11 Jan Cañada de la Virgen: Pyramids of San Miguel de Allende
Driving through Los Piccachos, a mountain range that is home to the volcano Palo Huerfano, I found myself pondering the pyramids I was about to see and reminding myself that they were made without the aid of beasts of burden, without machines, or even metal tools. The Cañada de la Virgen is a recently discovered archeological site outside San Miguel de Allende. My tour leader, Albert Coffee, an expert in Mesoamerican archeology that assisted the excavation of the ruins, preferred to say it was “rediscovered” by outsiders. The locals never forgot that it existed.
Due to the volcano looming over the valley, the ancient peoples had fertile soil, sharp obsidian to make tools and a several types of stone, including basalt and cantera that could be used to build the pyramids. But natural resources weren’t the only thing these highly sophisticated people had going for them. Since 5000 B.C. they understood the symbiotic relationship between corn, beans and squash, which when grown together provide just the right combination of everything from growing conditions to human health. Moreover, their knowledge of astronomy and architecture is astounding.
Coffee explained the “horizon clock” which (among other things) aligns the sunrise on two specific days a year: planting and harvest. The sunken patio structure of the pyramids allows for natural reflection-pool observatories to chart the movements of planets and stars. The ancient people mirrored the terrain and cosmos in their architecture, lining up landmarks as well as equinoxes with certain points in the pyramid’s structure. “I consider myself an interpreter for the people who, now, can’t talk for themselves,” Coffee said.
We side-stepped up the steep temple steps where from the top we had a perfect view of the landmarks and their synchronicity with the pre-Columbian constructions like the house of the winds, house of the rain and botanical gardens scattered with fragments of earth-toned pottery. While there are theories about who built the pyramids, Coffee isn’t convinced that all the evidence stacks up to one clear answer. So who does he believe built them? Only more research may tell.
Albert Coffee’s tour was undoubtedly the best experience I’ve had visiting archeological ruins. It rivaled Phaestos in Crete, Larabanga in Ghana, and Macchu Picchu in Peru if for nothing more than the vast knowledge of details from the ancient practices to the modern context of the site that Coffee shared with us. Had I paid my money and walked around the grounds reading all the signs (which was what I had originally planned to do) I would have received only a fraction of the wealth of information he had to offer. Next on the agenda? His tour that ends in a tequila tasting!
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