SMU in Oaxaca

During winter term 2009-10, seven students will earn Art History/CF credit studying ancient archaeological sites, Colonial art and architecture, folk art and religious fiestas in the Valley of Oaxaca, the Sierra Norte, Sierra Madre del Sur and on the Pacific Coast as part of SMU-in-Oaxaca.

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Frozen in time

An update from Anne, a graduate student in history with a focus on the U.S. Southwest and Mexico who is doing research on Indian history:

Dec29-2.JPG Petrified waterfalls – only two in the world exist, one in Turkey and the other in Hieve El Auga, Oaxaca.

Dec29-1.jpg Those who felt up to the challenge, myself excluded, made their way to the bottom of the fall to see something they may likely never see again: water petrified instantly. Others, like myself, viewed the fall from a distance while resting in or near the natural pools (photo, right).

This is a remarkable place, a great mix of locals enjoying their environment with ease and tourists and students trying to soak up every moment before departure. Perhaps some of us left part of ourselves there, frozen in time.

One can only imagine the importance of this place to those before us. While one scholar believed this site provided those below the mountain with much needed salt to preserve their food distributed to the larger trade network, others think the site was used for agriculture.

Personally, I find it hard not to believe that such an important commodity as salt would not be extracted from this site and traded elsewhere, but also don’t think that this land was only used for that purpose. It is very likely that it was also used for agriculture. And who knows? Maybe there were young folks just like us taking time to enjoy their awe-inspiring natural surroundings.

Group%20at%20Mitla-1.jpgAfter lunch at Rancho Zapata, we ventured to the archaeological site of Mitla (photo, left). Once a complex society occupied Mitla and the surrounding area, which can be easily traced in the architecture and physical layout of the domain.

This is an ideal place to see the fusion of Mixtecs and Zapotecs. Initially, the Zapotecs built and occupied this site, but eventually the Mixtecs migrated into the region and integrated with those already there.

Dec29-3.JPG Today the site is frequently visited and well maintained. It still holds great significance for those whose ancestors once lived within, and it is not hard to see why. Working without technologies such as metal, large slabs of stone were cut to provide the building with a strong infrastructure and walls. Performing such tasks required strength, intellect and remarkable political will.

Walking and climbing among these ruins inspires a great sense of awe and respect for just how impressive the abilities were of those ancient souls working without the convenience of metal materials. Also, the symbolism and color variation found within the stonework is impressive and telling, to say the least. Decoding meaning behind such designs as those found in Mitla is possible for those who read prior to visiting the site.

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