Friday, November 2, 2018

Roman Figurine Head in Ancient Mexico

I was driving through central Mexico last year with my archaeologist friend, Javier Tovar, who lives in Atotonilco de Tula, Hidalgo.
Atotonilco de Tula, Hidalgo, 65 Kilometers North of Mexico City
Javier got his degree in archaeology through INAH's program at UNAM. We visited as we drove and he told me a stirring story. One of his classmates at INAH was a Bulgarian named Romeo Hristov who championed ancient transoceanic contacts much to the chagrin of most Mexican archaeologists who wanted their Olmecs, Maya, and Aztecs to have developed without external influences of any kind. It was a matter of national pride. The general attitude was "Our ancients did not need outside help." This is classic isolationist thinking, aka independent inventionism, and it has been the prevalent viewpoint in Americanist studies since the time of Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826) and Alexander von Humboldt (1769 - 1859).

By force of will and dogged persistence, Hristov located in the vast INAH artifact collection a long-misplaced figurine head recovered by professional archaeologists in a controlled excavation at the site of Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca in 1933.
Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca, Mexico, 60 Kilometers West of Mexico City
Found in an unambiguous pre-Hispanic context, this head was stylistically identified as Roman from the second century AD by a number of competent classicists. Hristov had a tiny sample of the ceramic material dated via thermoluminescence at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg, Germany. The date came back 1780 plus or minus 400 years before present, corroborating the second century AD classification.
Calixtlahuaca Head Frontal View
Photo by Javier Tovar
This full-bearded find was described in an article written by Romeo Hristov and Santiago Genovés entitled "Mesoamerican Evidence of Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Contacts," published in Ancient Mesoamerica, 10 (1999), pp. 207 - 213. The same authors published a Spanish version of their article entitled "Viajes transatlánticos antes de Colón" in Arqueología mexicana 6/33 (1998) pp. 48-53.
Calixtlahuaca Head, Side View, Photo by Javier Tovar
Hristov has continued his research in the Canary Islands where a Roman colony is now attested on Lanzarote between the first and fourth centuries AD. Hristov got some support for his research from FARMS and John L. Sorenson mentions this find in Mormon's Codex (Salt Lake City: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and Deseret Book, 2013) p. 239. Naysayers have attempted to explain this piece away but their speculations have been unpersuasive in light of Hristov's meticulous scholarship over many years.

This piece was excavated by a credentialed archaeologist, José García Peyón.
It was found in-situ in a dig authorized by the appropriate Mexican governmental agency at the time, el Departamento de Monumentos Artísticos, Arqueológicos, e Históricos de la Secretaría de Educación Pública. It was stored in the collection of the Museo Nacional de Antropología for decades, mis-classified as a colonial era artifact. It was eventually located and since then has been championed by another credentialed archaeologist, Romeo Hristov. Dating tests appropriate to the material (ceramic) were run by one of the most respected physics labs in the world, the Max Planck Institute.