacture (tabic 1).

    This may represent a trend for aboriginal potters to acquire the knowledge necessary to glaze ceramics while retaining their basic shaping technology. Thus there arc two technological trends, one representing a gradual acceptance or acquisition of the techniques of glazing; the other representing a conservative trend, the retention of moulding and an application of this technique to vessels to which glaze was applied. These trends support the concept of a regular, gradual, and continuous fusion of Spanish and Indian cultures in the Teotihuacdn Valley (cf. Wolf 1955). On the other hand an examination of the trends in the development of decoration in the same period indicates quite obviously that there was virtual stagnation and extreme conservatism in this area. The relative frequencies of Monochrome and Bichromc sherds remain the same from the time of first introduction into the area until the early nineteenth century (see tabic 2). This stagnation in decorated glazed earthenwares reflects the general level of artistic development in the ceramic assemblage from a.d. 1650 to c. a.d. 1810-20. The generally drab ceramic complex of this time includes five kinds of ceramic materials: modified, simplified, and generally undccorated Aztec ceramics; unglazed wares of cither Spanish or abo riginal derivation, but made according to Spanish standards of taste; unglazcd Spanish wares; well decorated tin enamelled wares (Majolicas); and glazed earthen wares, generally undccorated.

    A high level of decoration and sense of artistic accomplishment are to be found only in the Majolicas and in the wares manufac tured by aborigines but for Spanish taste (e.g. Tonala bruiiida ware). The richly decorated contemporary’ glazed earthenware tradition of the Tcoti huacdn Valley developed out of this rather uninspired Colonial glazed earthenware tradition. During the period a.d. i8io-a.d. 1969 the frequency of glazed earthen wares in the ceramic assemblage continued to increase following the trend established in the Late Colonial period. During the same period, however, there was a diversification of glazed earthenwares both in decorations and in forms (see table 2). Initially during the nineteenth century Bichromc decorations increased in frequency. To these, at the end of the century, were added a variety of Polychrome decorations. This expanding and diversifying ceramic tradition resulted in the contemporary glazed earthenware complex. In addition to the local elaborating ceramic sequence the twentieth century has witnessed the introduction of ceramics from many other parts of Mexico. This has further increased the complexity of designs found in the sites of the twentieth century. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the trend away from wheel made to mould-made pottery has continued (see table i). Contemporary glazed earthenwares of the Teotihuacin Valley have a restricted time depth and are the result of a burst of creative energy beginning in the early nineteenth century and continuing to the present.

    The modern ceramics do not derive from transformed Aztec Black/Orange variants but arc aesthetically new. Technologically they incorporate Spanish glazing and Indian moulding. In these technological aspects of ceramic manufacture there has been a long, gradual, fusion of aboriginal and introduced elements. The stagnation and limited application of decorations to pottery during the Late Colonial period probably resulted from the existence of guilds which controlled designs. With the War for Independence from Spain these guilds and their privi leges were abolished and *… cualquicr persona con cl saber suficiente podia aspirar a realizar variedades mas selectas . ..’ (Lameiras et al. 1968).

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