Plaza of Fertility, its pyramid, and its ball court
discovered a variety of offerings, including human and deer bones, as well as ceramics, stones, and shells. Also present was a "tool kit" containing two long, thin, obsidian flakes called prismatic blades, as well as a variety of other razor-sharp obsidian cutting tools. The human bones show cut marks and signs of having been boiled. All this points to human sacrifice, dismemberment, and ritual cannibalism. These activities would have been part of fertility ceremonies conducted atop the pyramid by priests and other members of the elite.
ritual called auto-sacrifice, priests and other elites cut or pierced their own tongues, earlobes or penises in order to produce blood to encourage the fertility of the earth. Why blood? Well, the ancients believed that the gods had shed their own blood to create both the earth and human beings. Blood sacrifices were seen as a way of returning the favor and ensuring good harvests.
Huehueteotl, the "Old, Old, God". Whatever the name, his image has been the same, from the earliest times, all over Mesoamerica. He is always portrayed as a wrinkled, hunched-over old man, in a seated position, with his hands on his knees and a tray on his head. In the tray, lit coals or copal incense would be burned. Control of fire was the first great step for humankind in its quest for mastery over the natural world. Fire represented both a powerful tool and a dangerous force, and this naturally suggested an otherworldly explanation. The Fire God is probably the oldest of all gods, since the control of fire pre-dates agriculture and thus also pre-dates the Storm God (later known as Tlaloc, the Rain God). The Fire God was tied into the Mesoamerican calendar system, in which a holy 260-day year and a secular 360-day year were linked together in a 52-year cycle. At the end of the cycle, the New Fire Ceremony was conducted. All existing fires were extinguished until the appropriate sacrifices were made, including that of humans. At that point, the chief priest ignited a new fire in his temple and, from it, fire would be carried out to all the households.
Part 2 of this series, ball courts were also closely related to fertility and good harvests.
The ball game somewhat resembled volleyball, in that the idea was to keep the ball in play. It could not be touched by hands or feet and the primary method of moving it was to strike it with the shoulders, thighs, or hips. Aside from its entertainment value, the game was a metaphor for the ongoing struggle between the cosmic forces of light and darkness. The ball represented the sun and stars moving across the sky, which created the seasons during which planting and harvesting occurred.
Tlaloc had several helpers, called the Tlaloque, whose job it was to produce rain by breaking large clay pots of water, like the one above. The ancients believed that the sound of thunder was produced when the pots were broken.
South Plaza and its Altar and Pyramid
typical Mesoamerican palace tended to combine residential, civic, ceremonial, and administrative functions.
stone structures use no mortar. The stones were carefully cut and placed upon one another, with the gaps filled in by small rocks. It is a testimony to the skill of the ancient architects that the buildings have survived not only as much as 1600 years of use, but an additional 1100 years since they were abandoned. Another difference is that, unlike the other cities, Cantona's walls were not stuccoed smooth and then painted. Instead, the stone surfaces were left bare, with different kinds and colors of rock used to decorate them. In the pyramid above, you can see smooth, light-colored, cantera stone on the stairs and on the vertical part of the lowest of the pyramid's stepped levels. The balustrades on either side of the staircase, as well as the upper stepped-levels, were constructed with tezontle, a rougher volcanic stone with a darker color. The low walls bordering the other three sides of the South Plaza are similarly decorated. This unique style may have been due to local geology. Volcanic stone is plentiful here, but limestone for stucco is scarce. In addition, this desert area's limited wood supply would have made it difficult to create stucco, which requires large amounts of firewood to burn limestone. Still another of Cantona's unique aspects is that, unlike most of its contemporaries, the city-state seems to have deliberately fended off most of Teotihuacán's cultural influences. Even though an example of the talud y tablero architectural style, popularized by Teotihuacán, can be seen along the bottom of the pyramid above, it is one of the few to be found at Cantona. And, in fact, talud y tablero actually pre-dates Teotihuacán, as does Cantona itself. The style could well have been adopted at Cantona before Teotihuacán's rise to power and influence.
The Palace Complex
click here on this Google satellite map.
Cantona III period when fortification and militarization intensified. This street was one of the main avenues that transected Cantona from west to east.
This completes Part 3 of my Cantona series. I hope you enjoyed it and, if so, that you will leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email so that I can respond.
Hasta luego, Jim