The Other San Miguel Pyramids
By Jean Paul Peretz
Most people know of the Cañada de la Virgen, the archaeological site that was first discovered in 1998 and opened to the public in 2011.
Wikipedia lists about 50 known pyramids in Mexico. Actually, they are technically not pyramids. Egyptian pyramids are tombs. Mexican pyramids are temples and/or fortresses. With few exceptions, the pyramids found in America are not tombs.
When I visited Monte Alban, near Oaxaca, a man approached me at the top and, making sure that no officials were watching, he offered me two beautiful little stone figurines that he swore were genuine Zapotec antiquities.
I demurred, but I asked him where he had found them. He showed me several mounds a few kilometers from the site. He said they were pyramids, and that his family’s farm had been expropriated, so he sold artifacts they had found to make a living.
Maybe it was just a story; maybe they were fake. But there are probably hundreds of non-excavated archeological sites in Mexico. I have seen some semi-discovered in Tikal, Guatemala, and it was not easy to tell they were not just regular hills.
Here in San Miguel, I met a man I´ll call Antonio, whose family has lived in San Miguel for at least three generations. His grandfather sold cow skins, sometimes walking days to reach the market in Querétaro or even Mexico City.
Antonio´s parents were very poor and often walked the hills to find edible plants, nopales, tunas, or chilitos (little red biznaga fruits shaped like chiles). They also picked all kinds of medicinal plants like huizache pods, which you can rub on your gums to cure abscesses, and engorda cabra (“goat fatteners”) that cure kidney stones. During our walks, Antonio pointed out dozens of them, with their names in Spanish or Chichimeca and their properties.
He knew of old springs, now dry, and ancient chapels such as the Capilla de Piedra in Atascadero, now buried under the enormous development that usurped its name and disfigures the hill above town.
He took me to San Luis Rey, the colonia north of town where some of his family lives, past the road he said used to be completely lined with dry-stacked stone walls, now almost entirely taken apart for newer buildings. We passed through a barbed wire fence and started climbing and bushwhacking.
He pointed out stones that had obviously been quarried, remnants of fitted walls and stairs, and even pottery shards, some with leg-like bumps. We climbed a large area of overturned rocks that obviously had been dug out. He told me that he and his sibling had once found an infant skeleton with a necklace. I did not ask what happened to it.
The extraordinary view from the summit would have afforded a great observation point for a Chichimeca watchman and, according to Antonio, was perfectly lined up with the Parroquia and another site in Cabras.
He wistfully said that the city knew of all these sites but was not interested. Maybe they should be.