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Excavation and Exhibition of the Pre-Hispanic Cultures during the Porfiriato

Summary and Keywords

In the late 19th century, Mexico’s ancient ruins captivated much of the world. European and American explorers trekked through what was often touted as an “American Egypt” in search of pre-Columbian artifacts to display in private collections and museums. Mexicans similarly hunted after the remains of the Indian past, as their country witnessed a heightened interest in the excavation and exhibition of ancient artifacts during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, the period commonly known as the Porfiriato (1876–1910). The Díaz regime embraced the indigenous past in order to present Mexico as a nation with ancient and prestigious roots. It took control of pre-Hispanic relics and ruins through archaeology, a discipline that was thought to give Mexico the coveted aura of a scientific, cosmopolitan, and modern nation. The Díaz regime gave unprecedented support to the National Museum in Mexico City, the nation’s most important institution for the study and display of Indian antiquity. Museum scholars such as Francisco del Paso y Troncoso, Alfredo Chavero, and Antonio Peñafiel, worked on building and organizing the archaeology collection as the government intensified the process of accumulating artifacts in the capital. One of the central figures in this process was Leopoldo Batres, the head of the General Inspectorate of Archaeological Monuments of the Republic. Batres brought antiquities to the museum, helped organize the archaeology collection, and built the Gallery of Monoliths, the nation’s premier showcase of pre-Columbian relics. He also carried out excavations at ruins throughout the country and reconstructed several archaeological sites, including Xochicalco and Mitla. His most famous (and most controversial) work took place at Teotihuacán, where he rebuilt the Pyramid of the Sun, turning Teotihuacán into the nation’s first official archaeological site, a project made to coincide with the centennial celebration of Mexican independence in 1910.

Keywords: Porfiriato, Pre-Hispanic Antiquity, archaeology, Museo Nacional Mexicano, National Museum of Mexico, Aztec Calendar Stone, Leopoldo Batres, Teotihuacán, archaeological sites, indigenismo

Mexicans have long been interested in their nation’s pre-Hispanic past. In fact, even the ancient Indians collected objects from earlier indigenous cultures. The Aztecs, for instance, gathered artifacts from the ruins of Tula and Teotihuacán. Over the course of Mexico’s history, this interest in antiquity waxed and waned. One particularly important period was the late colonial era, when the Bourbon rulers, Charles III and Charles IV of Spain, sponsored excavations at several of Mexico’s ruins. Soon after Independence, in 1825, Mexican leaders established the National Museum in the nation’s capital, initiating what would become the most significant site for archaeological conservation in the country. But the effort to exhibit pre-Hispanic cultures in Mexico did not truly take off until much later in the 19th century, during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, the period commonly known as the Porfiriato (1876–1910). Under Díaz, Mexico witnessed a heightened interest in the excavation and exhibition of pre-Columbian artifacts as historians and archaeologists harnessed the Indian past to narratives of Mexico’s greatness. The government embraced antiquity in order to present Mexico as a nation with an ancient and prestigious past.

The Porfirian political and intellectual elites were busy constructing an official national history for Mexico, one that endowed the country with deep, sophisticated roots. This was evident in México a través de los siglos (Mexico through the Centuries) (1887–1889), the nation’s first work of historical synthesis.1 A five-volume, government-sponsored series, Mexico through the Centuries took the different periods in the nation’s past and wove them into a single story. The multiauthored project was headed by the intellectual, statesman, and general Vicente Riva Palacio. It was lavishly decorated with maps of the nation as well as images of Mexican landscapes, monuments, and historical figures. The series began with a volume on antiquity written by the historian and archaeologist Alfredo Chavero, and went on to examine the colonial, Independence, and modern periods. Mexico through the Centuries gave the nation a continuous existence that stretched back to remote times. It placed antiquity at the beginning of a sweeping historical narrative that provided Mexicans with a common heritage and origin. In becoming part of Mexico’s official past, antiquity had thus become essential to the process of nation building.

For Porfirian elites, this ancient past took tangible, material form in the artifacts scattered about the country, objects that were perceived as the nation’s patrimony. The government carried out a concerted project to take control of the remains of Maya, Aztec, and other early civilizations and turn them into “Mexican” objects: it placed guards at ruins, strengthened federal legislation to give the state more power over the monuments, and in 1885 established the first agency exclusively to protect them, the General Inspectorate of Archaeological Monuments of the Republic. It promoted the science of archaeology. It turned the ruins of Teotihuacán into the nation’s first official archaeological site in 1910 and gave unprecedented support to the National Museum in Mexico City, filling it with relics. Porfirian elites had high hopes for archaeology. They saw the discipline as a means to advance Mexico’s image as a cosmopolitan, scientific, and modern nation. In the words of Justo Sierra, one of the leading figures of the day, archaeology was the only discipline that gave “Mexico personality in the scientific world.”2

Archaeology was undergoing several changes all over the globe. For centuries, the discipline had been dominated by tomb raiders who hunted after statues, vases, and other remnants of long-lost cultures, objects that they regarded as treasures. By the latter part of the 19th century, this sort of antiquarianism began to give way as archaeology developed into a formal science within the context of the museum. Professional training and organizations emerged, and fieldwork also began to be guided by more systematic methods. Still, archaeology was a science in formation. It lacked the consistent, reproducible procedures that are associated with all scientific disciplines today. Some archaeologists were armchair scholars who rarely left the confines of the museum; others were “dirt” archaeologists who set out on excavations. There was a wide range of practitioners, with varying degrees of training and rigor.

The development of archaeology, an object-based science, led to the depletion of artifacts from Mexican soil. Mexico had gained a reputation as an “American Egypt,” a land not only full of ancient treasures, but also treasures that were ripe for the taking. Foreigners had exploited these objects for decades, amassing pre-Hispanic relics in European and American collections and museums. The 19th century witnessed the rise of the modern public museum. Many of these institutions sought out Mexican antiquities. The Louvre in Paris, France, for instance, had a Mexican collection as early as 1850. Mexican artifacts also lined the shelves of the institutions dedicated to anthropology that emerged in the second half of the century: Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (1866), the Ethnological Museum of Berlin (1868), the Trocadéro Museum in Paris (1878), and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania (1899).

Another related development that spurred this race for artifacts was Americanism. A broad intellectual movement, Americanism encompassed all disciplines dealing with the New World as well as all historical periods. In 1875, these scholars began meeting regularly at the International Congress of Americanists, which was held in a different country every two years. Most Americanists came from France, Britain, Germany, and the United States as well as Mexico and other Latin American nations. The majority of them specialized in the pre-Hispanic past. As the field grew, so did the desire for Mexican antiquities. Porfirian elites lamented the fact that these objects were disappearing from their country. Their turn to archaeology was entwined with the desire to display Mexico as a sovereign nation, one that controlled its territory and the objects within it. Many argued that Mexico needed to take charge of the antiquities and display them within its own National Museum.

The National Museum and Archaeology

Located in the National Palace in Mexico City, the museum became Mexico’s hub of archaeological conservation and research during the Porfiriato. Before this, the institution had suffered decades of neglect, receiving limited and sporadic funding. The museum had been little more than a cabinet of curiosities made up mainly of objects from the natural sciences. Under Díaz, it underwent a series of transformations that turned it into a full-fledged scientific establishment dedicated to teaching, research, collecting, and the spread of knowledge. The institution’s budget expanded; it grew tenfold over the course of the Porfiriato, a change that was driven, in part, by the more prosperous economy of the times. Many of the nation’s most active scholars of the ancient past worked in the museum, either as directors of the institution or professors who served as curators, researchers, and docents in the different departments. These included celebrated intellectuals such as Francisco del Paso y Troncoso, Alfredo Chavero, and Antonio Peñafiel.

The museum scholars completely renovated the institution during the Porfiriato, shifting its focus to anthropology and especially to the field of archaeology. When the period began, the museum contained a library, a department of natural history, and another department combining both archaeology and history. In the 1880s, the professors started channeling more funding and energy to anthropology. They divided the archaeology and history collections into two separate departments in 1882 and created a department of anthropology and ethnography in 1895. In 1909, they eliminated the natural history section altogether, moving it to another location in the capital. From this point on, the museum would be dedicated to the fields of anthropology, archaeology, and history, to the study of Mexico’s human past and present. This change was expressed in the institution’s new name: the National Museum of Archaeology, History and Ethnology.

Although archaeology was becoming a professional science at the time, it vaguely resembled the discipline of today. To begin, most of the museum archaeologists, like others around the world, had no formal education in the science. Training in archaeology would not commence in Mexico until 1906, when classes began to be offered in the museum on a regular basis. Mexico’s archaeologists came from other, more established fields, especially engineering, medicine, and law. Del Paso had studied medicine, while Chavero specialized in law. The archaeologists lived at a time before the divisions between scholarly disciplines had hardened; they were experts in several fields. And they carried out most of their research on the ancient past within the walls of the museum, spending much of their time cataloguing, organizing, and analyzing artifacts. The archaeologists worked more like historians, studying Mexican antiquity through old texts such as codices, the writings of scholars like the American explorer John Lloyd Stephens, and, when possible, the studies of fellow archaeologists. They based their research on a close reading of the texts, using the artifacts to supplement their findings. They examined a relic to verify the information found in the texts, but more often, used the texts to decipher a relic’s meaning. Many of their studies in the museum journal, the Annals of the National Museum, focus on what other scholars had to say about a specific piece.

Archaeology had yet to become a discipline based in fieldwork. The National Museum was dominated by armchair scholars. Most of them, especially the older ones like Chavero and del Paso y Troncoso, rarely ventured out into the ruins. Those who did fieldwork, like Peñafiel, usually went on their own accord and at their own expense, as the museum only began funding expeditions on a regular basis in 1904, toward the end of the Porfiriato, when fieldwork became more common. The scientists who did work in the ruins, moreover, carried out their research with little technique. They did not use stratigraphic excavation, a procedure in which archaeologists treat an artifact much like a geologist treats a fossil, recording its location in the layers found in the earth in order to establish its relative age. For today’s archaeologists, the place of an artifact in the soil is an invaluable source of information—without it, the object does not offer much insight into the past. Stratigraphic excavation allows an archaeologist to deduce the chronological order in which artifacts were created, since those found in the bottom layers are probably older than those found closer to the surface. Through the technique, scientists can measure the passage of time, date cultural changes, and understand other related phenomena such as migrations, invasions, and the diffusion of cultures. Although stratigraphic techniques had been used in the Old World for some time, in the Americas they were uncommon.

There is some debate about the extent to which Americanist scholars, both Mexicans and foreigners, carried out stratigraphic excavation. Many seem to have been familiar with the technique. But overall, Americanist scholars as a whole did not use stratigraphic excavation frequently or systematically. They also did not use it to record the passage of time or cultural change. This does not mean their science was backward. Archaeology is thought to have become professionalized in Mexico between the 1880s and early 1940s, around the same time as it did in the Old World. Instead, the neglect of stratigraphic excavation was a result of several factors specific to the field of Americanism, such as the common belief that human occupation in the New World had been so short lived that little cultural change could have occurred in the first place. The so-called stratigraphic revolution took place in the second decade of the 20th century, led by the anthropologist Manuel Gamio. Until then, Mexican archaeologists had a limited understanding of things like chronology and the succession of cultures. They had almost no sense of historical or absolute dates as well as relative dating in terms of the placement of objects and cultures into a chronological sequence.

The aim of most excavations continued to be the pursuit of relics. Put another way, the exploration of a site and the search for antiquities were nearly synonymous. When a museum archaeologist did venture out to the ruins it was often to gather antiquities for a particular event, a goal that drove museum director del Paso y Troncoso’s excavations in Veracruz. In 1891, the Mexican government commissioned Del Paso y Troncoso to carry out what is often considered the nation’s first state-sponsored excavation since the time of the Bourbons. The museum director set out to gather artifacts for the Columbian Historical Exposition of 1892, the celebration held in Spain that marked the four-hundred-year anniversary of the “discovery” of the New World. For two months, he explored the monuments of his native state with the aid of the Mexican military, along with the local Indians, who cleared the structures of vegetation. He sketched, mapped, and photographed ruins. Del Paso y Troncoso uncovered the Totonac city of Cempoala as well as Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, the first settlement established by the Spanish conquerors. He went on to explore several more sites, including Tajín. The artifacts he gathered, along with thousands of others from the National Museum, were shipped off to Spain for the Columbian exposition. But apart from del Paso y Troncoso’s work at Cempoala, the man often hailed as the most important Mexican archaeologist of his time carried out next to no excavations.

Since the museum professors rarely excavated or even visited ancient sites, they accumulated artifacts through other means, such as purchases and donations to the museum. The institution’s bigger budget during the Porfiriato allowed the professors to buy pre-Hispanic artifacts, including large collections from antiquarians. Many individuals throughout Mexico owned private collections which they displayed in their homes. One of the most well-known of these antiquarians was the historian and clergyman Francisco Plancarte y Navarrete. Collections like Plancarte y Navarette’s were a goldmine for the museum, but they were also expensive. In 1898, the museum paid 5,000 pesos for his assortment of over three thousand pieces, a purchase that consumed more than a fifth of its yearly budget.3

In addition to purchases, the professors also actively demanded artifacts. Mexicans were constantly discovering relics, a phenomenon that most likely increased during the Porfiriato, as the modern infrastructure laid down at the time, the sewers and ports, brought antiquities to light. These discoveries were often publicized in the press and in letters to the museum. Sometimes, the professors or a museum assistant set out to retrieve the object, calling on the assistance of the military and other government agencies, especially the Secretariat of Development, if the artifact was too heavy to move. More often, though, they coaxed the discoverer into sending the piece. More common still, the professors called on a local authority to send the object, in which case the authority usually complied. In fact, local officials were some of the most frequent contributors to the archaeology collection. But no one did more to help build the museum collection than Leopoldo Batres, the head of the Inspectorate of Monuments. Batres’s agency was central to the government’s goal of taking charge of the antiquities, the objects through which Mexico constructed a sophisticated ancient past.

The Inspectorate of Monuments

In 1885, Leopoldo Batres Huerta became the head of the Inspectorate of Monuments. It is not clear why he was given this important position. A former military man, Batres may have met General Porfirio Díaz while serving in the army. He most likely became the head of the Inspectorate due to his friendship with Díaz. As inspector, Batres had many duties. He had to ensure the ruins were not disturbed in any way. To this end, he developed and supervised a network of guards at archaeological sites throughout Mexico. Batres was also in charge of retrieving artifacts and depositing them in the museum. Much of his job involved monitoring the work of scientists who had been granted government contracts to excavate. He himself, however, could carry out excavations and reconstructions at will. Batres was the ultimate authority in matters of archaeology. His agency was the first in the country entrusted with the exclusive purpose of protecting the remains of the ancient past. The Inspectorate eventually evolved into the INAH, the National Institute of Anthropology and History, the powerful institution created in 1939, which continues to serve as Mexico’s guardian of antiquity.

Excavation and Exhibition of the Pre-Hispanic Cultures during the PorfiriatoClick to view larger

Figure 1. Leopoldo Batres, inspector of monuments, in the early 20th century.

Source: Leopoldo Batres. Visita a los monumentos arqueológicos de “La Quemada,” Zacatecas. Mexico City, Mexico: Francisco Díaz de León, 1903.

Although Batres has been depicted as a self-taught archaeologist, he had in fact received some formal training, an experience that set him apart from the archaeologists of Mexico’s museum. Before becoming inspector, he spent about a year studying archaeology at the Natural History Museum in Paris, France. Unlike most of Mexico’s archaeologists, he also devoted nearly all of his time to fieldwork. Some of his most significant excavations include the street of Escalerillas in downtown Mexico City (1900), Mitla (1901), Monte Albán (1902), Xochicalco (1908–1910) and Isla de Sacrificios (1910). His most famous undertaking was the reconstruction of Teotihuacán’s Pyramid of the Sun, a project he carried out from 1905 to 1910. Still, like the museum professors, he operated with little technique. Batres seems to have understood the principles of stratigraphic excavation and the importance of the technique for recording data, but he did not use the procedure consistently or systematically. His methods were idiosyncratic, and they were not necessarily characterized by attention to detail. To carry out his tasks, he usually relied on the labor of the locals at the ruins, who helped with his excavations and other duties, such as hauling antiquities to the National Museum, Mexico’s showcase of antiquity.

Exhibiting Antiquity: The National Museum

While the museum’s archaeology collection grew throughout the Porfiriato, how to exhibit the artifacts was a source of endless debate. The professors spent much of their energies rearranging the collection, a process that came to absorb the labors of several important scholars, including Del Paso y Tronscoso, Chavero, and Peñafiel. The men did not agree on the arrangement of the pieces in part because they lacked knowledge about the provenance of many of them. In addition, collection practices were also changing. Organizational principles were in flux in the late 19th century, as anthropology museums began to shift from a system that arranged antiquities by type (the typological collection) to one that organized them by culture (the so-called tribal arrangement). For most of the Porfiriato, the professors grouped the artifacts by type, dividing them into categories such as musical instruments, utensils, and adornments. Toward the end of the period, they abandoned this system for the “tribal arrangement” of collection popularized by the American anthropologist Franz Boas. To make this change, they hired the German archaeologist Eduard Seler, the head of the American division at the Ethnological Museum of Berlin. A leading figure in the Americanist movement, Seler had carried out a great deal of research in Mexico during the Porfiriato. In 1907, he began to reorganize the more than ten thousand pieces in the archaeology collection. The museum, however, was not satisfied with the outcome; it disagreed with the culture and place of origin he had attributed to some of the objects. The institution then replaced Seler with Inspector Batres, who reorganized the collection. Some observers praised the results, while others condemned the inspector’s work, raising objections, especially, with the provenance he had assigned to many of the artifacts.

In addition to the archaeology collection, Batres also designed the famous Gallery of Monoliths, the museum’s main attraction. This exhibit occupied the most central spot in the institution, the large hall directly facing the main entrance. It was inaugurated by President Díaz on 16 September—Mexico’s Independence Day—1887. The gallery presented visitors with a completely ahistorical vision of the past. Artifacts were lined against the walls and placed on pedestals in the center of the room without any sense of chronological order. Instead, the gallery displayed the finest pieces from as many of Mexico’s ancient cultures as possible. The room was a mix of cultures, with stones of different sizes, shapes, and colors. It acted like a container for the nation and its diversity. The aim of the gallery was spatial coverage; it emphasized the presence of antiquity throughout the Mexican territory. During the Porfiriato, this collection more than doubled. In 1895, for instance, the gallery housed over three hundred antiquities, including some of Mexico’s most famous: the Chacmool of Chichén Itzá, the Aztec Xochipilli, Coatlicue, and the Stone of Tizoc. By the end of the period, in 1908, the same room contained over seven hundred pieces.

Excavation and Exhibition of the Pre-Hispanic Cultures during the PorfiriatoClick to view larger

Figure 2. Hauling artifacts to the National Museum often involved difficult and dangerous procedures. In this image, Batres directs workers and soldiers in late 1889 as they transport the enormous Goddess of Water from the ruins of Teotihuacán. The statue was then placed on the train and taken to Mexico City, where it was dragged through the streets until arriving at the museum. The entire procedure took five months. At one point, a cable snapped, crippling two of the workers.

Source: Leopoldo Batres. Teotihuacán; ó, La ciudad sagrada de los Tolteca. Mexico City, Mexico: Hull, 1906.

The Gallery also highlighted the Aztecs. Most of the pieces were Aztec, and the Aztec Calendar hung at the center of the room, the heart of the museum, making it the first piece visitors saw upon entering the institution. Through this emphasis, the gallery projected the idea that Mexico was not just an integrated nation but a nation dominated by its capital. In fact, it was during the Porfiriato that the Aztec Calendar became a part of the museum. Before this, the gigantic monolith could be found on the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, where it had been embedded in the exterior of the west tower for nearly a century. Although Batres is often credited with hauling the twenty-four-ton disk to the National Museum, he does not appear in the institution’s records of the event. Instead, the move was orchestrated by museum director Jesús Sánchez, who thought it was urgent to protect the monument. Not only was the massive disk exposed to the elements on the cathedral, but people also pelted it with rocks and rotten fruit. In 1885, Sánchez had the calendar moved, using the manpower and supplies of a local streetcar company, the municipal government, and the Secretariat of War. Today, the calendar still hangs prominently at the center of Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology, the contemporary descendant of the National Museum.

Sometimes the government effort to fill the museum with relics clashed with the desires of people near the ruins who sought to keep objects they considered part of their local or regional patrimony. Provincial museums throughout the country were searching for antiquities. Museums with archaeology collections existed in several states, including Colima, Jalisco, Puebla, Oaxaca, Michoacán, Campeche, Yucatán, and San Luis Potosí. Whether a provincial or the national museum ended up with a piece seems to have been based on a sort of “finders, keepers” system. If the National Museum found out about an object and claimed it first, it usually got it. Sometimes a regional museum made an attempt to keep one of these pieces. In 1907, the interim governor of Yucatán, Enrique Muñoz Arístegui, asked to keep some artifacts that the National Museum had recently claimed. The governor wanted to display them in his state’s “incipient and poor museum.” He argued that it seemed “natural to conserve them there,” since they were from Yucatán. The case was forwarded to Inspector Batres, who often displayed a possessive attitude toward antiquities and the science of archaeology. Batres denied the governor’s plea. He thought it would set a “terrible precedent,” if artifacts found by the authorities were diverted from their “legitimate” destination (the National Museum) and placed in the provincial museums instead.4 Mexico’s archives, however, hold few of these types of requests from provincial museums, which most likely means that the museums built their own collections with objects that the National Museum had not found first.

Apart from provincial museums, indigenous communities also sought to retain artifacts that they considered their own. We know of these cases mainly through the records of Batres. One example involved Tepoztlán, a village in the state of Morelos located near the hilltop pyramid known as Tepozteco. In 1895, Francisco Rodríguez, a young engineer from the town who went on to become a prominent archaeologist, excavated the site, and gathered several glyphs and sculptures. The villagers used these objects to establish a municipal museum, what contemporary archaeologists refer to as a community museum, an institution that allows local people to be the creators of their own history. Batres visited the museum four years later and decided to confiscate the pieces. He claimed Rodríguez had violated the Law of Monuments of 1897, Mexico’s first law to explicitly grant the federal government ownership of the ruins. The villagers asked to keep the artifacts, and several prominent individuals, including the Morelos governor and even President Díaz, intervened to advocate for the people. Batres protested: to relinquish the objects would set a precedent, he wrote, and “we would have to return every stone that makes up the grand archaeology collection of the museum.”5 In 1904, Tepoztlán’s artifacts became a part of the National Museum.

Exhibiting Antiquity: Teotihuacán

In addition to the museum, Mexico shored up its image as an ancient and sophisticated nation at its archaeological sites. The government carried out work at several ruins throughout the country; it removed vegetation from pyramids and cleared roads to ruins, making them more attractive and accessible to visitors. These efforts were part of a budding interest in promoting tourism at the ruins, a project encouraged by Batres. In 1900, for instance, Batres built a bridge and staircase to the Tepozteco pyramid. Before this, visitors had had to risk their lives scaling boulders to reach the site. Batres also rebuilt structures at several ruins, including Mitla and Xochicalco. But no place got as much attention as Teotihuacán. The site was reconstructed for the centennial celebration of Mexican Independence in 1910, a festival which drew thousands of visitors from all over the country and the world to the Mexican capital. During the centennial, Mexico also hosted the Congress of Americanists in the National Museum, an important scientific event it had hosted once before in 1895. Teotihuacán was not only monumental, but it was also just an hour’s train ride away for the many scientists and dignitaries who would be visiting the capital in 1910.

To turn Teotihuacán into a pristine archaeological site, the government called on Inspector Batres. One of the inspector’s first tasks was to evict the local people from Teotihuacán. Several indigenous communities owned the land at the site: the towns of San Sebastián, San Francisco Mazapa, Santa María Cuatlán, San Juan Teotihuacán, and San Martín de las Pirámides. The Law of Monuments had given the government the right to nationalize ruins in the country. Batres purchased the land from the locals, completing the process in 1907, making Teotihucán the first archaeological site in Mexico to become national property.

Other challenges at the site were more technical. Batres focused on reconstructing the Pyramid of the Sun, a colossal structure standing over 200 feet tall with a base more than 730 feet long on each side. He had to remove tons of soil from the pyramid and find a way to rebuild it. He first conducted a series of probes and determined that the pyramid was made up of two superimposed layers. Batres ended up taking off the outer layer of the pyramid. Critics have charged that he did this work with the aid of dynamite, archaeology’s biggest taboo. Although this claim has not been proven, Batres did have dynamite among his supplies at Teotihuacán. In any case, eliminating the pyramid’s outer layer left the retention walls at the top of the structure exposed. Batres mistook the walls for remnants of a terrace and proceeded to reconstruct the pyramid with an extra terrace, leaving it with five levels. Archaeologists believe there were originally just four. The small, thin terrace found at the top of the pyramid is most likely a fabrication. Critics have claimed that Batres falsified it on purpose, but it was probably just a mistake. Removing the pyramid’s outer layer led to another problem. The second, now-exposed layer was very fragile, made of adobe and stone bound with clay. Once it started to rain, the pyramid began to dissolve. To prevent the monument from completely disintegrating, Batres covered it with a wooden framework made up of drains and gutters that channeled away the water. He had his workers carefully replace the clay that held the stones together with cement.

Batres envisioned Teotihuacán as a tourist destination and designed features with this in mind. To allow visitors a chance to rest as they toured the ruins, he built a kiosk where they could relax and have refreshments. To make the site more attractive to them, he constructed a Japanese garden. Designed by members of the Japanese community in Mexico, the garden had a waterfall and lake full of carp and other colorful fish. Batres hoped this feature would eliminate the arid appearance of the region. In addition, he built a museum at Teotihuacán, the first state-sponsored, onsite museum in the country. It had a Doric-style façade and elegant display cases filled with over eight thousand objects from his excavation.

Close to three hundred workers labored at the site. Although Batres did not record the origin of the workers, they most likely came from the region. The more skilled men, like the mechanics and carpenters, were probably from Mexico City. Bates ran his camp with the military discipline he had learned as a young man. Meals and other activities were highly regulated. Laborers were organized into brigades and supervised by foremen. The common workers—diggers and haulers—earned little over 3.5 pesos a week, while the bricklayers who inserted the cement into the cracks between the stones on the Pyramid of the Sun earned six. Not much is known about the working conditions, but the camp had an infirmary, a public bathroom, and a public bathtub. It had a spring supervised by a guard—the site ultimately had two permanent guards—who dispensed water to the workers. In addition to reconstructing the Pyramid of the Sun and all the other projects, workers helped Batres uncover the Temple of Agriculture, the so-called Subterranean Buildings, and parts of the Ciudadela.

Batres turned Teotihuacán into a showcase of antiquity in time for the centennial. On September 10, 1910, a group of over two hundred centennial visitors, including scientists from the Congress of Americanists, Mexican officials, and a delegation led by the ambassadors of the United States, Japan, China, and Spain, arrived at the site. They spent the day touring the ruins. Some climbed to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun where they got a view of the Valley of Mexico along with the nation’s capital. They visited the new museum at the site, which was opened on that day. Batres served as their tour guide and gave a systematic recounting of his work in French. The group tour also included a lunch in a large nearby cave known as the Porfirio Díaz Grotto. It was an elegant meal, complete with an orchestra playing Mexican and foreign melodies, including the anthems of the representative nations. Mexican officials made speeches: The secretary of foreign relations, Enrique Creel, gave a toast to all the “cultured nations” that had sent representatives. Justo Sierra, the secretary of education and an avid promoter of archaeology, celebrated Teotihuacán as one of “humanity’s great works,” a site that proved “the grandeur of a people.”6 Archaeologists Eduard Seler and Franz Boas praised Batres on his work. Batres was satisfied with the results as well. In his words, he had unveiled the city of the “Greeks of the yellow American race,” the “Rome of the Toltecs,” and considered it a “happy success.” He had carried out his work, he later explained, to ensure that Mexicans were not judged “as illiterates in the realm of science.”7 Within months, however, the revolution broke out. President Díaz fled to Europe, where he lived out his last days in Paris. One month after Díaz’s departure, in July 1911, Batres resigned as inspector and also fled. He lived in Barcelona for a year and returned to Mexico, only to be forever condemned for his reconstruction of Teotihuacán. He spent the rest of his life defending his reputation.

Although Batres rebuilt Teotihuacán using the techniques of his time, reactions to his work tend to be negative. Ironically, however, reconstructions carried out later in Mexico into the 1970s and beyond were often not much better than those of Batres, despite developments in archaeological techniques and in restoration theory and practice. Critics have charged that Batres’s excavations at Teotihuacán failed to produce any useful information and that he disfigured the Pyramid of the Sun. He left the pyramid much smaller than the original and gave it an added terrace. Due to the cement he employed, the pyramid now has “an alien, modern appearance,” according to the archaeologist Sigvald Linné.8 Today, this use of cement is under attack. While the cement was meant to hold the pyramid together, it prevents the evaporation of water. This has caused the south side of the structure, where the sun hits the hardest, to dry out. Many fear that the pyramid may crumble apart. At the time of this writing, archaeologists are searching for ways to solve this problem.

Discussion of the Literature

The Porfiriato is not necessarily known for its interest in excavating and exhibiting the pre-Columbian past. The Díaz regime was openly hostile toward the contemporary Indians. It waged war against the Yaquis of Sonora and the Maya of Yucatán and stripped native peoples of their land. Until recently, the period had been ignored in the studies on indigenismo, the multifaceted trend in Latin America aimed at exalting and protecting the Indians. This was a consequence not only of the regime’s antagonism toward native peoples but of scholars’ tendency to associate indigenismo with the successive revolutionary state that was touted as pro-Indian. Historians typically characterized Porfirian leaders as Europhiles, as men enamored with all things European, dismissing their interest in the ancient past as simply cerebral and arty.

Recent scholarship, however, has begun to delve more deeply into the indigenismo of the times, which was confined to glorifying antiquity rather than promoting the well-being of the Indians. It has focused on elite constructions of the ancient past, paying particular attention to cultural expressions such as statues, paintings, and architecture. Scholars who have examined such topics include Stacie Widdifield, Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo, Enrique Florescano, and Rebecca Earle.9 They have placed their focus on Porfirian indigenismo within the context of Mexican nation-building and the construction of an official national past.

A less-examined field, however, has been archaeology. The literature on the history of the discipline has generally been divided between studies that focus on the fieldwork of individual archaeologists and institutional histories of the National Museum. Until recently, these topics were approached without much of a critical eye. Historians of archaeology tended to romanticize the science as a series of great discoveries and brave explorers. Archaeology’s relationship to nation building, for instance, had gone largely unexplored, even though the science has played a significant role in Mexico’s nationalist project.

New approaches have focused on archaeology’s connection to larger developments during the Porfiriato, especially the process of nation building. Shelly Garrigan’s work, for instance, explores the relationship between the collection of artifacts and national identity. Carmen Ruiz looks at how aspects of the Mexican state were forged through the interaction between Mexican officials and foreign archaeologists. Christina Bueno has examined the political uses of archaeology. Much of the recent literature, such as the work of Mechthild Rutsch, avoids the scholarly divisions of the past by analyzing the interconnections between fieldwork archaeologists and those of the National Museum.10 A growing body of literature also places state institutions and popular culture into the same frame of study to focus on how heritage management has impacted communities near archaeological sites. Scholars including Bueno, Sandra Rozental, and Sam Holley-Kline examine communities’ alternative uses of ruins, uses which were often at odds with the Porfirian government’s plans for the sites.11

Primary Sources

There are several types of primary sources that document the excavation and exhibition of pre-Columbian cultures during the Porfiriato. Records on the National Museum can be found in the museum archives, the Archivo Histórico del Museo Nacional de Antropología, located in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. These documents shed light on the workings of the museum, the practices of museum archaeologists, and topics such as the development of the archaeology collection and the Gallery of Monoliths. Mexico City’s Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) also holds records of the museum as well as those of the Inspectorate of Monuments, both of which were overseen by the secretary of education. Batres’s records can thus be found in the AGN section, Instrucción Pública y Bellas Artes. Another set of documents that details the inspector’s fieldwork, the Archivo Leopoldo Batres, is located in the historical archives of the INAH in the Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología e Historia in Mexico City. This last archive also holds some of the papers of Francisco del Paso y Troncoso (Serie Francisco del Paso y Troncoso) along with other significant collections for the study of Porfirian archeology. Regional museums throughout Mexico similarly have their own archives.

An abundance of published primary sources on archaeology also exists. These are made up of museum catalogues and museum journals such as the Anales del Museo Nacional de México. The Anales was published by the National Museum throughout much of the Porfiriato and contains dozens of studies carried out by museum archaeologists and other scholars, including foreign scientists who had connections to the institution. The Anales also record some of the few trips to the ruins taken by the museum scientists. Outside of the Anales, archaeologists who regularly engaged in fieldwork during the Porfiriato frequently published studies about their research at certain sites; there are many of these types of publications. Batres published several as did other prominent Mexican and foreign archaeologists such as Cecilio Robelo and the American Marshall Saville. Another important set of sources are the proceedings from the different Congress of Americanists. While Mexico held the conference two times during the Porfiriato, in 1895 and 1910, Mexicans often attended the congress abroad. Studies in the congress proceedings chronicle fieldwork and other topics related to archaeology. Another particularly useful source is Sonia Lombardo de Ruiz’s two-volume collection made up of articles related to archaeology that appeared in two Porfirian newspapers, El Monitor Republicano and the later El Imparcial.12

Further Reading

Bueno, Christina. The Pursuit of Ruins: Archaeology, History, and the Making of Modern Mexico. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2016.Find this resource:

    Earle, Rebecca. The Return of the Native: Indians and Myth-Making in Spanish America, 1810–1930. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

      Fernández, Miguel Angel. Historia de los museos de México. Mexico City, Mexico: Promotora de Comercialización Directa, 1987.Find this resource:

        Florescano, Enrique, ed. El patrimonio nacional de Mexico. Mexico City, Mexico: Consejo Nacional para La Cultura y Las Artes/Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1997.Find this resource:

          Gallegos Ruiz, Roberto, José Roberto Gallegos Téllez Rojo, and Gabriel Miguel Pastrana Flores. Antología de documentos para la historia de la arqueología de Teotihuacán. Mexico City, Mexico: INAH, 1997.Find this resource:

            Garrigan, Shelley. Collecting Mexico: Museums, Monuments, and the Creation of National Identity. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.Find this resource:

              Gonzales, Michael J. “Imagining Mexico in 1910: Visions of the Patria in the Centennial Celebration in Mexico City.” Journal of Latin American Studies 39, no. 3 (2007): 495–533.Find this resource:

                Morales Moreno, Luis Gerardo. Orígenes de la museología mexicana: Fuentes para el estudio histórico del Museo Nacional, 1780–1940. Mexico City, Mexico: Universidad Iberoamericana, 1994.Find this resource:

                  Rico Mansard, Luisa Fernanda Francisca. Exhibir para educar: Objetos, colecciones y museos de la ciudad de México (1790–1910). Barcelona, Spain and Pomares/Mexico City, Mexico: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 2004.Find this resource:

                    Rutsch, Mechthild. Entre el campo y el gabinete: Nacionales y extranjeros en la profesionalización de la antropología mexicana (1877–1920). Mexico City, Mexico: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia/Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2007.Find this resource:

                      Suárez Cortés, Blanca Estela. “Las interpretaciones positivistas del pasado y el presente (1880–1910).” In La antropología en México, 15 vols., Vol. 2. Edited by Carlos García Mora, 13–88. Mexico City, Mexico: INAH, 1987.Find this resource:

                        Tenorio-Trillo, Mauricio. “1910 Mexico City: Space and Nation in the City of the Centenario.” Journal of Latin American Studies 28, no. 1 (1996): 75–104.Find this resource:

                          Tenorio-Trillo, Mauricio. Mexico at the World’s Fairs: Crafting a Modern Nation. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999.Find this resource:

                            Valiant, Seonaid. Ornamental Nationalism: Archaeology and Antiquities in Mexico, 1876–1911. Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill, 2018.Find this resource:

                              Vázquez León, Luis “Mexico: The Institutionalization of Archaeology, 1885–1942.” In History of Latin American Archaeology. Edited by Augusto Oyuela-Caycedo, 69–89. Aldershot, UK: Avebury, 1994.Find this resource:

                                Vázquez León, Luis. El leviatán arqueológico: Antropología de una tradición científica en México. Mexico City, Mexico: Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, 2003.Find this resource:


                                  (1.) Vicente Riva Palacio, ed., México a través de los siglos: Historia general y completa del desenvolvimiento social, político, religioso, militar, artístico, científico y literario de México desde la antigüedad más remota hasta la época actual (Barcelona, Spain: Espasa, 1887–1889).

                                  (2.) Justo Sierra, Epistolario y papeles privados, ed. Catalina Sierra de Peimbert (Mexico City, Mexico: UNAM, 1949), 290.

                                  (3.) Archivo Histórico del Museo Nacional de Antropología, Vol. 204, exp. 141, fols. 314–317.

                                  (4.) AGN, IPBA, caja 168, exp. 2, fols. 12 and 11.

                                  (5.) AGN, IPBA, caja 167 bis, exp. 60, fol.15.

                                  (6.) Sonia Lombardo de Ruiz, ed., El pasado prehispánico en la cultura nacional: Memoria hemerográfica, 1877–1911, vol. 2, El Imparcial, 11 September 1910 (Mexico City, Mexico: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1994), 2:634–635.

                                  (7.) Archivo Leopoldo Batres, Mexico City, Subdirección de Documentación, Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología e historia, fols. 502, 264; Archivo General de la Nación, Instrucción Pública y Bellas Artes, caja 165, exp.75, fol. 1.

                                  (8.) Sigvald Linné, Archaeological Researches at Teotihuacán, Mexico (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2003), 32.

                                  (9.) Stacie G. Widdifield, The Embodiment of the National in Late Nineteenth-century Mexican Painting (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1996); Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo, Mexico at the World’s Fairs: Crafting a Modern Nation (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999); Enrique Florescano, Imágenes de la patria a través de los siglos (Mexico City, Mexico: Taurus, 2005); and Rebecca Earle, The Return of the Native: Indians and Myth-Making in Spanish America, 1810–1930 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007).

                                  (10.) Garrigan, Shelley, Collecting Mexico: Museums, Monuments, and the Creation of National Identity (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012); Carmen Ruiz, “Insiders and Outsiders in Mexican Archaeology, 1890–1930” (PhD. diss., University of Texas, 2003); Christina Bueno, The Pursuit of Ruins: Archaeology, History, and the Making of Modern Mexico (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2016); and Mechthild Rutsch, Entre el campo y el gabinete: nacionales y extranjeros en la profesionalización de la antropología mexicana (1877–1920) (Mexico City, Mexico: INAH and UNAM, 2007).

                                  (11.) Bueno, The Pursuit of Ruins; Sandra Rozental, “In the Wake of Mexican Patrimonio: Material Ecologies in San Miguel Coatlinchan.” Anthropological Quarterly 89, no. 1 (2016): 181–219; and Sam Holley-Kline, “Contextualizing Archaeology’s ‘Locals’: A Scalar Approach from El Tajín, Mexico,” Archaeologies 11, no. 1 (2015): 70–92.

                                  (12.) Sonia Lombardo de Ruiz, ed., El pasado prehispánico en la cultura nacional: Memoria hemerográfica, 1877–1911 (Mexico City, Mexico: INAH, 1994).