The small town of Navajas lies alongside the Circuito Metropolitano Sur, within easy reach of Guadalajara or the communities of Lake Chapala.
The word navajas means knives or blades and surely refers to the fact that this area has always been a source of high-quality obsidian, with lots of workshops for turning it into tools and jewelry. Stepping into their ancestors’ shoes, two local men, Eleno Espinosa and his brother, restored an ancient tradition in the area when, more than 20 years ago, they decided to start a modern-day obsidian workshop in their home town.
Black-and-red obsidian abounds in the area and at first Don Eleno and his companions were satisfied shaping hearts and butterflies on grinding wheels inside their (taller) workshop.
Eventually the fame of their sculpting talent reached Guadalajara and people began to come to them with special requests: Can you make me a cat? We want a red obsidian bear for our living room, and so on. Artistic types even brought them clay models of what they wanted to see in obsidian and were surprised at the beautiful results. (For more details Google “Don Eleno’s obsidian workshop.”)
Apart from this fascinating taller, Navajas possesses another attraction which few people are aware of. Only 1.3 kilometers south of the town lie the ruins of a major center of the Teuchitlán Nation, the curious civilization which ruled western Mexico 2,000 years ago. And, as archaeologist Chris Beekman notes, Navajas “may be the second largest intact center of the Teuchitlán tradition known at present.”
The “trade mark” of these people was a circular pyramid encompassed by a circular walkway, surrounded in turn by buildings on raised platforms, again arranged in a circle.
These ruins are spread over some 80 hectares south of Navajas and include five sets of concentric circles as well as a ball court more than 80 meters long. These mounds are popularly referred to as “Guachimontones,” a nickname given by modern-day inhabitants of Teuchitlán to the ceremonial circles discovered there by the late archaeologist Phil Weigand.
Many years ago, a local citizen of Navajas led me out to these ruins and recently I decided to retrace these steps with two friends, to see if “the Guachimontones of Navajas” are still there and reachable. My concern was not imaginary. Says Beekman of this site: “Its remains are in special danger due to mechanized agriculture, disinterest, and looting.”
We started out by walking south from the town for a short distance until we came to a river, which unfortunately was occupying what my old GPS track said was the path to the archaeological site. A river? Yes, there we stood on the edge of a muddy brown stream at a spot where the GPS said we were supposed to turn right.
Naturally, we were not about to give up when we had hardly begun our hike, so we spread out to look for a solution. As a result, we found some farmers halfway up the hill on the other side of the river who shouted that all we had to do was “look for the bridge.”
Now when I heard that, I realized they were referring to a sort of living log lying across the river almost in front of me. That “bridge” looked mighty slippery to me and I had been hoping to find something a bit more convenient. Then, with no qualms at all, Maruca Gonzalez marched over to the log and pranced right across it without hesitation. Next, my friend Mario crossed without a hitch and I had no choice but to put on a brave front and follow suit – successfully, I may add!
From the “bridge” we followed a picturesque trail south through a small woods, up a rocky slope and onto a wide, flat plain covered with cornfields. Off in the distance we could see some low mounds.
“No doubt,” I told my friends, “an archaeologist would, at this point, be ecstatically describing all sorts of marvels around us which, to our lay eyes, are entirely invisible but here we are. These are the Guachimontones of Navajas.”
We made our way to a low hill which even our eyes could see was a man-made mound. We were lucky that corn growing in the circular walkway around the mound was still very young. A month from now, every sign of these ruins will be hidden by corn and tall weeds.
We found a deep hole on top of the mound, no doubt dug by a saqueador (looter) who must have gone home empty-handed, because, as Beekman notes, the Navajas mounds – unlike those at Teuchitlán – did not have any tombs dug beneath them. We then withdrew to one of the few trees near the mound, to enjoy a snack, before heading back towards town.
If you’re interested in the archaeology of the Navajas ruins, you can download “Public Architecture: Navajas, Jalisco, Mexico” by Christopher Beekman from famsi.org. And, yes, I did get across that log bridge a second time – without falling in!
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