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‘Archaeology Can Cover the Totality of the Human Story’

David Frum

By David Frum (original source The Atlantic)

“In the spring of 2018, I took my family on a trip to Teotihuacan, the great metropolis of ancient Mexico that flourished roughly at the time of imperial Rome. My archaeologist friends unanimously urged: “Before you go, you must talk to David Carballo at Boston University.” I found Carballo. He could not have been more generous with his time and advice. At the end of the conversation I asked, “By the way, do they still do that wonderful sound-and-light show in the evenings? I enjoyed that so much when I visited back in the ’80s.” There was an awkward pause before Carballo replied, “I personally dismantled one of those lights. They were damaging the structures.”

I was embarrassed, but of course, Carballo was right.

Carballo has now produced a new history of the overthrow of the Aztec empire for Oxford University Press, just in time for the 500th anniversary of the event. There is no shortage of major English-language histories of the conquest: Hugh Thomas produced one in 1993, J. H. Elliott and Camilla Townsend each added their own in 2006, and Matthew Restall offered another in 2018, to name just a few notable works.

Those authors, however, were experts in ancient texts. Carballo came from the field. I interviewed him by email in early July about the innovation of his approach to the foundation of modern Mexico; our exchange has been edited for brevity.”

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