lunedì 21 novembre 2016

The location of the Mesoamerican "Hall of Records" at Chalcatzingo

Legends of the "Hall of Records"
The ancient site of Chalcatzingo from the air - perched between the two hills of Cerro Chalcatzingo (to the left) and Cerro Delgado (to the right) [Photo by Author]
      Esoteric traditions dating back at least to the ancient Greeks and Romans talk about the existence of vast repositories of knowledge dating back to antediluvian times. In more recent times, American mystic Edgar Cayce (also called “the sleeping prophet” for his readings dictated while in a state of trance) became famous for his “Atlantean” readings describing the existence of at least three different “Halls of Records” in different parts of the world. Of these, one was located in Egypt, in the vicinity of the Great Pyramid of Giza; another was located on the island of Atlantis itself and a third in Central America or Yucatan.

The search for the Mesoamerican hall of records has led enthusiasts and independent researchers far into the forests of Yucatan and Guatemala. The remote site of Piedras Negras, in present day Guatemala, is often considered to be the most likely location of the elusive Atlantean records, and has also been the subject of a recent DVD documentary trying to demonstrate the existence of buried structures and an ancient cave system at the site.  

Arrival of the Gods

     Ancient Mesoamerican traditions do indeed describe the arrival of bearded, white-skinned “Gods” from across the Ocean, the most famous being perhaps Quetzalcoatl. Just as in the Atlantean tradition, these “Gods” were responsible for bringing the gifts of civilization to the savage and yet uncivilized people of Mesoamerica. They were the inventor of writing and the calendar, of monumental stone architecture and of all the arts and sciences. Finally, they left, leaving behind a few of their race who would later become the first divine kings of the Mayas and the Toltecs. Upon leaving, the gods carried with them their sacred writings and their most prized relics. According to another legend, they buried great treasures beneath the earth, in caves and other secret places – so that they would one day recover them upon their return.  

The earliest known depiction of the feathered serpent in Mesoamerican Art, dating from 1,200-800 BC - from Monument 19 of La Venta (National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City) [Photo by Author]
The earliest depiction of Quetzalcoatl, the “feathered serpent” is found among the Olmecs. The famous Monument 19 of La Venta – now in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City – depicts a man with a helmet, sitting within the coils of a serpent and carrying what appears to be a “handbag”, curiously identical to artistic representations of “handbags” carried by gods in Mesopotamian art. Monument 19 dates to between 1,200 and 800 BC, and is therefore one of the oldest monumental expressions of Mesoamerican stone sculpture.  

The Olmecs were the first major civilization in what is today Mexico and Guatemala, flourishing during a period called by archaeologists the Formative Period of Mesoamerica, dating from 1,500 BC to 400 BC. The Olmec heartland was located in the tropical lowlands of the present-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco, along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. 
The Olmecs have left few, enigmatic monuments, the most famous being perhaps the colossal stone heads unearthed during the 19th and 20th century, together with some of the finest examples of stone sculpture in the entire American continent.

Chalcatzingo

     Chalcatzingo represents an anomaly in Mesoamerican archaeology. For its location in the Central highlands of Mexico, several hundred miles from the Olmec heartland, it contains the most impressive set of Olmec monumental sculpture and rock art anywhere outside of the Olmec capital at La Venta. It becomes immediately clear that the exceptional importance of Chalcatzingo must have been predominantly of a ritual or religious nature. The relatively small dimension of the formative period settlement, hosting an estimate of between five hundred and a thousand people, contrasts with the richness of the decorative art at the site and the large number of sculptured stone monuments.
Another view of Chalcatzingo from the air - The Cerro Delgado in the foreground and the almost perfect pyramid-shape of the Cerro del Chumil in the foreground. The main ceremonial center includes a large plaza surrounded by pyramids and platforms, a ballcourt and a sunken patio. [Photo by Author]
A closer view of the main ceremonial area from the air, against the backdrop of the Cerro Delgado [Photo by Author]
The ancient settlement is nestled in a plain at the base of two high hills, the Cerro Chalcatzingo and the Cerro Delgado. The largest groups of bas-reliefs is found on the cliff face and on some large fallen stone boulders at the base of the Cerro Chalcatzingo, with several others occurring on isolated stone slabs and stelae within the ceremonial center proper.

The most famous rock-cut monument at Chalcatzingo, Monument no.1, is also known, as “El Rey” – ‘The King´. It is found on a high rocky outcrop, less than a quarter of the distance from the base of the Cerro Chalcatzingo. The bas-relief depicts a crowned human-like figure, dressed ornately and sitting on a throne. Most interestingly, the figure is placed inside a cave, from which issue forth strange volutes of what might be wind or mist. The cave is shown in profile, and has the aspect of an open mouth surmounted by an eye. Large clouds are pictured above the cave, with exclamation-like (!) objects falling from them, together with what might be interpreted as symbols for lightning or thunder. The seated figure inside the cave carries a bundle of what appear to be scrolls.

Monument No.1 of Chalcatzingo, depicting the "God of the Mountain" sitting inside a cave in profile, from which a wind appears to blow. The seated figure is carrying a bundle of what appear to be scrolls. Note also the eye above the mouth of the cave, which makes it resemble the open jaws of the Earth monster. [Photo by Author]
The same cave is represented on Monument no.9, this time from a frontal point of view. The cave has a quatrefoil opening, with a large hole in the middle corresponding to the cave entrance, above which are two eyes similar to the iconography of Monument no.1.
The same cave depicted on Monument No.1, now portrayed from a frontal point of view. Note the curious and artificial-looking quatrefoil opening in the middle, corresponding to the open mouth of the Earth monster (Cast in the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City) [Photo by Author]
The figure of a Gryphon attacking a man on a loose stela found near the base of the Cerro Chalcatzingo. Note the exclamation signs (!) above the figure, probably representing large drops of rain. [Photo by Author] 
Another fragmentary monument (Monument no. 13) at the base of the hill shows, in the remaining portion, the same cave entrance with a figure, probably a priest, sitting inside it.  

Two more monuments among the over 40 present on the site are interesting for the purpose of our research. One, labelled Monument no. 21 depicts a woman in profile, standing next to a large rectangular object of unknown significance. The object appears to be a large pillar or obelisk, wrapped and covered in intricate designs. The object stands on a kind of platform, to which it seems to be attached. The platform encloses a square space with a diamond shape in the center and an opening in the middle. A similar scene is also portrayed on Monument no.32, this time representing a man mirroring the same gestures of the woman on Monument no. 21.

The monument marked no. 2, show a procession of elaborately clad personages wearing Olmec-style masks. Three figures are standing, brandishing what could be maces or torches, while a fourth figure is laying on the ground. This last figure is the most interesting, for it appears to be bearded and carries an elaborate headdress. It is unclear whether this is the depiction of a deceased or a bound prisoner.

A number of other carvings show serpents, jaguars attacking men (curiously depicted with a beak, which gives them the appearance of Gryphons, a subject otherwise unknown in Mesoamerican art), and an equally curious representation of a man wearing a helmet, who is either swimming or flying – attributes for which it has been aptly named “El Volador”.
The main pyramid-platform in the ceremonial center of Chalcatzingo, with the Cerro Delgado in the background. At its apex, the site had a population of between 500 and a thousand individuals [Photo by Author]
The spectacular landscape of Chalcatzingo, characterized by the remarkable alignment of three mountains, the Cerro Chalcatzingo (in the foreground, left), the Cerro Delgado and the almost perfectly pyramid-shaped Cerro del Chumil (in the background). The volcano Popocatepetl is hidden by clouds. [Photo by Author]

The siting of some of the bas-reliefs on large boulders apparently fallen from the cliff-face of the Cerro Chalcatzingo in the background [Photo by Author]

More of the curious rock carvings found on boulders around the base of the Cerro Chalcatzingo, believed to depict cosmogonical scenes related to the Creation of Man. [Photo by Author]
A secret cavern?

     For the extreme importance attributed to sacred caves in Chalcatzingo art, not a single significant cave is known in the Cerro Chalcatzingo or the neighboring Cerro Delgado. Both mountains represent singular geologic anomalies in an otherwise predominantly flat landscape. Their composition is a reddish porphyry, extremely hard and compact. Seen from a distance, together with the nearby Cerro del Chumil, they have the aspect of massive natural pyramids rising almost unnaturally from the plains of Morelos.

Because of the type of rock of which the Cerro Chalcatzingo and the nearby Cerro Delgado are composed, the presence of natural caves in their interior is extremely unlikely. It is, however, the peculiar way the cave entrance is depicted on the Chalcatzingo monuments and rock carvings that suggests we may not here be dealing with a natural cavern, but rather with an artificial tunnel or vault. The regular, quatrefoil shape of the cavern mouth, together with the other depictions of what appears to be a square or rectangular enclosure, are suggestive of an artificial space rather than a natural one.    
The impressive view from the summit of the Cerro Chalcatzingo, looking towards the Cerro Delgado (below) and the almost perfect pyramid shape of the Cerro del Chumil in the distance. Rising almost unnaturally from the level plain, these isolated peaks, which are moreover found in a perfect alignment to each other, represented places of natural sanctity for the early inhabitants of the Central Mexican highlands and might have inspired some of their earliest creation stories. [Photo by Author]
The figure of “El Rey” depicted on Monument no.1 sitting inside the cavern, further hints to the possibility that documents of some sort, together with “scrolls” and other sacred relics might have been buried inside the cavern. Additionally, the cave might have contained the burial of a very high-ranking individual of the Olmec or pre-Olmec elite.  

Another interesting parallel can be drawn between the carvings representing men being attacked and killed by jaguars, the references to rain in the form of clouds with rain drops and lightning, and the Mesoamerican creation myths. According to these early creation accounts, humanity had suffered at least four previous destructions, in which people were devoured by jaguars or drowned in a deluge. All of this seems to find a parallel in the strange rock-carvings of Chalcatzingo, which, according to several interpretations, might have been intended as an account of creation.

It is certainly suggestive to imagine the cave, surmounted by ominous clouds, as a sort of antediluvian shelter where documents and other artifacts were preserved from the coming deluge by a previous human race.
The strange, almost ´technological´ aspect of some of the objects displayed on the bas-reliefs, particularly the two bound pillars or obelisks portrayed on Monument no. 21 and on Monument no. 32, also seem to be related to the content of the cavern, particularly if the square enclosure depicted at the base of both monuments and is to be interpreted as a stylized cave or Earth monster.
Artist rendition of Monument No.1 of Chalcatzingo, known as "El Rey". One can appreciate both the cave (seen in profile) and the clouds pouring rain from above. 
The carvings on Monument No. 2, depicting a procession of masked men carrying maces or torches and a bearded individual lying on the ground.
Monument No. 21 of Chalcatzingo, depicting a woman touching a rectangular object of unknown significance, which could represent a bound pillar or stela, standing on top of a rectangular enclosure with an opening leading to a diamond-shape in the middle. 
Where, then, was this cavern located?
There are three possible locations for the cave entrance, two on the Cerro Chalcatzingo itself, and one on the nearby Cerro Delgado.  

The most obvious location would be on one side of the bas-relief known as “El Rey” or Monument no.1. There seem to be several large boulders on this spot covering what might be the entrance to a cavern, including parts of the bas-relief itself. The ground there is very humid, which might suggest the presence of a natural water source. There is moreover evidence of fairly recent excavations on the opposite side of the trench in which the bas-reliefs are located. If a cave existed at this spot, it has either collapsed or was covered by debris fallen from the cliff face in ancient times.   
The position of Monument No.1, known as "El Rey" (to the left of the picture), next to what could be the entrance of a collapsed cavern filled with large boulders. [Photo by Author]
A second location could be high up on the Cerro Chalcatzingo, where a rock ledge exists in the cliff face about one quarter of the distance to the summit. The position of this ledge on the almost vertical cliff-face and at an height of over 200 meters over the valley floor makes any exploration attempt almost impossible. The best piece of evidence for the existence of a cave or a yet undiscovered group of bas-reliefs on this spot is the fact that almost all of the rock carvings at the base of the Cerro Chalcatzingo are found on enormous rock boulders that must have detached from the mountain itself. Because of their position, it is very well possible that some of the bas-reliefs originally formed part of a continuous frieze located near the summit of the mountain, whose collapse left only the rock ledge which is still visible exposed.  
A view of the Cerro Delgado from the sunken patio in the main ceremonial area of Chalcatzingo. The profile of a monstruous face with two open eyes, nose and mouth can be made out on the rocks near the summit. [Photo by Author] 
A final possibility is that the cave entrance could be located not on the Cerro Chalcatzingo, but on the nearby Cerro Delgado. Pictures of the cliff face taken with the aid of a drone, do indeed reveal what might be cave openings very near the summit, in a location of almost impossible access. What is most intriguing about these possible cave openings is that they are strongly reminiscent, under certain light conditions, of the eyes and mouth of a giant monstrous face. This might explain the eyes placed around the mouth of the cave on the Chalcatzingo bas-reliefs. 
Could this be the reason why the site was also chosen by the Olmecs for realizing one of their most impressive settlements and artistic displays, so far from their cultural heartland on the Gulf Coast of Mexico? More research will be needed to confirm the existence of a cave entrance on the precise spot corresponding to the “mouth” of the Earth monster carved on the face of the Cerro Delgado.
A closer view of the Cerro Delgado from the air, near sunset. The oblique sunlight makes visible the entrance of some shallow caves near the summit of the mountain that curiously resemble the eyes depicted above the cave entrance on the two most famous Chalcatzingo monuments. If this interpretation is correct, the cave entrance may be found on the rock ledger where the "mouth" of the Earth monster is supposed to be. [Photo by Author] 
The discovery of this cavern might perhaps reveal more of the mysterious origins of the Olmec people and of Mesoamerican civilization as a legacy of the “Gods”.

A drone fly-over of the ancient site of Chalcatzingo and the nearby Cerro Delgado [Video by Author]: 

References:

[1] Chalcatzingo Archaeological Site – From Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chalcatzingo
[2] David C. Grove, Ancient Chalcatzingo, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1987 – Online resource: http://www.famsi.org/research/grove/chalcatzingo/index.html
[3] Museum entry on Chalcatzingo, Morelos – National Museum of Anthropology,  Mexico City: http://www.mna.inah.gob.mx/coleccion/huellas-mna/anteriores/chalcatzingo-morelos.html