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Prehispanic Wooden Lintels Recovered at Tlatelolco to be Shown for the First Time
Beyond doubt, the rescued lintels were part of buildings that received Cortes at Tlatelolco. Photo: DMC INAH/M. Tapia.

MEXICO CITY.- Three wooden lintels of an age determined between 500 and 800 years, part of temples that might have been seen by Hernan Cortes when arriving to Tlatelolco, will be displayed publicly after being restored by specialists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in a process that took place for over 15 years.

The ancient architectural elements that weight 200 kilograms each, are considered unique among Prehispanic items found until now, to be displayed at the great exhibition that will be opened in early March 2011 at MNA, “Six Ancient Cities of Mesoamerica: Society and Environment”.

The exhibition curated by Eduardo Matos Moctezuma will gather more than 400 Prehispanic pieces from the ancient cities of Monte Alban, Palenque, El Tajin, Teotihuacan, Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco, addressing for the first time the development of these civilizations parting from their environmental surroundings.

Tlatelolco lintels were found on September 1992 during work at the building of the Foreign Affairs Ministry at the Tlatelolco Square. After valuating their conservation state, a project was designed and implemented in 1993.

“Beyond doubt, rescued lintels were part of buildings that received Cortes at Tlatelolco, which present a carved bas-relief scene that suggest they must have been part of the same temple that had 3 entrances”, mentioned archaeologist Margarita Carball from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

“Rescue took place in difficult conditions since the pieces were found at the water table, covered with mud”, mentioned the archaeologist that headed the salvage 2 decades ago, adding that the estimated dating of the items corresponds to the age of splendor in Tlatelolco, at the Post Classic period (1200 to 1521 of the Common Era).

Lintels were manufactured in Ayacahuite pinewood, and their length is of 190, 220 and 235 centimeters respectively, of 50-60 cms wide and 20-26 thick; they would have corresponded to the superior part of entrances of a construction of probable civic-religious functions, according to documental sources that mention temples in the area where vestiges were found.

Luisa Mainou, restorer at the National Coordination of Cultural Heritage Conservation (INAH-CNCPC) and responsible of the preservation of these elements throughout 15 years, informed that when arriving to the workshop, wood was waterlogged; some parts presented putrefaction resulting in the loss of physical-mechanical properties that characterize healthy wood.

“Considering pieces were submerged around 600 years, conservation state was good due to the kind of wood and its thickness; if they had been thin, they would have disintegrated”, mentioned the restorer.

Intervention began with a study of physical-mechanical and chemical conditions, which allowed determining different deterioration states from the surface to the interior.

After cleaning, a prevention treatment to avoid desiccation of the beams and fungicide application followed.

Mainou mentioned that to remove water from the wood a method of damp desiccation that consisted in drying gradually the beams by substituting water with a polymer to conserve volume and form of the piece to avoid its collapse.

Pieces that weighed nearly 300 kilograms at the moment of the finding, reduced their weight throughout the 15-year period in which substitution process took place and recovered an acceptable structural level that allow their manipulation and exhibition.

The restorer declared that the different conservation processes practiced result from several years of previous research, adding that each piece had a different behavior in spite of having come from the same place. “It has been a meticulous and gradual task in which we needed to keep creative at all times, since we cannot just copy European processes that do not respond to Mexico’s features”.

The 3 lintels will be exhibited for the first time at the Temporary Exhibitions Hall of the National Museum of Anthropology as part of the show “Seis ciudades antiguas de Mesoamérica. Sociedad y Medio Ambiente, (Six ancient cities of Mesoamerica. Society and Environment) that will display 400 Prehispanic pieces in Mexico City.

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