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Saturday, September 30, 2023

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Aztec Treasures Revealed

In his new book, SDSU anthropologist Seth Mallios uncovers the hidden history of the university through artifacts.
By Tobin Vaughn

What does a collection of century-old Indian baskets have to do with SDSU’s Mount Laguna Observatory?  Where on campus can you find dinosaur tracks dating back 250-million years?  Why were crates of crackers stored for decades beneath the university’s administration building?  How were the original school colors of white and gold chosen and who changed them?

The cover of "Hail Montezuma! The Hidden Treasures of San Diego State" by Seth Mallios.

The answers to all of these questions and many, many more can be found in “Hail Montezuma: The Hidden Treasures of San Diego State,” a new book by Anthropology Department Chairman Seth Mallios set for release later this month. 

The 256-page hardcover is the culmination of 11 years of research and two years of writing and editing.

"People have been coming to this campus for over 80 years and coming to this institution for over 115 years," says Mallios. “Because we are the oldest, biggest and most diverse university in the region, I want people to know the complete story.

"The book starts out, 'This place has history.  This place has tradition.  This place is legendary.'  That's the whole theme of this book; that San Diego State has an amazingly rich historical legacy and I hope people will be able to embrace that legacy.”

Beer mugs and concert tickets

As an archaeologist, Mallios studies artifacts.  He estimates he has examined at least a thousand San Diego State-related items while researching his book.

"I would say a good 90 percent were from alumni who put me on the right track to find these things," he said. 

Items he has collected include:

  • football programs from the 1920s
  • freshman beanie
  • bookstore belt buckle
  • song leader uniform and grade books and pennants from the 1930s and 40s
  • beer mugs
  • a homecoming queen trophy and a majorette costume from the 1950s
  • memorabilia from President John F. Kennedy’s commencement address and Experimental College catalogs from the ‘60s
  • posters and tickets from concerts by famous acts that have played Montezuma Mesa over several decades    

There is a chapter on the university’s presidents, its architecture and a section on movies and television shows that were filmed on campus.  For a passage on notable Aztec authors, Mallios had trouble securing rights for cover art and photos, so a talented Disney illustrator provided clever caricatures to represent the writers.

“The images are a real special part of the book,” Mallios says.

Required Reading

“Hail Montezuma” is his fourth book, but, “This one is by far the most fun,” the author claims.  The original version came in at roughly 750 pages, however, "Two-thirds of it got cut," he said.

The book is filled with colorful photos and images throughout its 20 chapters.  It will be required reading this fall for the professor’s introduction to cultural anthropology class.

“I want to get the students involved because it would be incredibly ironic for me to make such a big deal about how we need to learn our local history and then to leave the students out of it,” he explained. “We’ll study all these different cultures and then in the last couple of weeks of the semester, we’ll study ourselves."

Mallios promises the book will contain some fun surprises.  Its final section includes a test of readers’ campus knowledge with answers found outside the book's pages.

Book on sale

“Hail Montezuma: The Hidden Treasures of San Diego State” was released August 22.  It will be available through the SDSU Bookstore and