Our cities tell us a lot about who we are, even if they existed 500 years ago.
Dr. William R. Fowler of Vanderbilt University gave a lecture entitled "Landscape and Practice: Archaeology of the Spanish Conquest Town of Ciudad Vieja, El Salvador," in the McClung Museum Tuesday night. The East Tennessee Society of the Archaeological Institute of America and the McClung Museum sponsored the talk.
Fowler discussed his findings from an archaeological dig in El Salvador, where he spent time from 1996 to 2005 uncovering and preserving buildings and tool remains. Ciudad Vieja, which was mostly populated with indigenous conquistadores and other indigenous people, was inhabited from 1528 to 1555, although it was officially abandoned in 1545.
Fowler began with the epigraph to his upcoming book on the subject, a quote from French historian Fernand Braudel saying, "Towns were motors that never stopped, modern and ahead of their time, they signaled the future, indeed they were the future already."
He went on to discuss details of the findings of the excavation and how they allowed archaeologists to see patterns in the way the city was formed.
"This is a center of rapid social change, alteration and generation of habitus and cultural production ... it's the early colonial epicenter of this new indigenous group," Fowler said. "What I want to emphasize is that we are looking at a new perspective on indigenous life. It's the beginnings of what would become the indigenous population of the colonial period, which has been transformed and been impacted by the conquests, not destroyed but certainly modified and altered."
Although Spanish conquistadores founded the town, it was mostly populated by indigenous conquistadores and peoples, which Fowler made the focus of his lecture.
"We're not just looking at mestizos, we're not reducing it to Spanish, Indian and mestizos," Fowler said. "The main emphasis is on indigenous populations that are reformulating the way they are doing things as a result of the conquest."
Aleydis Van de Moortel, an assistant professor in the Department of Classics and secretary-treasurer of the ETS, commented on the fact that archaeology allows us to see into people's lives.
"(The dig at Ciudad Vieja) is a fantastic example of how we can excavate the site and not only excavate the architecture and the find but actually excavate the people and what they have done and how they have behaved," Van De Moortel said.
Denise Chac, senior in anthropology and biology, attended the lecture and found the lives of these people to be fascinating.
"I enjoyed hearing about the stone structures and the architecture," Chac said. "It is interesting to see their use of space, why they put certain things where they did."
The field of archaeology has gotten more and more detailed over the years, and Fowler stressed the specificity of characteristics they have uncovered about Ciudad Vieja, El Salvador.
"We are dealing with the lives, the actions and the agency of real people who had lives in that town," Fowler said. "In some cases we may not be able to firmly identify and locate where their specific actions occurred, but we can link generic types of actions and agency with generic types of cultural production and structure in such a way as to think if this is not that particular individual, at least it was someone like him or her engaged in these activities. For archaeology, that's pretty specific."