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Text and Photos ©2011 by J. Pint

DVD on Phil Weigand

Bilingual DVD on archaeologist Phil Weigand

A 61-minute, bilingual documentary
(Spanish and English) on the life and work of archaeologist Phil Weigand

Photo Gallery

Archaeologist Phil Weigand directs the excavation of the ball court at the Teuchitlán ruins. The court turned out to be 111 meters long, in its day the largest ball court in Mesoamerica.

Archeologists Weigand (left) and Beekman inside the “azood” or water-collecting room of Qanat La Venta, a system of some 15 kilometers of man-made passages designed to bring year-round water to Hacienda La Venta, which supplied early Guadalajara with wood for building.

Phil Weigand, center, explaining why Pyramid 2 of the Guachimontones is wrapped in plastic. “The rainy season snuck up on us just after we had excavated a long channel to the heart of the pyramid.”

After 50 years of struggles, the Mexican archeology establishment as well as the public came to recognize Phil Weigand's achievements and to honor him in numerous ceremonies.

The obsidian workshop at Mazatepec is one of many discovered by Weigand. In this case, the partially worked obsidian bits still lying on the ground came from the nearby "Creepy-Crawly, Creamy-Green Obsidian Mine."

The archaeologist checking out a section of the huge mural by Jorge Monroy at the new Teuchitlan Museum.

Not long ago, Weigand initiated the excavation of the Tecpan of Ocomo, the largest indigenous palace in the Americas.

Phil Weigand explaining: his most typical pose. His expertise ranged far beyond the Guachimontones and he was highly respected for his studies of the Huicholes. Weigand always had time--or rather, made time--for anyone who came to him with a question.

Guide to the Guachimontones by John  Pint

Learn all about the circular pyramids and the Lost Civilization of Teuchitlán. Order A Guide to West Mexico's Guachimontones and Surrounding Area by John Pint (in Spanish and English).




The Discoverer of a Lost Mexican Civilization Dies in Guadalajara

By John Pint

Archaeologist Phil Weigand with his sketch of the “hidden geometry of the Guachimontones” showing how the ancient builders calculated the positions of the platforms around the circular pyramids.


In 1970, American archaeologist Phil Weigand happened to be visiting Balneario El Rincón near the little village of Teuchitlán. In the swimming pool, his wife, historian Acelia García found an obsidian blade, which intrigued the couple. “Where has this come from?” they asked themselves. It turned out that the water park had once been the site of an ancient workshop where countless obsidian knives and blades had been produced. The couple then began hiking in the hills just above the balneario and ended up wandering among the ruins of the curious “round pyramids” now known as Los Guachimontones. Later, Weigand recalled the moment: “I stood on the largest pyramid, looked around and thought, ‘This is unexpected.’” (For more information on this incident, see Phil Weigand Documentary).

It turned out to be an understatement. The Weigands set aside a summer to explore the pyramids they had found and ended up spending the rest of their lives documenting a complex, highly organized society which had begun in western Mexico in 1000 BC and had reached its apogee in 200 AD.

During his long career of over 50 years, Weigand moved from describing and mapping the ruins of the Teuchitlán Civilization to excavating their unique circular pyramids, remaining active at 76 years of age until his serious heart condition finally took its toll. He passed away on September 3, 2011 at 3:00 AM.

Weigand’s “right-hand man” for many years at the Teuchitlán ruins was Dr. Rodrigo Esparza. “Mexico and Jalisco,” he stated in an interview, “have lost a man who was as much an explorer and a visionary as were Carl Lumholtz, Désiré Charnay or Alexander Von Humbolt in their day. Dr. Phil Weigand came to western Mexico quite by accident and ended up embarking on an adventure that few individuals in the history of the world have ever experienced: the discovery of a lost civilization.”

Esparza went on to describe the “gray veil” which hung over the ancient history of western Mexico during most of the twentieth century, when it was assumed that whatever traces of civilization existed here had been brought to this area by the Aztecs, Mayas or some other people. From the 1960’s onwards, however, the Weigands were investigating, interviewing and registering over 2000 archaeological sites which allowed them to formulate the first hypotheses that western Mexico had been home to an unknown civilization.

“Phil was forced to face not only the mysteries of this region,” continues Esparza, “but also the hostility of his colleagues who refused to give him credit for his discoveries. They labeled him an inventor, a fraud and at times a ‘gringo loco’ but in spite of all these calumnies, he never wavered. Through articles, interviews, books and the constant support of El Colegio de Michoacán, he carried on. One day the governor of Jalisco, Alberto Cárdenas, came to Teuchitlán to check out Phil’s discovery. On that day, the governor said, ‘I don’t see anything at this site but a pile of rocks, but we’re going to give you the benefit of the doubt, to support you in your project.’ And that is how, with a little bit of money, he launched the archeological excavations of the Guachimontones on October 21, 1999, excavations that are still going on today. Now, eleven years after the start of the dig, more than 150,000 people visit the site yearly, a huge new Interactive Museum is about to open its doors and, perhaps most importantly, the Teuchitlán Civilization now figures in the textbooks of all the high schools of Jalisco and is today considered part of Mexico’s cultural patrimony and has even been declared a World Heritage Site.”

Phil Weigand was born in Nebraska in 1937 and grew up in Indiana. His father was a doctor and Phil at first planned to follow in his footsteps, but at the age of 18 he headed south into Mexico “trying to find out who he was.” In an interview with El Mural, he tells how he crossed the border “in a dilapidated old car I bought for 175 dollars.” The music, the language and the history all fascinated him and he planned to stay in Zacatecas, “but a waiter from Jalisco told me how beautiful western Mexico was and I said to myself, ‘Well, I’ve come this far—a little trip further south won’t take much time.’”

Phil and Acelia Weigand are honored at a ceremony in The Magic Top Museum in Zapopan. Photo: John Pint

But in Jalisco he met Acelia Garcia and his life changed. Not long afterward, he was studying Anthropology at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, taking his first steps toward a new career.

“Besides English and Spanish,” says fellow archaeologist Jorge Herrejón, “Phil understood French, German, Italian and Portuguese and had begun to learn Russian not long before his death. He was an indefatigable reader and had a personal library of over 4000 books, most of which he had read and whose contents he remembered. He was interested in a wide variety of subjects, from garden plants to volcanology, from Nazi anti-Semitism to Ukrainian folk music.”

Weigand’s daughter Nena confirms her father’s reading habits and wide interests. “Most people read one book at a time, but my father would read at least three at a time, usually leaving an open book in almost every room of the house. And as for his interests, well, he simply knew everything about everything. For example, we might be driving along a mountain road and someone might look out the window and say, ‘Oh, look at the pretty grass glowing in the sunlight—I wonder what it’s called.’ And my father would turn and say, ‘Well, that is called Bunch Grass. It doesn’t look like it, but it’s actually very fire resistant…’ and he would go on, telling us all about it. If there was ever a walking encyclopedia, he was it.”

My wife and I had the good fortune of enjoying Phil Weigand’s friendship for many years and witnessed with our own eyes how he could bring his wide knowledge of many subjects to uncover the mysteries of the past. In the 1980’s we had located what we thought was a most unusual cave just above the town of La Venta del Astillero, about ten kilometers west of Guadalajara. Our explorations revealed that this cave has hundreds of meters of narrow passages running in straight lines with small round “skylights” in the roof, all of them approximately 11 meters apart. Several speleologists came from afar just to see this curious “cave with 75 entrances,” but no one could explain how it had been formed.

One day, we brought archaeologist Chris Beekman to the cave and he immediately pointed out hatchet marks on the walls and footholes in the skylights, declaring that what we had found was a man-made structure. But exactly what was it? This was only clarified when Beekman invited Phil Weigand to have a look. No sooner had Phil stepped into the darkness of the huge entrance room than he declared, “John and Susy, this is no cave; this is a qanat, a kind of underground aqueduct invented in Persia 3000 years ago. The technology was so good, it spread across the Middle East to Spain and the Spaniards brought it here to Mexico.”

Of course, a few days later, Phil was showing us diagrams of a Persian qanat from one of those 4000 books in his library.

According to Dr. Eduardo Williams of the Colegio de Michoacán, which undauntedly supported Weigand’s work during his long career, “official Mexican archaeology” was, for many years, “principally preoccupied with the function of artifacts and where they fit in time and space. It was dedicated in great measure to the reconstruction of archaeological sites for the purpose of tourism and nationalism, forgetting almost completely the anthropological perspectives.”

To this scene, Phil Weigand brought “an interdisciplinary perspective and an effort towards integration which combined the focal points of various anthropological disciplines to arrive at a holistic vision of the past. He himself said, ‘my professional goal was to be an anthropologist—not an archaeologist, not an ethnologist and not an ethnohistorian, but all three of these at the same time.’”

Thanks to his humanistic focus and the interdisciplinary strategy he used in his studies, says Williams, Phil Weigand crossed the boundaries of the historical and anthropological understanding of western Mexico, and deserves to be recognized as a true Renaissance Man.

Phil Weigand was a great man, but he still managed to remain a generous and open man, always ready to give his time to others no matter how humble they might be. He will be remembered not only in the history books, but in the hearts of all who knew him.

John Pint


I first met Dr. Phil Weigand in 2003 after he invited me to join his archaeological project. I was a graduate student looking for a dissertation project, and he had a project that needed archaeologists. From the first day that we met, Phil took me under his wing and shared his vast knowledge about the archaeology of west Mexico and hundreds of completely unrelated topics with me. Phil was a student of many different topics, and had a great enthusiasm for sharing his passions with everyone he met. He would gladly talk for hours about archaeology, music, Mexican history, or any of his favorite subjects.
Phil was an amazing mentor to a number of young archaeologists he invited to work with him. He encouraged us and helped guide us, but allowed us a great deal of freedom working for him. Unlike many project directors, he didn’t require us to seek his approval to use the information we collected and didn’t request credit for any of the work we did. He was not just a teacher and mentor, though. He was a champion and protector of the archaeology of Jalisco.

He struggled to get recognition for the archaeological cultures of the region, fought for funding and permits to conduct excavations in the area, and was not afraid to battle those he felt threatened the region’s archaeological resources.

Thanks to his passion for the archaeology of west Mexico, and particularly for the Teuchitlan cultural tradition he identified there, our understanding of Mexican prehistory has changed greatly over the past few decades. Phil and his wife Acelia pioneered the research in the region, locating and mapping hundreds of sites over the years and conducting a number of projects. The culmination of Phil’s work is seen in the archaeological site known as Los Guachimontones, located just outside the town of Teuchitlan, Jalisco. Phil spent countless hours arranging support, funding, and publicity for the work being done at this important archaeological site. When I joined the project in 2003, we would often have only a handful of visitors to the site each week. Over the next few years, those numbers rose exponentially as Phil worked to get people interested in visiting and appreciating the site he loved. Newspaper and TV reporters were frequent visitors to the site to interview Phil about the work there, and busloads of students began arriving on field trips. For those who first visited the site in recent years, particularly on the Primavera [Equinox], it would be hard to imagine it just a decade ago when the road was impassible to cars and when visitors were rare.

I have many fond memories of Phil. I will remember the hours he spent leading me around the Guachimontones telling me of all the work that had been accomplished, his dreams for the future of the site, and his theories about the people who used to live in the region. I will remember the many meals eaten at lakeside restaurants in Teuchitlan where Phil and Acelia would hold court and provide a great dinner and conversation for everyone they had invited to work with them at Los Guachimontones. I will also remember the miles we walked and drove, even when Phil was in poor health, to visit archaeological sites or collect samples of obsidian.

Phil will be missed by the people of Jalisco for the passion and energy he gave to them in his efforts to understand and share with them the pre-history of their state. He will be missed by my coworkers and me for his generous nature, and his unending support of our contributions to the archaeology of the region.

Jennifer Yoshizawa

I met Phil in 1992, when I first came to Jalisco to scout out potential dissertation projects. He took me throughout the central valleys region, showing me the vast archaeological potential of Jalisco and ultimately convincing me to leave the Maya area for the Occidente. Phil later was a member of my dissertation committee. Phil and I always had our own field projects and only worked on one short term study together, a historical aquedeuct or "qanat" aided also by John and Susy Pint. But Phil and I did write a few articles together when we felt that our mutual experience on a topic would be useful to convey. Phil's understanding of western Mexico was vast, and he held strong opinions that he argued vigorously with the backing of a large personality. But he also greatly respected fieldwork, and after I completed my dissertation project I remember him once saying to me that "Well, you've worked in the field here. You can say whatever the hell you want!" Over the years we came to differ increasingly on the specific interpretations of the archaeology of western Mexico, but our communications were always close, affectionate, and respectful. I for one have felt a hollow space in my chest since I heard the news, and the archaeology of western Mexico will never be the same.

Dr. Christopher S. Beekman | Associate Professor | Department Chair University of Colorado Denver | Anthropology

There is not an archaeologist who works in West Mexico who will not miss having Phil around.  We will always remember the dedication and hard work that he brought to his archaeological passions.  Of course most will associate Phil with his investigations of the Teuchitlán-type circular architecture and as an untiring proponent of the importance of this uniquely West Mexican architectural tradition.  However, he also made major contributions to our knowledge of sources and trade routes of turquoise and obsidian, as well as ethno-historical analysis and ethnographic studies of the Huichol.

 Phil and I both received our doctorates from Southern Illinois University.  He arrived there for graduate studies a year before me, coming, as I remember, to S.I.U. from the University of Indiana where he was a student of history.  Phil was not only a year ahead of my class, but also somewhat older and more academically mature than most us in my class.  We all looked up to Phil for many of the qualities he displayed in the rest of his career: he read widely, became deeply knowledgeable about anthropological topics, and was able to expound on such topics intelligently and passionately.

 Phil was the first student to my knowledge to take his Ph.D. oral examinations at S.I.U. in a field not directly related to his dissertation work.  He chose to focus his exams on ancient civilizations of the Middle East, performing, as we all heard, brilliantly in his orals. Then Phil left to do a doctoral dissertation on the ethnography of the Huichol Indians, finally settling for his dissertation topic on a study of cooperative labor groups.  In that research he was also able to make a contribution to ethno archaeology through his study of Huichol material culture, especially their pottery.

 Phil related to me a number of memorable stories throughout the years.  One of my favorites had to do with his finding a fluted point in the dirt of a Huichol offering cave near San Sebastián while he was doing his dissertation research.  José Luis Lorenzo, then Head of Prehistoric Monuments and Prehistory of the I.N.A.H. had not granted Phil a permit to do archaeology so Phil recorded the point with drawings and photographs (eventually publishing an article on that find), and the Huichol who was with Phil picked up the point and deposited it as an offering in another ceremonial cave.  When Phil returned from the field and told José Luis about finding what was at that time one of the few fluted Paleo-Indian points known in Mexico, José Luis had a fit because Phil had not brought it back.  Phil calmly pointed out to an enraged José Luis had he would certainly have collected the point if he had just had a permit to do so.

 Phil and I left S.I.U. to do dissertation research at about the same time, 1967.  I finished up my research on the archaeology of the municipality of San Blas in Nayarit in 1968 and had brought the recovered collections to the I.N.A.H. offices on Moneda Street in Mexico City where I had been given a little laboratory space.  As coincidence would have it, I ran into Phil at the I.N.A.H. offices.  He had just returned from his Huichol research (at a time when one had to pack in and out via mule back), and I absolutely did not recognize him!  Phil was always a little on the plump side in graduate school, but now he was ribs-showing skinny.  He told me that besides suffering the usual illnesses that accompany such research, he had found that the all-important food provisions he had so carefully packed in over the mountains were quickly depleted due to the fact that whenever his wife Celia prepared a meal there would be at least one Huichol sitting outside the door waiting to be invited in to eat with them. 

Dr. Joe Mountjoy

“This is a great loss for all of us.” –Otto Schöndube

“No one can fill this enormous vacuum. Our hearts are broken.” –Cyntia Ramírez

“The archaeology of western Mexico will never be the same.” –Chris Beekman

“Rest in Peace, Phil. We’re really going to miss you.” –Jorge Herrejón




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