El Diente, located five kilometers north of Guadalajara’s Ring Road, is a forest of giant monoliths, a favorite place for local rock climbers to hone their skills. Now comes the revelation that El Diente is also an important archaeological site.
A high hill entirely covered with monumental ruins was discovered there recently by archaeologist Francisco Sánchez and last Sunday I had the pleasure of touring the site with the discoverer himself.
This visit was organized by CIDYT, the Center for Dialog and Multidisciplinary Research, located in the Nixticuil Forest, which links El Diente to other wooded areas of Zapopan.
“I was investigating CIDYT reports about possible archaeological sites along the Río Blanco,” Sánchez told me, “and something very curious occurred. A woman told me she’d had a dream that long ago there had been a pueblo on one of the hills of El Diente. Well, we went out to the hill in question to have a look, and this is what we found.”
“This” is a hill with a peak about 1,615 meters above sea level, literally covered from top to bottom with the ruins of ancient structures. Of course an ordinary person might climb the mountain seeing nothing—except for a great view of the surrounding countryside—and perhaps complain that the way was strewn with “too many rocks.”
Ah, but when you traverse the same path with an archaeologist, it’s like being present at the discovery of a new world. “This was obviously a platform. That pile over there and this one here were L-shaped structures. Look how the rocks are in perfectly straight lines! Can you see?”
Yes, yes, now that he’s pointed them out to me, I can see that these are man-made walls. “On top of these platforms,” he continues, “they built bajareques, wattle and daub structures which were coated with clay and burnt to make them hard and weatherproof. We can see remains of these at the top of the hill.”
We continue hiking and discover many more walls forming long terraces that even my lay eye can easily discern. “But they were not terraces for farming,” says Sánchez. “They’re too small. Something else was going on here.”
We move up to a higher elevation. At 1,609 meters we are just below the peak of the hill. “This may be the most important of all these structures,” says the archaeologist. We are standing on top of an ancient pyramid.”
I could see why this spot was chosen for a pyramid: the view was absolutely breathtaking.
“So who built all this?” I asked. “We are in luck,” said Sánchez. “The ground here is covered with tepalcates (shards) and fragments of worked obsidian. The ceramic pieces pinpoint the builders of these structures exactly. They are the same people who built Ixtépete (ruins next to the western Ring Road) and the colossal Palace of Ocomo (in Oconahua). These same people also built the structures at El Grillo (The Cricket), an archaeological site near the Telmex auditorium. Since we don’t know their real name, they are now referred to as the El Grillo Tradition.”
He explained that this civilization flourished during the Epiclassic period, from 650 to 900 A.D. and that their monumental architecture was rectangular, unlike the concentric circles of the Teuchitlán People who preceded them. This archaeological discovery adds fuel to the arguments of people who would like to turn El Diente into a full-fledged state park. Climbers assure me that the place is extraordinarily well suited for their sport and geologist Chris Lloyd says the monoliths may be 30 million years ago. “Geologically speaking,” he insists, “this is a very special place.”
Wildlife experts add that El Diente should remain connected to the Nixticuil Forest and not cut off by housing developments.
Out of curiosity, I asked Francisco Sánchez how he got interested in archaeology. “It happened while I was working at a pizzeria in London,” he replied with a grin. “I visited the Jorvik Viking Centre, a museum in York, and I was hooked. Then I read a book by Susan Hale, an American who described the archaeology of my own country in 1888, and I knew what I wanted to do in life.”
Sánchez returned to his native Guadalajara only to discover there is no place to study archaeology anywhere in Jalisco. He ended up enrolling in the National School of Anthropology and History in Mexico City and now specializes in a branch of Archaeometry which studies the colors in ceramic shards with a Scanning Electron Microscope.
Because looting is a major problem at archaeological sites in western Mexico, I can’t make the directions to these ruins public. Let’s hope that funds may be found to study and perhaps even restore this once glorious ceremonial center of the ancient Cricket Nation.