The Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (National Institute of Anthropology and History, INAH) is getting the authorization ready for the construction of the New International Airport of Mexico City on the premises of one of the key regions of Mesoamerica, the former Lake Texcoco. The INAH is working under “discretion” and complete secrecy since at least 2 years on the 50 square meters, but reports only “minor discoveries”. As a matter of fact the Institute has discovered at least 28 archaeological sites and 270 spots with pre-Hispanic archaeological remains.  For archaeologists and researchers these salvage works undertaken since 2012 have the sole purpose of concealing and minimizing the historical, cultural and archaeological value of the area and to justify a decision made beforehand from the desks of politicians and  businessmen: the business over a new airport.

Under “discretion” and absolute secrecy the INAH works within the area of the new International Airport since 2012.
“It should be noted that for this proposition, on behalf of the petitioning Engineer and Director of Consultoría y Desarrollo de Negocios del Aeropuerto y Servicios Auxiliares (Consultancy and Development of Businesses of the Airport and Auxiliary Services, ASA) Jorge Nevarez Jacobo   total discretion was requested, whereas for the moment few information has been handed over to the Archaeological Salvage Directorate, arguing a political and social climate of high risk, due to the vicinity with population which disapproved the first attempt of construction of the airport back in 2001, being very similar to this new proposal”, can be read in the official documents, of which Contralínea possesses a copy.
In agreement with the documents the Archaeological Salvage Directorate will be carried out upon a polygon of 50 square kilometers within the Municipalities of Atenco and Texcoco in the State of Mexico.
To this date the archaeologist Francisco Ortuño Cos, assigned for this task by the Institute has spotted 28 archaeological sites and around 270 spots containing pre-Hispanic remains.
The reported findings include offerings, burials, green stone sculptures, ceramics, fragments of pottery, crocks, incensories, beads, copal, carbon, shells, basalt stone, carbonized corncobs, bowls, small figures, even stakes, pots, flat vessel, jars, green obsidian blades, stone tools, even stakes or stills that would have upheld the platforms.
According to the register made by Ortuño and his team –the archeologists Antonio Balcorta Yepez, Axel Díaz Pelagio, Jorge Cabrera Torres and the interns in archaeology Tulio Cordero Hernández and Gerardo Martínez-, three archaeological sites with presence of offerings transcend, “two of these important settlements are located in the areas 1 and 3, inside the proposed polygon for the development of the project”, is stated in one of the documents.
The documents entitled Archaeological Field Survey of the Location where the new International Airport of Mexico City will be built. Final Report and 2nd Phase of the Archaeological Field Survey Studies of the Location where the new airport will be built in order to meet the demand of Airport Services in the center of the country dated in January and September 2013, have been drafted by the National Institute of Anthropology and History in cooperation with the Autonomous University of Nuevo León representing the phase 1 and 2 of the archaeological Salvage.
In accordance with the documents signed by Ortuño Cos, the INAH throughout the Archaeological Salvage Directorate started an inquiry on the polygon requested by Nevarez Jacobo, aiming to determine the feasibility of the building upon the former Lake Texcoco.

The lakebed, a vast archaeological zone

The deep soils of lake Texcoco, an urban pre-Hispanic settlement for two millennia, where the new airport is intended to be built, is a key region of Mesoamerica and one of the least studied in the great valley of Mexico.
According to Jeffrey Parson of the University of Michigan (USA) and Luis Morett of the Autonomous University of Chapingo (Mexico), these areas of deep soils must contain information about the ancient exploitation of salt and aquatic resources, aside of archeological remains of the Aztec hydraulic engineering System that used to regulate the water levels throughout the lake area and that enabled the construction and agricultural use of the Chinampas (soil raised above shallow ponds), which proved to be highly productive in the Lake Chalco-Xochimilco among other locations.
A sample of the potentiality is the recovery of mammoth, bison, horse and camel in the locality of San Miguel Tocuila, Municipality of Texcoco; bones of mammoth in Santa Isabel Iztapan in Chimalhuacan, Los Reyes Acozac and Los Reyes La Paz in Texcoco in the State of Mexico, all localities around the former coastline of the lake, underline both researchers in one of the joint investigations undertaken in 2003 and which among other writings supported the analysis Comments on the proposed “Rescate arqueológico” (archaeological salvage)  in the area to be affected by airport expansion on and around exlake Texcoco signed by Parson.
Ortuño Cos, assigned to the Archaeological Salvage Directorate of the INAH admits in his reports that further investigation is needed on the polygon: “Thereby, despite the fact that there aren’t too many archaeological surveys being performed in the interior of the lake, the few ones have shown the importance of the register and data that will allow us to compliment the way of life of established populations on the shore, who played an important role in the production of food and objects that where handed over as tribute to the Aztec and Texcocoan Dominions. “ he writes and continues enumerating  some investigations, among them the systematic patternsof the surface of the basin of the former Lake Texcoco performed in 2003 by Morett and Parsons.
The investigators explored an area of approximately 25 square kilometers on the central lakebed, where the construction of the first three airstrips will be projected, specified the archaeologist Morett in a press conference last 28th of January.
On the contrary on the 28 reported sites by Ortuño Cos during the archaeological salvage, within the 50 km that would have been covered, Morrett and Parsons identified above 1,100 sites with the presence of remains of archaeological material on surface, over 30 of them with enough evidence to be formally registered as a sites of settlement.

Superficial and insufficient salvage works

The report on the excavation tells the superficiality with which the salvage work was carried out, in order to justify the construction of the airport, points out an archaeologist that works in rescue projects with the INAH, and that afraid of any reprisal against him, requests his name to be omitted.
In line with the experts, Ortuño Cos fails to mention the use of geophysical tools, which the Institute counts on and should have been used, like the penetrating radar, the magnetometer or the resistivity meter, technology that allows the exploration of depths from 12 to 20 meters, without the need to perform any excavation.
“The surface contains only dragging material.To explore in such a way is to explore without any sense. Only isolated objects are rescued without any context. It is insufficient”, he refers in an interview with Contralínea.
In accord to what Ortuño Cos reported, the first phase of the archaeological salvage has been executed on the basis of a surface survey, and once having identified the areas with remains the second phase was carried out through controlled excavation in the 28 located sites.
Without specifying the depth the archaeologist planned to dig four survey wells of 2 meters by 2 meters in each of the 28 archaeological sites, most of them inside the Municipality of San Salvador Atenco.
The photographs attached to the official reports give evidence that they were not very deep. “In relation with the possibility to register remains of Pleistocene fauna, its probability can be remote on the surface”, indicates Ortuño in the reports.
On the contrary, the constructor plans to penetrate the earth ranging from 3 to 60 meters for the laying of the foundations of the terminal, the platforms, airstrips and the taxiway, according to the information provided by ASA.
Faced with that problem and as a way of solving matters, the institute establishes the third phase: to watch. “(Thus) the vigilance during the moments of the construction of the airstrips and the architectonical buildings (should remain)”.
The archaeologist who requested to remain under anonymity indicates that it is likely that during the construction major parts of the remains, including Pleistocene fauna will be found, but they are doomed for destruction. “In this phase, with the machinery digging, the pressure forces the archaeologists to work fast, they register and recover what they can, but that is equal to go through the garbage”.

The new airport still without the endorsement of the INAH

After almost three years of work the Institute still hasn’t delivered a verdict for the construction of the airport upon the 4,431 hectares. “It has still to be delivered. I think that the investigation will still need some months. The third phase is currently being concluded, after which a cabinet phase will follow, where all information will be processed. In 2016 we will be giving an answer”, indicates in an interview Pedro Francisco Sánchez Nava, Head of the National Archaeology Coordination of the INAH.
-Could the authorization be denied? –he is inquired.
-It will be necessary to wait, but we have to take into account that within the Mexican Republic, and particularly in the Great Valley of Mexico there are remains where we put the finger on. In this regard these works represent an opportunity to obtain information; if it wasn’t for these developments these remains would linger buried for years, they wouldn’t ever see the light. Obviously there are remains that could be brought to the laboratory and others that shall stay.
-Meanwhile the construction cannot start?
-I don’t know if in certain areas without remains they are already carrying out some work; as far as I am concerned not.
Nonetheless that there is no authorization available, works related with mass movements of earth for the removal of embankments, dirt tracks, among other works are being carried out, denounced the archaeologist Morett in a press conference for the People’s Front in Defense of Land the last 28th of January.
“We underline that the rescue and archaeological investigation works that allegedly have been developed since 2012 have only covered a minor fraction of the area to be worked on. As such the complete work that should have been realized hasn’t been attended, representing a task that has to be done and concluded before starting any further construction.”
“I want to draw attention to the transparency needed in the works currently undertaken by the institute, throughout its Directorates        and that this is to be informed to society in a satisfactory manner. What I presume and which rather concerns me is that there is an accommodating work in progress, whose sole purpose has been to make way for the project.”
The INAH dismisses the findings
The archaeologist Sánchez Nava assures that during their intervention they hoped to find “many salt work areas, salt producing areas, but apparently there (are) none. There are much smaller remains, related with the lake itself, with Tlaloc (Aztec God of the rain) as an aquatic deity”.
-Could you name any of the found pieces?
-(There were) fragments of pottery, remains of incensories, wooden remains in salt bumps, figures made out of green stone such as small frogs, some stone beads made of chalchuhuite (jade), which were considered precious back then, that’s basically it.
-Where is the recovered material to be found?
-It is safeguarded in the offices of the Archaeological Salvage and its laboratory in the area.
-Wouldn’t the cultural and archaeological value of these 28 sites and 270 spots located in the polygonal area merit the cancellation of the airport?
-The cultural value of these remains is equal to the one of any (other) archaeological remain. In fact for us a fragment of pottery is as important as a pyramid; it is part of the puzzle we are assembling. The alternative of not carrying out the works there doesn’t warranty that these remains stay there.  We were aware that there would be remains based on previous studies, above all the one of Dr. Parsons, but knowing they are there is like having a book still wrapped in cellophane in your bookshelf, we know it is there, but we don’t know what it says. The airport as any other construction is an opportunity to value and research the remains. The dilemma being whether they should stay there until time destroys them, or should they be recovered systematically.
-Could the polygon be a major archaeological area?
-No, it would be excessive. A major archaeological area would be for example Teotihuacán, Chichen (Itza) or Cobá. It is an area with archaeological remains, as there are other ones in Azcapotzalco, Coyoacán, Texcoco, Tlacopan or in Mixcoac. We have the say that from (the) Bravo (river) until the Suchiate (river), Mexico is a tepalcate (fragment of pottery).
-From your perspective would the construction of the new airport be viable upon the former lake Texcoco?
We will have to wait for the verdict, value the quantity and quality of the remains, only then a verdict will be delivered, says Sánchez Nava, Head of the National Coordination of Archaeology of the INAH.
In order to accomplish this research an interview to the Archaeological Salvage Directorate, led by Salvador Pulido Méndez was requested. The attached authority of the INAH reserved itself the right to inform on the investigations: “An authorization will be issued once the studies are concluded”, said to Contralínea Pulido Méndez by phone and refused to answer to more inquiries until the Department of Social Communication of the INAH approved it. Up to the edition of the article no response has been received.
When asked on that matter, the Federal Congresswoman Zuleyma Huidobro of the Movimiento Ciudadano Party (Citizen’s Movement), who said that the INAH has failed to inform the Congress on the beginning of the Archaeological Salvage Works. The member of the Cultural Commission indicates that so far this year the Commission –in charge of Margarita Saldaña Hernández affiliated to the PAN-party- has not held a single session.
(Translated by: Axel Plasa)