by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
One Summer In Mexico – Part 33
In early August 1970, Dr. Román Piña Chan invited Richard Thornton for lunch to examine some “Olmec Civilization” artifacts that had never been put on display in the museum. The reason that they were not shown to the public was that they did not look like typical Olmec Civilization artifacts. Years later, these artifacts were scientifically dated. Although there was a village at Laguna de los Cerras by 1400 BC, most the artifacts were created between 250 AD and 900 AD. They were also deposited in the mounds during that era. The people of this region only built earthen mounds with clay stucco finishes, not stone masonry.
In recent years, Mexican archaeologists have begun to recognize the region near the border between Veracruz and Tabasco as a distinct civilization during the Classic Period, but they are not sure who lived there. Beginning around 1000 AD, waves of Nahuatl invaders swept through the region, either driving out or killing most of the aboriginal peoples. Some of the survivors were able to migrate to the Chattahoochee River Basin of Georgia, where they became the ancestors of the Muskogee-speaking Creeks.
Besides the obvious shared architectural traditions in the region around Laguna de los Cerros and Creek towns, craftsmen in this civilization excelled in the production of copper tools, ornaments and weapons. The copper artifacts at Etowah Mounds were also quite sophisticated. The design motifs in Etowah were from Chichen Itza, however. Only among the towns of the Lower Chattahoochee River and western Florida do you see the motifs, typical of Laguna de los Cerros.
It should be explained that the Olmecs had nothing to do with the Olmec Civilization. The Olmec Civilization was created by a cluster of “Western Maya” ethnic groups in southern Mexico. It is now becoming clear that the people of the Creek Confederacy (now the Muscogee-Creek Nation) were the descendants of a merging of Western Maya immigrants to Georgia with Panoan immigrants, who arrived earlier from eastern Peru.
Time Machine – This week 50 years ago
Delighted to get out of Guatemala! Was jumped by bandits near the Mexican border. They were surprised to see me pull out a Navy K-Bar knife. A few slices at their bellies and they ran off. Started out in the Chiapas Highlands, where you see a lot of ancient stone terraces like in the Andes. I took the bus to Palenque – incredibly beautiful city. On the bus, I met a nice couple from Mobile, AL named David and Linda Sheel??? He’s an architect on a grant to photograph Maya cities. She’s an art student. As the only southerners on the bus, we hung out together at Palenque and toured the ruins together. I held Linda while she leaned over the tomb underneath a pyramid to photograph it. We also ran into a National Geographic archaeologist from Camden, SC named George Stuart. He was at Palenque taking photos for an article and plans to excavate there. He wrote all those famous articles on the Mayas when I was in high school. He was also glad to get out of Guatemala!
I moved into the Lowlands and Olmec Civilization Zone mid-week. I have been at Villahermosa and LaVenta. Now visiting Tres Zapotes in Veracruz. Both this city and Laguna de los Cerros were occupied until around 900 AD. Dr. Piña Chan wanted me to also go to Laguna de los Cerros, but there is no bus that will stop in walking distance of the ruins. I am staying at a little mom and pop inn near the ruins. It was only 14 pesos. The only other tourists are some really snooty French students, who have proceeded to make everybody here despise them. They refused to pay for their meals and demanded French food. They are stoned on some sort of drug right now and acting really weird at the archaeological site.
The middle-aged couple, who own the hotel, invited me to dine with their family at this afternoon’s dinner. They didn’t charge me, even though it was served in the restaurant. We chatted in pigeon Spanish-English for about 2 1/2 hours. Toward the end of the conversation, both he and his wife began urging me to go to the Tres Zapotes Brothel . . . claiming that they had the prettiest girls in Mexico. I told them that I had promised my girlfriend in Mexico City that I would not be with prostitutes.
They then asked me if we slept together. I said no. They said that I needed a new girlfriend. His wife then whipped out a color picture of an older daughter in front of the younger children. She was pretty . . . maybe older than 16, but not much. Her name was Consuela. They kept on asking me again and again to go to the brothel. Then they thought that I didn’t have the money. He then handed me a hundred peso bill to rent his daughter for the night, then called the brothel and told them to hold Consuela for me. They said that we could have some cocktails at their bar then go upstairs. Then her mother said, “Consuela and you can have breakfast with our family tomorrow. That would be wonderful. Tomorrow is an off day for her. She will be free for you all day and tomorrow night.”
Obviously, there was no danger of me being mugged, but I still chickened out. Their feelings were really hurt because I would not shack up with their daughter. Her mother said, “Do you think that you are too important for Mexican girls?” This is crazy. I will be back in Mexico City tomorrow afternoon to a mother who calls me “Diablo Protestante.” We’ll have to drive up to Indios Verdes to do more than kiss. Maybe these parents know that once a Gringo knows a southern Mexican girl, he won’t go back to Gringas and will instead marry their daughter. Crazy! Well, Carin was one hot tamale, even if she was 32.
Time Machine Report: Linda Schele was so enthralled with Palenque that she entered graduate school in anthropology. She became an expert on Palenque and along with the son of George Stuart, David, cracked the Maya Code. They became internationally famous for this incredible achievement.
George E. Stuart wrote some of the most famous articles, ever published by National Geographic. He was in succession Chief Archaeologist, Director of Photography and Senior Editor of National Geo, during its glory days. His son, David, grew up playing in Maya ruins as his parents excavated sites. David went on to become one of the most respected archaeologists in the nation, if not the world.
In 1984, George Stuart appeared at Richard Thornton’s goat farm-cheese creamery in the Reems Creek Valley of North Carolina to photograph it for a National Geo book on the Appalachian Mountains. Only later did they realize that they had met at Palenque, because Richard had forgotten about the existence of his journal. George later persuaded Richard to move the operation to the Shenandoah Valley. George introduced him to the staff of National Geo, the Smithsonian Institute and Library of Congress, who became his most loyal cheese customers and almost all of his architecture clients.
In 2012, a laboratory at the University of Minnesota determined that Maya blue pigment, used to make the stucco, murals and paint in Palenque came from Georgia!
Richard Thornton spent the rest of his life, kicking himself, because he didn’t forget about Alicia and scoff up on some Southern Mexican mixed-blood Indian senorita (whose parents all adored him) and live happily ever after. Only in 2007, would he learn that he himself carried Southern Mexican Indian DNA, not North American Indian.