Giant Obsidian Golden Eagle Surfaces in Mexico

Giant Obsidian Golden Eagle Surfaces in Mexico

The Aztec’s Hueteocalli, otherwise known as the Templo Mayor (which translates into “Great Temple”) stood at the center of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), the capital city of the Aztec world in Mexico. With its twin temples dedicated to the war god Huitzilopochtli and to the rain god Tlaloc, archaeologists from the Templo Mayor Project ( PTM) of the National Institute of Anthropology and History ( INAH) have discovered a sculptured stone displaying a golden eagle.

It is at the foot of this architectural wonder of the Aztec religious world in modern-day Mexico City, on the central axis of the temple dedicated to Huitzilopochtl and the monumental sculpture of the goddess Coyolxauhqui, that archaeologists have unearthed the giant obsidian eagle. And this is no ordinary carved eagle, for it represents the largest of its type ever discovered.

The golden eagle bas-relief was discovered during excavations at the Templo Mayor in the center of Mexico City. ( Bill Perry / Adobe Stock)

Measuring up the Golden Eagle

Dating to the rule of Motecuhzoma Ilhuicamina, between 1440 and 1469 AD, Mexico’s Secretary of Culture, Alejandra Frausto Guerrero, said the carved itzcuauhtli (obsidian eagle) was discovered in February 2020. The representation of a golden eagle ( Aquila chrysaetos canadensis ) measures 1.06 meters (3.47 ft) long and 0.7 meters (2.26 ft) wide. The ancient bas-relief is “the largest in a set of 67 similar elements discovered in the Templo Mayor .

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The stone was discovered near the circular Cuauhxicalco, or “place of the eagle's gourd,” where 16th century accounts say the Tenochca rulers were ritually cremated. Lead archaeologist Professor Leonardo López Luján says the eagle was carved on “red tezontle,” which is a porous, highly oxidized, volcanic rock used extensively in construction in both ancient and modern Mexico.

The golden eagle bas-relief, measuring 1.06 meters (3.47 ft) long and 0.7 meters (2.26 ft) wide, was discovered on the south side of the Templo Mayor in Mexico City (Mirsa Islas / INAH)

The Way of the Eagle and the Jaguar

Dr. López Luján added that the plaza floor in the Templo Mayor had been covered since pre-Hispanic time and that it is unique because its bas-reliefs “alluding to the dual conception of the building.” The eagle was discovered on the south side of the temple which is associated with the mythical birth cycle of Huitzilopochtli; while to the north, the bas-reliefs are associated with Tláloc, “the water cycle and the regeneration of corn.” Dr. López Luján’s team originally believed the floor was built by the government of Ahuítzotl between 1486 and 1502 AD, but now it is thought to date to the government of Motecuhzoma I in the 1440s.

Aztec boys were taught about weaponry and warfare until the age of 17 when the best students progressed to become “eagle warriors” and earned nobility in Aztec society . However, to achieve adult status young men had to capture their first prisoner and after they had captured 20 a young man was eligible to become either a jaguar or eagle warrior. Either way, both paths meant a life spent in constant battle to capture prisoners for sacrificing to the gods.

The Mexican coat of arms depicts a golden eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus devouring a rattlesnake.

The Golden Eagle in Mexican Society, and Beyond

The golden eagle exists today in the Mexican coat of arms , that depicts the bird of prey perched on a prickly pear cactus devouring a rattlesnake. This image reflects the ancient Aztec legend that their capital city was located where an eagle was seen eating a snake on top of a lake. For the people of Tenochtitlan the eagle symbol had strong and positive religious connotations, but for the European invaders it was the serpent from the Garden of Eden representing the sinister voice of temptation.

The eagle was not only symbolic in ancient Mexico but across the entirety of South America from Brazil in the east to Ecuador in the west, and Peru in the south: where it was incorporated in mythology with the condor. According to the the Pachamama Alliance “The Eagle and the Condor” is an ancient Inca prophecy that speaks of humans splitting and following two paths, that of the eagle or the condor. The path of the condor is the path of heart, of intuition, and as such it represents feminine universal aspects. On the other hand, the path of the eagle is the path of the mind: the masculine way.

The prophecy of the eagle and condor says that beginning in the 1490s a 500-year cycle would begin in which the Eagle people would become so powerful that they would nearly drive the Condor people out of existence. This prophecy is believed to have become manifest in the subsequent Spanish conquest of South America, and according to most indigenous communities in South America today is still unfolding in the shape of old giants ripping apart their indigenous lands for liquid gold.


Italica, Spain: Rome’s First Settlement In Hispania Became Incredible!

Italica is an archaeological site located in the southern part of Spain, not far from Seville. The site dates to the Roman period and was founded by Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus. Italica is reputed to be the first Roman settlement in Spain, and one of the republic’s first settlements outside Italy.

Italica thrived in the centuries following its founding but began to decline by the Late Antique period. Eventually, Italica was abandoned, and no new buildings were built over the site. This meant that the Roman ruins were well-preserved. Archaeological excavations at Italica began in the 19 th century and it is today a popular tourist attraction.

The Roman ruins of Italica, Spain: Rome’s first settlement in Hispania and probably the finest Roman ruins, in many ways, in all of Spain. ( rusty elliott / Adobe Stock)


Golden Sheen Obsidian Meaning and Properties

Obsidian is a naturally occurring volcanic glass formed in swiftly cooling lava that has a high silica content. It is not considered a true mineral, as it does not have an entirely consistent chemical content and it does not form crystals.

Color in obsidian varies, depending on impurities in the parent lava formation. Golden sheen obsidian is formed when patterns of gas bubbles are aligned along layers created by the flowing lava before it solidified.

The chemical make-up of obsidian also varies among volcanic sources--sometimes even different eruptions of the same volcano have different chemical types. This makes obsidian tools or weapons a valuable resource to archaeologists for tracking trade routes or dating graves and settlements, as their source volcano and eruption can be determined through analysis.

Golden Sheen Obsidian Metaphysical Properties

Golden sheen obsidian is affiliated with the root chakra, though it is said to have applications to the solar plexus and third eye chakras. It is assigned to the western astrological sign Sagittarius.

Golden Sheen Obsidian Geological Properties

Obsidian cleaves easily, flaking off into ultra-sharp fragments of glass. As such, it was used for millennia for cutting, slicing and scraping. In Eurasia, earliest use dates back to the Neolithic age in the Levant in the Americas, obsidian was extensively used for sophisticated surgical tools as well as weaponry up until first contact with the Spanish. Even today, it is used in surgical scalpels more narrow and precise than the finest surgical steel.

Significant deposits of obsidian are found in volcanic areas across the world, including Central and South America, and in North America west of the Mississippi River (as well as in Alaska and Hawaii). Yes, there's obsidian right here in Oregon.

Volcanic, amorphous, siliceous glass

(approximately 70%) with a range of other trace elements (usually MgO and Fe


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Silver Sheen Obsidian is also known as Mirror Obsidian, partly because it is an excellent tool for scrying and divination, but also because Silver Sheen Obsidian helps you to see yourself as others see you. Silver Sheen Obsidian is a mirror of the soul. It connects the astral bodies to the physical, and can act as an anchor to return home to the physical body during out-of-body experiences, like the silver cord that bonds the astral body to the physical body. It enhances meditation and scrying, and provides clear and direct answers and insights - it helps one to find the root or heart of a problem, and to see deep within oneself. For divination purposes, it allows you to see through all of the layers to uncover and discover the real truth. Silver Sheen Obsidian supports you to embrace, understand, work with and benefit from all of the energies and experiences that come into your life, even those that may seem to be undesired or negative. Silver Sheen Obsidian is powerful for grounding, protection, and clear thinking - it also imparts patience and perseverance.


"The Deluge" drawing was used as the frontispiece to Gustave Doré's illustrated edition of the Bible. Based on the story of Noah's Ark, the drawing shows humans and a tiger doomed by the flood futilely attempting to save their children and cubs.

While there is scientific evidence that supports the occurrence of the great flood, there is also scientific evidence that argues against it. Some believe that the great flood may have occurred during Noah's time, but that it happened over the entire Earth rather than some regional parts.

As per the Bible, the rain during the great flood lasted for 30 days, and the Earth was flooded for 150 days. Only after one year, two months, and twenty-seven days, did the Earth dry and thus Noah, his entire family, and all the animals were able to move out of the ark.

The great flood was intended to completely destroy all life on Earth. As the sedimentary rocks over all the continents do contain fossils, the great flood could represent the destruction of all living beings. Thus, the story of the global flood mentioned in the Bible might have been true.

However, the sedimentary rocks have interlayers of gypsum, evaporite rock salt, anhydrite, and magnesium and potash salts. All these are related to red beds that contain fossilized mud cracks. The red beds and mineral compounds have a measurable combined thickness on various continents.

The red color of the red beds is mainly due to the presence of hematite, an iron oxide that is formed from oxidized magnetite grains when the mud gets exposed to oxygen present in the open air. Mud cracks can only occur under severe drying conditions that result in the shrinking of mud and the formation of polygonal cracks.

The evaporite deposits are believed to occur when a marine sea that existed disappears and becomes completely dry. In such a case, the evaporites are expected to be found at the top of the flood deposits of the great flood. However, the evaporites were found in different layers and not on the top of the flood deposit. This makes certain scientists believe that the great flood never took place.

Moreover, it is written in the Bible that at some time the flood waters started receding and left the ground completely dry. There were no repeated cycles of floods of this size. According to this, it is quite logical that the red beds and evaporite deposits in different levels of the flood deposit could only be formed in local climates having desert drying conditions.

However, it is not possible this was formed at the same time the great flood covered the surface of the whole Earth. On this basis, it can be said that a massive regional flood could have occurred but not a whole-Earth flood.


Uses of Obsidian as a Cutting Tool

The conchoidal fracture of obsidian causes it to break into pieces with curved surfaces. This type of fracturing can produce rock fragments with very sharp edges. These sharp fragments may have prompted the first use of obsidian by people.

The first use of obsidian by people probably occurred when a sharp piece of obsidian was used as a cutting tool. People then discovered how to skillfully break the obsidian to produce cutting tools in a variety of shapes. Obsidian was used to make knives, arrowheads, spear points, scrapers, and many other weapons and tools.

Once these discoveries were made, obsidian quickly became the raw material of preference for producing almost any sharp object. The easy-to-recognize rock became one of the first targets of organized "mining." It is probably a safe bet that all natural obsidian outcrops that are known today were discovered and utilized by ancient people.

Apache tears: "Apache Tears" is a name used for small obsidian nodules of about one inch or less that can be found in volcanic areas of the southwestern United States. Their name comes from a Native American legend. During a battle between Apaches and the U.S. Cavalry in 1870, the outnumbered Apaches, facing defeat, rode their horses over a cliff rather than allow themselves to be killed by their enemy. Upon hearing the story of the battle, the tears of their family members turned to stone when they hit the ground. Those stones are now found as the black obsidian nodules. People who do rock tumbling often polish Apache Tears. They are difficult to polish because the obsidian chips and bruises easily. Success occurs when they are cushioned during the tumbling with smaller pieces of rough or small ceramic media.


Contents

The Nahuatl words (aztecatl [asˈtekat͡ɬ] , singular) [9] and (aztecah [asˈtekaʔ] , plural) [9] mean "people from Aztlan," [10] a mythical place of origin for several ethnic groups in central Mexico. The term was not used as an endonym by Aztecs themselves, but it is found in the different migration accounts of the Mexica, where it describes the different tribes who left Aztlan together. In one account of the journey from Aztlan, Huitzilopochtli, the tutelary deity of the Mexica tribe, tells his followers on the journey that "now, no longer is your name Azteca, you are now Mexitin [Mexica]". [11]

In today's usage, the term "Aztec" often refers exclusively to the Mexica people of Tenochtitlan (now the location of Mexico City), situated on an island in Lake Texcoco, who referred to themselves as Mēxihcah (Nahuatl pronunciation: [meːˈʃiʔkaʔ] , a tribal designation that included the Tlatelolco), Tenochcah (Nahuatl pronunciation: [teˈnot͡ʃkaʔ] , referring only to the Mexica of Tenochtitlan, excluding Tlatelolco) or Cōlhuah (Nahuatl pronunciation: [ˈkoːlwaʔ] , referring to their royal genealogy tying them to Culhuacan). [12] [13] [nb 1] [nb 2]

Sometimes the term also includes the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan's two principal allied city-states, the Acolhuas of Texcoco and the Tepanecs of Tlacopan, who together with the Mexica formed the Aztec Triple Alliance that controlled what is often known as the "Aztec Empire." The usage of the term "Aztec" in describing the empire centered in Tenochtitlan, has been criticized by Robert H. Barlow who preferred the term "Culhua-Mexica", [12] [14] and by Pedro Carrasco who prefers the term "Tenochca empire." [15] Carrasco writes about the term "Aztec" that "it is of no use for understanding the ethnic complexity of ancient Mexico and for identifying the dominant element in the political entity we are studying." [15]

In other contexts, Aztec may refer to all the various city states and their peoples, who shared large parts of their ethnic history and cultural traits with the Mexica, Acolhua and Tepanecs, and who often also used the Nahuatl language as a lingua franca. An example is Jerome A. Offner's Law and Politics in Aztec Texcoco. [16] In this meaning, it is possible to talk about an "Aztec civilization" including all the particular cultural patterns common for most of the peoples inhabiting central Mexico in the late postclassic period. [17] Such a usage may also extend the term "Aztec" to all the groups in Central Mexico that were incorporated culturally or politically into the sphere of dominance of the Aztec empire. [18] [nb 3]

When used to describe ethnic groups, the term "Aztec" refers to several Nahuatl-speaking peoples of central Mexico in the postclassic period of Mesoamerican chronology, especially the Mexica, the ethnic group that had a leading role in establishing the hegemonic empire based at Tenochtitlan. The term extends to further ethnic groups associated with the Aztec empire, such as the Acolhua, the Tepanec and others that were incorporated into the empire. Charles Gibson enumerates a number of groups in central Mexico that he includes in his study The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule (1964). These include the Culhuaque, Cuitlahuaque, Mixquica, Xochimilca, Chalca, Tepaneca, Acolhuaque, and Mexica. [19]

In older usage the term was commonly used about modern Nahuatl-speaking ethnic groups, as Nahuatl was previously referred to as the "Aztec language". In recent usage, these ethnic groups are referred to as the Nahua peoples. [20] [21] Linguistically, the term "Aztecan" is still used about the branch of the Uto-Aztecan languages (also sometimes called the yuto-nahuan languages) that includes the Nahuatl language and its closest relatives Pochutec and Pipil. [22]

To the Aztecs themselves the word "aztec" was not an endonym for any particular ethnic group. Rather, it was an umbrella term used to refer to several ethnic groups, not all of them Nahuatl-speaking, that claimed heritage from the mythic place of origin, Aztlan. Alexander von Humboldt originated the modern usage of "Aztec" in 1810, as a collective term applied to all the people linked by trade, custom, religion, and language to the Mexica state and the Triple Alliance. In 1843, with the publication of the work of William H. Prescott on the history of the conquest of Mexico, the term was adopted by most of the world, including 19th-century Mexican scholars who saw it as a way to distinguish present-day Mexicans from pre-conquest Mexicans. This usage has been the subject of debate in more recent years, but the term "Aztec" is still more common. [13]

Sources of knowledge

Knowledge of Aztec society rests on several different sources: The many archeological remains of everything from temple pyramids to thatched huts, can be used to understand many of the aspects of what the Aztec world was like. However, archeologists often must rely on knowledge from other sources to interpret the historical context of artifacts. There are many written texts by the indigenous people and Spaniards of the early colonial period that contain invaluable information about precolonial Aztec history. These texts provide insight into the political histories of various Aztec city-states, and their ruling lineages. Such histories were produced as well in pictorial codices. Some of these manuscripts were entirely pictorial, often with glyphs. In the postconquest era many other texts were written in Latin script by either literate Aztecs or by Spanish friars who interviewed the native people about their customs and stories. An important pictorial and alphabetic text produced in the early sixteenth century was Codex Mendoza, named after the first viceroy of Mexico and perhaps commissioned by him, to inform the Spanish crown about the political and economic structure of the Aztec empire. It has information naming the polities that the Triple Alliance conquered, the types of tribute rendered to the Aztec Empire, and the class/gender structure of their society. [23] Many written annals exist, written by local Nahua historians recording the histories of their polity. These annals used pictorial histories and were subsequently transformed into alphabetic annals in Latin script. [24] Well-known native chroniclers and annalists are Chimalpahin of Amecameca-Chalco Fernando Alvarado Tezozomoc of Tenochtitlan Alva Ixtlilxochitl of Texcoco, Juan Bautista Pomar of Texcoco, and Diego Muñoz Camargo of Tlaxcala. There are also many accounts by Spanish conquerors who participated in Spanish invasion, such as Bernal Díaz del Castillo who wrote a full history of the conquest.

Spanish friars also produced documentation in chronicles and other types of accounts. Of key importance is Toribio de Benavente Motolinia, one of the first twelve Franciscans arriving in Mexico in 1524. Another Franciscan of great importance was Fray Juan de Torquemada, author of Monarquia Indiana. Dominican Diego Durán also wrote extensively about prehispanic religion as well as a history of the Mexica. [25] An invaluable source of information about many aspects of Aztec religious thought, political and social structure, as well as history of the Spanish conquest from the Mexica viewpoint is the Florentine Codex. Produced between 1545 and 1576 in the form of an ethnographic encyclopedia written bilingually in Spanish and Nahuatl, by Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún and indigenous informants and scribes, it contains knowledge about many aspects of precolonial society from religion, calendrics, botany, zoology, trades and crafts and history. [26] [27] Another source of knowledge is the cultures and customs of the contemporary Nahuatl speakers who can often provide insights into what prehispanic ways of life may have been like. Scholarly study of Aztec civilization is most often based on scientific and multidisciplinary methodologies, combining archeological knowledge with ethnohistorical and ethnographic information. [28]

Central Mexico in the classic and postclassic

It is a matter of debate whether the enormous city of Teotihuacan was inhabited by speakers of Nahuatl, or whether Nahuas had not yet arrived in central Mexico in the classic period. It is generally agreed that the Nahua peoples were not indigenous to the highlands of central Mexico, but that they gradually migrated into the region from somewhere in northwestern Mexico. At the fall of Teotihuacan in the 6th century CE, a number of city states rose to power in central Mexico, some of them, including Cholula and Xochicalco, probably inhabited by Nahuatl speakers. One study has suggested that Nahuas originally inhabited the Bajío area around Guanajuato which reached a population peak in the 6th century, after which the population quickly diminished during a subsequent dry period. This depopulation of the Bajío coincided with an incursion of new populations into the Valley of Mexico, which suggests that this marks the influx of Nahuatl speakers into the region. [29] These people populated central Mexico, dislocating speakers of Oto-Manguean languages as they spread their political influence south. As the former nomadic hunter-gatherer peoples mixed with the complex civilizations of Mesoamerica, adopting religious and cultural practices, the foundation for later Aztec culture was laid. After 900 CE, during the postclassic period, a number of sites almost certainly inhabited by Nahuatl speakers became powerful. Among them the site of Tula, Hidalgo, and also city states such as Tenayuca, and Colhuacan in the valley of Mexico and Cuauhnahuac in Morelos. [30]

Mexica migration and foundation of Tenochtitlan

In the ethnohistorical sources from the colonial period, the Mexica themselves describe their arrival in the Valley of Mexico. The ethnonym Aztec (Nahuatl Aztecah) means "people from Aztlan", Aztlan being a mythical place of origin toward the north. Hence the term applied to all those peoples who claimed to carry the heritage from this mythical place. The migration stories of the Mexica tribe tell how they traveled with other tribes, including the Tlaxcalteca, Tepaneca and Acolhua, but that eventually their tribal deity Huitzilopochtli told them to split from the other Aztec tribes and take on the name "Mexica". [31] At the time of their arrival, there were many Aztec city-states in the region. The most powerful were Colhuacan to the south and Azcapotzalco to the west. The Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco soon expelled the Mexica from Chapultepec. In 1299, Colhuacan ruler Cocoxtli gave them permission to settle in the empty barrens of Tizapan, where they were eventually assimilated into Culhuacan culture. [32] The noble lineage of Colhuacan traced its roots back to the legendary city-state of Tula, and by marrying into Colhua families, the Mexica now appropriated this heritage. After living in Colhuacan, the Mexica were again expelled and were forced to move. [33]

According to Aztec legend, in 1323, the Mexica were shown a vision of an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus, eating a snake. The vision indicated the location where they were to build their settlement. The Mexica founded Tenochtitlan on a small swampy island in Lake Texcoco, the inland lake of the Basin of Mexico. The year of foundation is usually given as 1325. In 1376 the Mexica royal dynasty was founded when Acamapichtli, son of a Mexica father and a Colhua mother, was elected as the first Huey Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan. [34]

Early Mexica rulers

In the first 50 years after the founding of the Mexica dynasty, the Mexica were a tributary of Azcapotzalco, which had become a major regional power under the ruler Tezozomoc. The Mexica supplied the Tepaneca with warriors for their successful conquest campaigns in the region and received part of the tribute from the conquered city states. In this way, the political standing and economy of Tenochtitlan gradually grew. [35]

In 1396, at Acamapichtli's death, his son Huitzilihhuitl (lit. "Hummingbird feather") became ruler married to Tezozomoc's daughter, the relation with Azcapotzalco remained close. Chimalpopoca (lit. "She smokes like a shield"), son of Huitzilihhuitl, became ruler of Tenochtitlan in 1417. In 1418, Azcapotzalco initiated a war against the Acolhua of Texcoco and killed their ruler Ixtlilxochitl. Even though Ixtlilxochitl was married to Chimalpopoca's daughter, the Mexica ruler continued to support Tezozomoc. Tezozomoc died in 1426, and his sons began a struggle for rulership of Azcapotzalco. During this struggle for power, Chimalpopoca died, probably killed by Tezozomoc's son Maxtla who saw him as a competitor. [36] Itzcoatl, brother of Huitzilihhuitl and uncle of Chimalpopoca, was elected the next Mexica tlatoani. The Mexica were now in open war with Azcapotzalco and Itzcoatl petitioned for an alliance with Nezahualcoyotl, son of the slain Texcocan ruler Ixtlilxochitl against Maxtla. Itzcoatl also allied with Maxtla's brother Totoquihuaztli ruler of the Tepanec city of Tlacopan. The Triple Alliance of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan besieged Azcapotzalco, and in 1428 they destroyed the city and sacrificed Maxtla. Through this victory Tenochtitlan became the dominant city state in the Valley of Mexico, and the alliance between the three city-states provided the basis on which the Aztec Empire was built. [37]

Itzcoatl proceeded by securing a power basis for Tenochtitlan, by conquering the city-states on the southern lake – including Culhuacan, Xochimilco, Cuitlahuac and Mizquic. These states had an economy based on highly productive chinampa agriculture, cultivating human-made extensions of rich soil in the shallow lake Xochimilco. Itzcoatl then undertook further conquests in the valley of Morelos, subjecting the city state of Cuauhnahuac (today Cuernavaca). [38]

Early rulers of the Aztec Empire

Motecuzoma I Ilhuicamina

In 1440, Motecuzoma I Ilhuicamina [nb 4] (lit. "he frowns like a lord, he shoots the sky" [nb 5] ) was elected tlatoani he was son of Huitzilihhuitl, brother of Chimalpopoca and had served as the war leader of his uncle Itzcoatl in the war against the Tepanecs. The accession of a new ruler in the dominant city state was often an occasion for subjected cities to rebel by refusing to pay tribute. This meant that new rulers began their rule with a coronation campaign, often against rebellious tributaries, but also sometimes demonstrating their military might by making new conquests. Motecuzoma tested the attitudes of the cities around the valley by requesting laborers for the enlargement of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan. Only the city of Chalco refused to provide laborers, and hostilities between Chalco and Tenochtitlan would persist until the 1450s. [39] [40] Motecuzoma then reconquered the cities in the valley of Morelos and Guerrero, and then later undertook new conquests in the Huaxtec region of northern Veracruz, and the Mixtec region of Coixtlahuaca and large parts of Oaxaca, and later again in central and southern Veracruz with conquests at Cosamalopan, Ahuilizapan and Cuetlaxtlan. [41] During this period the city states of Tlaxcalan, Cholula and Huexotzinco emerged as major competitors to the imperial expansion, and they supplied warriors to several of the cities conquered. Motecuzoma therefore initiated a state of low-intensity warfare against these three cities, staging minor skirmishes called "Flower Wars" (Nahuatl xochiyaoyotl) against them, perhaps as a strategy of exhaustion. [42] [43]

Motecuzoma also consolidated the political structure of the Triple Alliance, and the internal political organization of Tenochtitlan. His brother Tlacaelel served as his main advisor (Nahuatl languages: Cihuacoatl) and he is considered the architect of major political reforms in this period, consolidating the power of the noble class (Nahuatl languages: pipiltin) and instituting a set of legal codes, and the practice of reinstating conquered rulers in their cities bound by fealty to the Mexica tlatoani. [44] [45] [42]

Axayacatl and Tizoc

In 1469, the next ruler was Axayacatl (lit. "Water mask"), son of Itzcoatl's son Tezozomoc and Motecuzoma I's daughter Atotoztli. [nb 6] He undertook a successful coronation campaign far south of Tenochtitlan against the Zapotecs in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Axayacatl also conquered the independent Mexica city of Tlatelolco, located on the northern part of the island where Tenochtitlan was also located. The Tlatelolco ruler Moquihuix was married to Axayacatl's sister, and his alleged mistreatment of her was used as an excuse to incorporate Tlatelolco and its important market directly under the control of the tlatoani of Tenochtitlan. [46]

Axayacatl then conquered areas in Central Guerrero, the Puebla Valley, on the gulf coast and against the Otomi and Matlatzinca in the Toluca valley. The Toluca valley was a buffer zone against the powerful Tarascan state in Michoacan, against which Axayacatl turned next. In the major campaign against the Tarascans (Nahuatl languages: Michhuahqueh) in 1478–79 the Aztec forces were repelled by a well organized defense. Axayacatl was soundly defeated in a battle at Tlaximaloyan (today Tajimaroa), losing most of his 32,000 men and only barely escaping back to Tenochtitlan with the remnants of his army. [47]

In 1481 at Axayacatls death, his older brother Tizoc was elected ruler. Tizoc's coronation campaign against the Otomi of Metztitlan failed as he lost the major battle and only managed to secure 40 prisoners to be sacrificed for his coronation ceremony. Having shown weakness, many of the tributary towns rebelled and consequently most of Tizoc's short reign was spent attempting to quell rebellions and maintain control of areas conquered by his predecessors. Tizoc died suddenly in 1485, and it has been suggested that he was poisoned by his brother and war leader Ahuitzotl who became the next tlatoani. Tizoc is mostly known as the namesake of the Stone of Tizoc a monumental sculpture (Nahuatl temalacatl), decorated with representation of Tizoc's conquests. [48]

Ahuitzotl

Final Aztec rulers and the Spanish conquest

In 1517, Moctezuma received the first news of ships with strange warriors having landed on the Gulf Coast near Cempoallan and he dispatched messengers to greet them and find out what was happening, and he ordered his subjects in the area to keep him informed of any new arrivals. In 1519, he was informed of the arrival of the Spanish fleet of Hernán Cortés, who soon marched towards Tlaxcala where he formed an alliance with the traditional enemies of the Aztecs. On 8 November 1519, Moctezuma II received Cortés and his troops and Tlaxcalan allies on the causeway south of Tenochtitlan, and he invited the Spaniards to stay as his guests in Tenochtitlan. When Aztec troops destroyed a Spanish camp on the gulf coast, Cortés ordered Moctezuma to execute the commanders responsible for the attack, and Moctezuma complied. At this point, the power balance had shifted towards the Spaniards who now held Motecuzoma as a prisoner in his own palace. As this shift in power became clear to Moctezuma's subjects, the Spaniards became increasingly unwelcome in the capital city, and in June 1520, hostilities broke out, culminating in the massacre in the Great Temple, and a major uprising of the Mexica against the Spanish. During the fighting, Moctezuma was killed, either by the Spaniards who killed him as they fled the city or by the Mexica themselves who considered him a traitor. [51]

Cuitláhuac, a kinsman and adviser to Moctezuma, succeeded him as tlatoani, mounting the defense of Tenochtitlan against the Spanish invaders and their indigenous allies. He ruled only 80 days, perhaps dying in a smallpox epidemic, although early sources do not give the cause. He was succeeded by Cuauhtémoc, the last independent Mexica tlatoani, who continued the fierce defense of Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs were weakened by disease, and the Spanish enlisted tens of thousands of Indian allies, especially Tlaxcalans, for the assault on Tenochtitlan. After the siege and complete destruction of the Aztec capital, Cuahtémoc was captured on 13 August 1521, marking the beginning of Spanish hegemony in central Mexico. Spaniards held Cuauhtémoc captive until he was tortured and executed on the orders of Cortés, supposedly for treason, during an ill-fated expedition to Honduras in 1525. His death marked the end of a tumultuous era in Aztec political history.

Nobles and commoners

The highest class were the pīpiltin [nb 7] or nobility. The pilli status was hereditary and ascribed certain privileges to its holders, such as the right to wear particularly fine garments and consume luxury goods, as well as to own land and direct corvée labor by commoners. The most powerful nobles were called lords (Nahuatl languages: teuctin) and they owned and controlled noble estates or houses, and could serve in the highest government positions or as military leaders. Nobles made up about 5% of the population. [52]

The second class were the mācehualtin, originally peasants, but later extended to the lower working classes in general. Eduardo Noguera estimates that in later stages only 20% of the population was dedicated to agriculture and food production. [53] The other 80% of society were warriors, artisans and traders. Eventually, most of the mācehuallis were dedicated to arts and crafts. Their works were an important source of income for the city. [54] Macehualtin could become enslaved, (Nahuatl languages: tlacotin) for example if they had to sell themselves into the service of a noble due to debt or poverty, but enslavement was not an inherited status among the Aztecs. Some macehualtin were landless and worked directly for a lord (Nahuatl languages: mayehqueh), whereas the majority of commoners were organized into calpollis which gave them access to land and property. [55]

Commoners were able to obtain privileges similar to those of the nobles by demonstrating prowess in warfare. When a warrior took a captive he accrued the right to use certain emblems, weapons or garments, and as he took more captives his rank and prestige increased. [56]

Family and gender

The Aztec family pattern was bilateral, counting relatives on the father's and mother's side of the family equally, and inheritance was also passed both to sons and daughters. This meant that women could own property just as men, and that women therefore had a good deal of economic freedom from their spouses. Nevertheless, Aztec society was highly gendered with separate gender roles for men and women. Men were expected to work outside of the house, as farmers, traders, craftsmen and warriors, whereas women were expected to take the responsibility of the domestic sphere. Women could however also work outside of the home as small-scale merchants, doctors, priests and midwives. Warfare was highly valued and a source of high prestige, but women's work was metaphorically conceived of as equivalent to warfare, and as equally important in maintaining the equilibrium of the world and pleasing the gods. This situation has led some scholars to describe Aztec gender ideology as an ideology not of a gender hierarchy, but of gender complementarity, with gender roles being separate but equal. [57]

Among the nobles, marriage alliances were often used as a political strategy with lesser nobles marrying daughters from more prestigious lineages whose status was then inherited by their children. Nobles were also often polygamous, with lords having many wives. Polygamy was not very common among the commoners and some sources describe it as being prohibited. [58]

While the Aztecs did have gender roles associated with "men" and "women" they did not live in strictly a two-gendered society. In fact, there were multiple "third gender" identities that existed throughout their society and came with their own gender roles. The term "third gender" isn't the most precise term that can be used. Rather, their native Nahuatl words such as patlache and cuiloni are more accurate since "third gender" is more of a Western concept. The names for these gender identities are deeply connected to the religious customs of the Aztecs, and as such, did play a large role in Aztec society. [59]

Altepetl and calpolli

The main unit of Aztec political organization was the city state, in Nahuatl called the altepetl, meaning "water-mountain". Each altepetl was led by a ruler, a tlatoani, with authority over a group of nobles and a population of commoners. The altepetl included a capital which served as a religious center, the hub of distribution and organization of a local population which often lived spread out in minor settlements surrounding the capital. Altepetl were also the main source of ethnic identity for the inhabitants, even though Altepetl were frequently composed of groups speaking different languages. Each altepetl would see itself as standing in a political contrast to other altepetl polities, and war was waged between altepetl states. In this way Nahuatl speaking Aztecs of one Altepetl would be solidary with speakers of other languages belonging to the same altepetl, but enemies of Nahuatl speakers belonging to other competing altepetl states. In the basin of Mexico, altepetl was composed of subdivisions called calpolli, which served as the main organizational unit for commoners. In Tlaxcala and the Puebla valley, the altepetl was organized into teccalli units headed by a lord (Nahuatl languages: tecutli), who would hold sway over a territory and distribute rights to land among the commoners. A calpolli was at once a territorial unit where commoners organized labor and land use, since land was not in private property, and also often a kinship unit as a network of families that were related through intermarriage. Calpolli leaders might be or become members of the nobility, in which case they could represent their calpollis interests in the altepetl government. [60] [61]

In the valley of Morelos, archeologist Michael E. Smith estimates that a typical altepetl had from 10,000 to 15,000 inhabitants, and covered an area between 70 and 100 square kilometers. In the Morelos valley, altepetl sizes were somewhat smaller. Smith argues that the altepetl was primarily a political unit, made up of the population with allegiance to a lord, rather than as a territorial unit. He makes this distinction because in some areas minor settlements with different altepetl allegiances were interspersed. [62]

Triple Alliance and Aztec Empire

The Aztec Empire was ruled by indirect means. Like most European empires, it was ethnically very diverse, but unlike most European empires, it was more of a system of tribute than a single system of government. Ethnohistorian Ross Hassig has argued that Aztec empire is best understood as an informal or hegemonic empire because it did not exert supreme authority over the conquered lands it merely expected tributes to be paid and exerted force only to the degree it was necessary to ensure the payment of tribute. [63] [64] It was also a discontinuous empire because not all dominated territories were connected for example, the southern peripheral zones of Xoconochco were not in direct contact with the center. The hegemonic nature of the Aztec empire can be seen in the fact that generally local rulers were restored to their positions once their city-state was conquered, and the Aztecs did not generally interfere in local affairs as long as the tribute payments were made and the local elites participated willingly. Such compliance was secured by establishing and maintaining a network of elites, related through intermarriage and different forms of exchange. [64]

Nevertheless, the expansion of the empire was accomplished through military control of frontier zones, in strategic provinces where a much more direct approach to conquest and control was taken. Such strategic provinces were often exempt from tributary demands. The Aztecs even invested in those areas, by maintaining a permanent military presence, installing puppet-rulers, or even moving entire populations from the center to maintain a loyal base of support. [65] In this way, the Aztec system of government distinguished between different strategies of control in the outer regions of the empire, far from the core in the Valley of Mexico. Some provinces were treated as tributary provinces, which provided the basis for economic stability for the empire, and strategic provinces, which were the basis for further expansion. [66]

Although the form of government is often referred to as an empire, in fact most areas within the empire were organized as city-states, known as altepetl in Nahuatl. These were small polities ruled by a hereditary leader (tlatoani) from a legitimate noble dynasty. The Early Aztec period was a time of growth and competition among altepetl. Even after the confederation of the Triple Alliance was formed in 1427 and began its expansion through conquest, the altepetl remained the dominant form of organization at the local level. The efficient role of the altepetl as a regional political unit was largely responsible for the success of the empire's hegemonic form of control. [67]

Agriculture and subsistence

As all Mesoamerican peoples, Aztec society was organized around maize agriculture. The humid environment in the Valley of Mexico with its many lakes and swamps permitted intensive agriculture. The main crops in addition to maize were beans, squashes, chilies and amaranth. Particularly important for agricultural production in the valley was the construction of chinampas on the lake, artificial islands that allowed the conversion of the shallow waters into highly fertile gardens that could be cultivated year round. Chinampas are human-made extensions of agricultural land, created from alternating layers of mud from the bottom of the lake, and plant matter and other vegetation. These raised beds were separated by narrow canals, which allowed farmers to move between them by canoe. Chinampas were extremely fertile pieces of land, and yielded, on average, seven crops annually. On the basis of current chinampa yields, it has been estimated that one hectare (2.5 acres) of chinampa would feed 20 individuals and 9,000 hectares (22,000 acres) of chinampas could feed 180,000. [68]

The Aztecs further intensified agricultural production by constructing systems of artificial irrigation. While most of the farming occurred outside the densely populated areas, within the cities there was another method of (small-scale) farming. Each family had their own garden plot where they grew maize, fruits, herbs, medicines and other important plants. When the city of Tenochtitlan became a major urban center, water was supplied to the city through aqueducts from springs on the banks of the lake, and they organized a system that collected human waste for use as fertilizer. Through intensive agriculture the Aztecs were able to sustain a large urbanized population. The lake was also a rich source of proteins in the form of aquatic animals such as fish, amphibians, shrimp, insects and insect eggs, and water fowl. The presence of such varied sources of protein meant that there was little use for domestic animals for meat (only turkeys and dogs were kept), and scholars have calculated that there was no shortage of protein among the inhabitants of the Valley of Mexico. [69]

Crafts and trades

The excess supply of food products allowed a significant portion of the Aztec population to dedicate themselves to trades other than food production. Apart from taking care of domestic food production, women weaved textiles from agave fibers and cotton. Men also engaged in craft specializations such as the production of ceramics and of obsidian and flint tools, and of luxury goods such as beadwork, featherwork and the elaboration of tools and musical instruments. Sometimes entire calpollis specialized in a single craft, and in some archeological sites large neighborhoods have been found where apparently only a single craft speciality was practiced. [70] [71]

The Aztecs did not produce much metal work, but did have knowledge of basic smelting technology for gold, and they combined gold with precious stones such as jade and turquoise. Copper products were generally imported from the Tarascans of Michoacan. [72]

Trade and distribution

Products were distributed through a network of markets some markets specialized in a single commodity (for example the dog market of Acolman) and other general markets with presence of many different goods. Markets were highly organized with a system of supervisors taking care that only authorized merchants were permitted to sell their goods, and punishing those who cheated their customers or sold substandard or counterfeit goods. A typical town would have a weekly market (every five days), while larger cities held markets every day. Cortés reported that the central market of Tlatelolco, Tenochtitlan's sister city, was visited by 60,000 people daily. Some sellers in the markets were petty vendors farmers might sell some of their produce, potters sold their vessels, and so on. Other vendors were professional merchants who traveled from market to market seeking profits. [73]

The pochteca were specialized long-distance merchants organized into exclusive guilds. They made long expeditions to all parts of Mesoamerica bringing back exotic luxury goods, and they served as the judges and supervisors of the Tlatelolco market. Although the economy of Aztec Mexico was commercialized (in its use of money, markets, and merchants), land and labor were not generally commodities for sale, though some types of land could be sold between nobles. [74] In the commercial sector of the economy, several types of money were in regular use. [75] Small purchases were made with cacao beans, which had to be imported from lowland areas. In Aztec marketplaces, a small rabbit was worth 30 beans, a turkey egg cost 3 beans, and a tamal cost a single bean. For larger purchases, standardized lengths of cotton cloth, called quachtli, were used. There were different grades of quachtli, ranging in value from 65 to 300 cacao beans. About 20 quachtli could support a commoner for one year in Tenochtitlan. [76]

Tribute

Another form of distribution of goods was through the payment of tribute. When an altepetl was conquered, the victor imposed a yearly tribute, usually paid in the form of whichever local product was most valuable or treasured. Several pages from the Codex Mendoza list tributary towns along with the goods they supplied, which included not only luxuries such as feathers, adorned suits, and greenstone beads, but more practical goods such as cloth, firewood, and food. Tribute was usually paid twice or four times a year at differing times. [23]

Archaeological excavations in the Aztec-ruled provinces show that incorporation into the empire had both costs and benefits for provincial peoples. On the positive side, the empire promoted commerce and trade, and exotic goods from obsidian to bronze managed to reach the houses of both commoners and nobles. Trade partners also included the enemy Purépecha (also known as Tarascans), a source of bronze tools and jewelry. On the negative side, imperial tribute imposed a burden on commoner households, who had to increase their work to pay their share of tribute. Nobles, on the other hand, often made out well under imperial rule because of the indirect nature of imperial organization. The empire had to rely on local kings and nobles and offered them privileges for their help in maintaining order and keeping the tribute flowing. [77]

Aztec society combined a relatively simple agrarian rural tradition with the development of a truly urbanized society with a complex system of institutions, specializations and hierarchies. The urban tradition in Mesoamerica was developed during the classic period with major urban centers such as Teotihuacan with a population well above 100,000, and at the time of the rise of the Aztec, the urban tradition was ingrained in Mesoamerican society, with urban centers serving major religious, political and economic functions for the entire population. [78]

Mexico-Tenochtitlan

The capital city of the Aztec empire was Tenochtitlan, now the site of modern-day Mexico City. Built on a series of islets in Lake Texcoco, the city plan was based on a symmetrical layout that was divided into four city sections called campan (directions). Tenochtitlan was built according to a fixed plan and centered on the ritual precinct, where the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan rose 50 m (164.04 ft) above the city. Houses were made of wood and loam, roofs were made of reed, although pyramids, temples and palaces were generally made of stone. The city was interlaced with canals, which were useful for transportation. Anthropologist Eduardo Noguera estimated the population at 200,000 based on the house count and merging the population of Tlatelolco (once an independent city, but later became a suburb of Tenochtitlan). [68] If one includes the surrounding islets and shores surrounding Lake Texcoco, estimates range from 300,000 to 700,000 inhabitants. Michael E. Smith gives a somewhat smaller figure of 212,500 inhabitants of Tenochtitlan based on an area of 1,350 hectares (3,300 acres) and a population density of 157 inhabitants per hectare. The second largest city in the valley of Mexico in the Aztec period was Texcoco with some 25,000 inhabitants dispersed over 450 hectares (1,100 acres). [79]

The center of Tenochtitlan was the sacred precinct, a walled-off square area which housed the Great Temple, temples for other deities, the ballcourt, the calmecac (a school for nobles), a skull rack tzompantli, displaying the skulls of sacrificial victims, houses of the warrior orders and a merchants palace. Around the sacred precinct were the royal palaces built by the tlatoanis. [80]

The Great Temple

The centerpiece of Tenochtitlan was the Templo Mayor, the Great Temple, a large stepped pyramid with a double staircase leading up to two twin shrines – one dedicated to Tlaloc, the other to Huitzilopochtli. This was where most of the human sacrifices were carried out during the ritual festivals and the bodies of sacrificial victims were thrown down the stairs. The temple was enlarged in several stages, and most of the Aztec rulers made a point of adding a further stage, each with a new dedication and inauguration. The temple has been excavated in the center of Mexico City and the rich dedicatory offerings are displayed in the Museum of the Templo Mayor. [81]

Archaeologist Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, in his essay Symbolism of the Templo Mayor, posits that the orientation of the temple is indicative of the totality of the vision the Mexica had of the universe (cosmovision). He states that the "principal center, or navel, where the horizontal and vertical planes intersect, that is, the point from which the heavenly or upper plane and the plane of the Underworld begin and the four directions of the universe originate, is the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan." Matos Moctezuma supports his supposition by claiming that the temple acts as an embodiment of a living myth where "all sacred power is concentrated and where all the levels intersect." [82] [83]

Other major city-states

Other major Aztec cities were some of the previous city state centers around the lake including Tenayuca, Azcapotzalco, Texcoco, Colhuacan, Tlacopan, Chapultepec, Coyoacan, Xochimilco, and Chalco. In the Puebla valley, Cholula was the largest city with the largest pyramid temple in Mesoamerica, while the confederacy of Tlaxcala consisted of four smaller cities. In Morelos, Cuahnahuac was a major city of the Nahuatl speaking Tlahuica tribe, and Tollocan in the Toluca valley was the capital of the Matlatzinca tribe which included Nahuatl speakers as well as speakers of Otomi and the language today called Matlatzinca. Most Aztec cities had a similar layout with a central plaza with a major pyramid with two staircases and a double temple oriented towards the west. [78]

Aztec religion was organized around the practice of calendar rituals dedicated to a pantheon of different deities. Similar to other Mesoamerican religious systems, it has generally been understood as a polytheist agriculturalist religion with elements of animism. Central in the religious practice was the offering of sacrifices to the deities, as a way of thanking or paying for the continuation of the cycle of life. [84]

Deities

The main deities worshipped by the Aztecs were Tlaloc, a rain and storm deity, Huitzilopochtli a solar and martial deity and the tutelary deity of the Mexica tribe, Quetzalcoatl, a wind, sky and star deity and cultural hero, Tezcatlipoca, a deity of the night, magic, prophecy and fate. The Great Temple in Tenochtitlan had two shrines on its top, one dedicated to Tlaloc, the other to Huitzilopochtli. Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca each had separate temples within the religious precinct close to the Great Temple, and the high priests of the Great Temple were named "Quetzalcoatl Tlamacazqueh". Other major deities were Tlaltecutli or Coatlicue a female earth deity, the deity couple Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl were associated with life and sustenance, Mictlantecutli and Mictlancihuatl, a male/female couple of deities of the underworld and death, Chalchiutlicue, a female deity of lakes and springs, Xipe Totec, a deity of fertility and the natural cycle, Huehueteotl or Xiuhtecuhtli a fire god, Tlazolteotl a female deity tied to childbirth and sexuality, and a Xochipilli and Xochiquetzal gods of song, dance and games. In some regions, particularly Tlaxcala, Mixcoatl or Camaxtli was the main tribal deity. A few sources mention a deity Ometeotl who may have been a god of the duality between life and death, male and female and who may have incorporated Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl. [85] Apart from the major deities there were dozens of minor deities each associated with an element or concept, and as the Aztec empire grew so did their pantheon because they adopted and incorporated the local deities of conquered people into their own. Additionally the major gods had many alternative manifestations or aspects, creating small families of gods with related aspects. [86]

Mythology and worldview

Aztec mythology is known from a number of sources written down in the colonial period. One set of myths, called Legend of the Suns, describe the creation of four successive suns, or periods, each ruled by a different deity and inhabited by a different group of beings. Each period ends in a cataclysmic destruction that sets the stage for the next period to begin. In this process, the deities Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl appear as adversaries, each destroying the creations of the other. The current Sun, the fifth, was created when a minor deity sacrificed himself on a bonfire and turned into the sun, but the sun only begins to move once the other deities sacrifice themselves and offers it their life force. [88]

In another myth of how the earth was created, Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl appear as allies, defeating a giant crocodile Cipactli and requiring her to become the earth, allowing humans to carve into her flesh and plant their seeds, on the condition that in return they will offer blood to her. And in the story of the creation of humanity, Quetzalcoatl travels with his twin Xolotl to the underworld and brings back bones which are then ground like corn on a metate by the goddess Cihuacoatl, the resulting dough is given human form and comes to life when Quetzalcoatl imbues it with his own blood. [89]

Huitzilopochtli is the deity tied to the Mexica tribe and he figures in the story of the origin and migrations of the tribe. On their journey, Huitzilopochtli, in the form of a deity bundle carried by the Mexica priest, continuously spurs the tribe on by pushing them into conflict with their neighbors whenever they are settled in a place. In another myth, Huitzilopochtli defeats and dismembers his sister the lunar deity Coyolxauhqui and her four hundred brothers at the hill of Coatepetl. The southern side of the Great Temple, also called Coatepetl, was a representation of this myth and at the foot of the stairs lay a large stone monolith carved with a representation of the dismembered goddess. [90]

Calendar

Aztec religious life was organized around the calendars. As most Mesoamerican people, the Aztecs used two calendars simultaneously: a ritual calendar of 260 days called the tonalpohualli and a solar calendar of 365 days called the xiuhpohualli. Each day had a name and number in both calendars, and the combination of two dates were unique within a period of 52 years. The tonalpohualli was mostly used for divinatory purposes and it consisted of 20 day signs and number coefficients of 1–13 that cycled in a fixed order. The xiuhpohualli was made up of 18 "months" of 20 days, and with a remainder of 5 "void" days at the end of a cycle before the new xiuhpohualli cycle began. Each 20-day month was named after the specific ritual festival that began the month, many of which contained a relation to the agricultural cycle. Whether, and how, the Aztec calendar corrected for leap year is a matter of discussion among specialists. The monthly rituals involved the entire population as rituals were performed in each household, in the calpolli temples and in the main sacred precinct. Many festivals involved different forms of dancing, as well as the reenactment of mythical narratives by deity impersonators and the offering of sacrifice, in the form of food, animals and human victims. [91]

Every 52 years, the two calendars reached their shared starting point and a new calendar cycle began. This calendar event was celebrated with a ritual known as Xiuhmolpilli or the New Fire Ceremony. In this ceremony, old pottery was broken in all homes and all fires in the Aztec realm were put out. Then a new fire was drilled over the breast of a sacrificial victim and runners brought the new fire to the different calpolli communities where fire was redistributed to each home. The night without fire was associated with the fear that star demons, tzitzimime, might descend and devour the earth – ending the fifth period of the sun. [92]

Human sacrifice and cannibalism

To the Aztecs, death was instrumental in the perpetuation of creation, and gods and humans alike had the responsibility of sacrificing themselves in order to allow life to continue. As described in the myth of creation above, humans were understood to be responsible for the sun's continued revival, as well as for paying the earth for its continued fertility. Blood sacrifice in various forms was conducted. Both humans and animals were sacrificed, depending on the god to be placated and the ceremony being conducted, and priests of some gods were sometimes required to provide their own blood through self-mutilation. It is known that some rituals included acts of cannibalism, with the captor and his family consuming part of the flesh of their sacrificed captives, but it is not known how widespread this practice was. [93] [94]

While human sacrifice was practiced throughout Mesoamerica, the Aztecs, according to their own accounts, brought this practice to an unprecedented level. For example, for the reconsecration of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed 80,400 prisoners over the course of four days, reportedly by Ahuitzotl, the Great Speaker himself. This number, however, is not universally accepted and may have been exaggerated. [95]

The scale of Aztec human sacrifice has provoked many scholars to consider what may have been the driving factor behind this aspect of Aztec religion. In the 1970s, Michael Harner and Marvin Harris argued that the motivation behind human sacrifice among the Aztecs was actually the cannibalization of the sacrificial victims, depicted for example in Codex Magliabechiano. Harner claimed that very high population pressure and an emphasis on maize agriculture, without domesticated herbivores, led to a deficiency of essential amino acids among the Aztecs. [96] While there is universal agreement that the Aztecs practiced sacrifice, there is a lack of scholarly consensus as to whether cannibalism was widespread. Harris, author of Cannibals and Kings (1977), has propagated the claim, originally proposed by Harner, that the flesh of the victims was a part of an aristocratic diet as a reward, since the Aztec diet was lacking in proteins. These claims have been refuted by Bernard Ortíz Montellano who, in his studies of Aztec health, diet, and medicine, demonstrates that while the Aztec diet was low in animal proteins, it was rich in vegetable proteins. Ortiz also points to the preponderance of human sacrifice during periods of food abundance following harvests compared to periods of food scarcity, the insignificant quantity of human protein available from sacrifices and the fact that aristocrats already had easy access to animal protein. [97] [95] Today many scholars point to ideological explanations of the practice, noting how the public spectacle of sacrificing warriors from conquered states was a major display of political power, supporting the claim of the ruling classes to divine authority. [98] It also served as an important deterrent against rebellion by subjugated polities against the Aztec state, and such deterrents were crucial in order for the loosely organized empire to cohere. [99]

The Aztec greatly appreciated the toltecayotl (arts and fine craftsmanship) of the Toltec, who predated the Aztec in central Mexico. The Aztec considered Toltec productions to represent the finest state of culture. The fine arts included writing and painting, singing and composing poetry, carving sculptures and producing mosaic, making fine ceramics, producing complex featherwork, and working metals, including copper and gold. Artisans of the fine arts were referred to collectively as tolteca (Toltec). [100]

Urban standard details Mexico-Tenochtitlan remnants in Templo Mayor Museum (Mexico City)

The Mask of Xiuhtecuhtli 1400–1521 cedrela wood, turquoise, pine resin, mother-of-pearl, conch shell, cinnabar height: 16.8 cm, width: 15.2 cm British Museum (London)

The Mask of Tezcatlipoca 1400–1521 turquoise, pyrite, pine, lignite, human bone, deer skin, conch shell and agave height: 19 cm, width: 13.9 cm, length: 12.2 cm British Museum

Double-headed serpent 1450–1521 cedro wood (Cedrela odorata), turquoise, shell, traces of gilding & 2 resins are used as adhesive (pine resin and Bursera resin) height: 20.3 cm, width: 43.3 cm, depth: 5.9 cm British Museum

Page 12 of the Codex Borbonicus, (in the big square): Tezcatlipoca (night and fate) and Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent) before 1500 bast fiber paper height: 38 cm, length of the full manuscript: 142 cm Bibliothèque de l'Assemblée nationale (Paris)

Aztec calendar stone 1502–1521 basalt diameter: 358 cm thick: 98 cm discovered on 17 December 1790 during repairs on the Mexico City Cathedral National Museum of Anthropology (Mexico City)

Tlāloc effigy vessel 1440–1469 painted earthenware height: 35 cm Templo Mayor Museum (Mexico City)

Kneeling female figure 15th–early 16th century painted stone overall: 54.61 x 26.67 cm Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)

Frog-shaped necklace ornaments 15th–early 16th century gold height: 2.1 cm Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)

Writing and iconography

The Aztecs did not have a fully developed writing system like the Maya, however like the Maya and Zapotec, they did use a writing system that combined logographic signs with phonetic syllable signs. Logograms would, for example, be the use of an image of a mountain to signify the word tepetl, "mountain", whereas a phonetic syllable sign would be the use of an image of a tooth tlantli to signify the syllable tla in words unrelated to teeth. The combination of these principles allowed the Aztecs to represent the sounds of names of persons and places. Narratives tended to be represented through sequences of images, using various iconographic conventions such as footprints to show paths, temples on fire to show conquest events, etc. [101]

Epigrapher Alfonso Lacadena has demonstrated that the different syllable signs used by the Aztecs almost enabled the representation of all the most frequent syllables of the Nahuatl language (with some notable exceptions), [102] but some scholars have argued that such a high degree of phoneticity was only achieved after the conquest when the Aztecs had been introduced to the principles of phonetic writing by the Spanish. [103] Other scholars, notably Gordon Whittaker, have argued that the syllabic and phonetic aspects of Aztec writing were considerably less systematic and more creative than Lacadena's proposal suggests, arguing that Aztec writing never coalesced into a strictly syllabic system such as the Maya writing, but rather used a wide range of different types of phonetic signs. [104]

The image to right demonstrates the use of phonetic signs for writing place names in the colonial Aztec Codex Mendoza. The uppermost place is "Mapachtepec", meaning literally "On the Hill of the Raccoon ", but the glyph includes the phonetic signs "MA" (hand) and "PACH" (moss) over a mountain "TEPETL" spelling the word "mapach" ("raccoon") phonetically instead of logographically. The other two place names, Mazatlan ("Place of Many Deer") and Huitztlan ("Place of many thorns"), use the phonetic element "TLAN" represented by a tooth (tlantli) combined with a deer head to spell "MAZA" (mazatl = deer) and a thorn (huitztli) to spell "HUITZ". [105]

Music, song and poetry

Song and poetry were highly regarded there were presentations and poetry contests at most of the Aztec festivals. There were also dramatic presentations that included players, musicians and acrobats. There were several different genres of cuicatl (song): Yaocuicatl was devoted to war and the god(s) of war, Teocuicatl to the gods and creation myths and to adoration of said figures, xochicuicatl to flowers (a symbol of poetry itself and indicative of the highly metaphorical nature of a poetry that often utilized duality to convey multiple layers of meaning). "Prose" was tlahtolli, also with its different categories and divisions. [106] [107]

A key aspect of Aztec poetics was the use of parallelism, using a structure of embedded couplets to express different perspectives on the same element. [108] Some such couplets were diphrasisms, conventional metaphors whereby an abstract concept was expressed metaphorically by using two more concrete concepts. For example, the Nahuatl expression for "poetry" was in xochitl in cuicatl a dual term meaning "the flower, the song". [109]

A remarkable amount of this poetry survives, having been collected during the era of the conquest. In some cases poetry is attributed to individual authors, such as Nezahualcoyotl, tlatoani of Texcoco, and Cuacuauhtzin, Lord of Tepechpan, but whether these attributions reflect actual authorship is a matter of opinion. Important collection of such poems are Romances de los señores de la Nueva España, collected (Tezcoco 1582), probably by Juan Bautista de Pomar, [nb 8] and the Cantares Mexicanos. [110]

Ceramics

The Aztecs produced ceramics of different types. Common are orange wares, which are orange or buff burnished ceramics with no slip. Red wares are ceramics with a reddish slip. And polychrome ware are ceramics with a white or orange slip, with painted designs in orange, red, brown, and/or black. Very common is "black on orange" ware which is orange ware decorated with painted designs in black. [111] [5] [112]

Aztec black on orange ceramics are chronologically classified into four phases: Aztec I and II corresponding to ca, 1100–1350 (early Aztec period), Aztec III ca. (1350–1520), and the last phase Aztec IV was the early colonial period. Aztec I is characterized by floral designs and day- name glyphs Aztec II is characterized by a stylized grass design above calligraphic designs such as s-curves or loops Aztec III is characterized by very simple line designs Aztec IV continues some pre-Columbian designs but adds European influenced floral designs. There were local variations on each of these styles, and archeologists continue to refine the ceramic sequence. [5]

Typical vessels for everyday use were clay griddles for cooking (comalli), bowls and plates for eating (caxitl), pots for cooking (comitl), molcajetes or mortar-type vessels with slashed bases for grinding chilli (molcaxitl), and different kinds of braziers, tripod dishes and biconical goblets. Vessels were fired in simple updraft kilns or even in open firing in pit kilns at low temperatures. [5] Polychrome ceramics were imported from the Cholula region (also known as Mixteca-Puebla style), and these wares were highly prized as a luxury ware, whereas the local black on orange styles were also for everyday use. [113]

Painted art

Aztec painted art was produced on animal skin (mostly deer), on cotton lienzos and on amate paper made from bark (e.g. from Trema micrantha or Ficus aurea), it was also produced on ceramics and carved in wood and stone. The surface of the material was often first treated with gesso to make the images stand out more clearly. The art of painting and writing was known in Nahuatl by the metaphor in tlilli, in tlapalli - meaning "the black ink, the red pigment". [114] [115]

There are few extant Aztec painted books. Of these none are conclusively confirmed to have been created before the conquest, but several codices must have been painted either right before the conquest or very soon after - before traditions for producing them were much disturbed. Even if some codices may have been produced after the conquest, there is good reason to think that they may have been copied from pre-Columbian originals by scribes. The Codex Borbonicus is considered by some to be the only extant Aztec codex produced before the conquest - it is a calendric codex describing the day and month counts indicating the patron deities of the different time periods. [25] Others consider it to have stylistic traits suggesting a post-conquest production. [116]

Some codices were produces post-conquest, sometimes commissioned by the colonial government, for example Codex Mendoza, were painted by Aztec tlacuilos (codex creators), but under the control of Spanish authorities, who also sometimes commissioned codices describing pre-colonial religious practices, for example Codex Ríos. After the conquest, codices with calendric or religious information were sought out and systematically destroyed by the church - whereas other types of painted books, particularly historical narratives and tribute lists continued to be produced. [25] Although depicting Aztec deities and describing religious practices also shared by the Aztecs of the Valley of Mexico, the codices produced in Southern Puebla near Cholula, are sometimes not considered to be Aztec codices, because they were produced outside of the Aztec "heartland". [25] Karl Anton Nowotny, nevertheless considered that the Codex Borgia, painted in the area around Cholula and using a Mixtec style, was the "most significant work of art among the extant manuscripts". [117]

The first Aztec murals were from Teotihuacan. [118] Most of our current Aztec murals were found in Templo Mayor. [119] The Aztec capitol was decorated with elaborate murals. In Aztec murals humans are represented like they are represented in the codices. One mural discovered in Tlateloco depicts an old man and an old woman. This may represent the gods Cipactonal and Oxomico.

Sculpture

Sculptures were carved in stone and wood, but few wood carvings have survived. [120] Aztec stone sculptures exist in many sizes from small figurines and masks to large monuments, and are characterized by a high quality of craftsmanship. [121] Many sculptures were carved in highly realistic styles, for example realistic sculpture of animals such as rattlesnakes, dogs, jaguars, frogs, turtle and monkeys. [122]

In Aztec artwork a number of monumental stone sculptures have been preserved, such sculptures usually functioned as adornments for religious architecture. Particularly famous monumental rock sculpture includes the so-called Aztec "Sunstone" or Calendarstone discovered in 1790 also discovered in 1790 excavations of the Zócalo was the 2.7 meter tall Coatlicue statue made of andesite, representing a serpentine chthonic goddess with a skirt made of rattlesnakes. The Coyolxauhqui Stone representing the dismembered goddess Coyolxauhqui, found in 1978, was at the foot of the staircase leading up to the Great Temple in Tenochtitlan. [123] Two important types of sculpture are unique to the Aztecs, and related to the context of ritual sacrifice: the cuauhxicalli or "eagle vessel", large stone bowls often shaped like eagles or jaguars used as a receptacle for extracted human hearts the temalacatl, a monumental carved stone disk to which war captives were tied and sacrificed in a form of gladiatorial combat. The most well known examples of this type of sculpture are the Stone of Tizoc and the Stone of Motecuzoma I, both carved with images of warfare and conquest by specific Aztec rulers. Many smaller stone sculptures depicting deities also exist. The style used in religious sculpture was rigid stances likely meant to create a powerful experience in the onlooker. [122] Although Aztec stone sculptures are now displayed in museums as unadorned rock, they were originally painted in vivid polychrome color, sometimes covered first with a base coat of plaster. [124] Early Spanish conquistador accounts also describe stone sculptures as having been decorated with precious stones and metal, inserted into the plaster. [122]

Featherwork

An especially prized art form among the Aztecs was featherwork - the creation of intricate and colorful mosaics of feathers, and their use in garments as well as decoration on weaponry, war banners, and warrior suits. The class of highly skilled and honored craftsmen who created feather objects was called the amanteca, [125] named after the Amantla neighborhood in Tenochtitlan where they lived and worked. [126] They did not pay tribute nor were required to perform public service. The Florentine Codex gives information about how feather works were created. The amanteca had two ways of creating their works. One was to secure the feathers in place using agave cord for three-dimensional objects such as fly whisks, fans, bracelets, headgear and other objects. The second and more difficult was a mosaic type technique, which the Spanish also called "feather painting." These were done principally on feather shields and cloaks for idols.Feather mosaics were arrangements of minute fragments of feathers from a wide variety of birds, generally worked on a paper base, made from cotton and paste, then itself backed with amate paper, but bases of other types of paper and directly on amate were done as well. These works were done in layers with "common" feathers, dyed feathers and precious feathers. First a model was made with lower quality feathers and the precious feathers found only on the top layer. The adhesive for the feathers in the Mesoamerican period was made from orchid bulbs. Feathers from local and faraway sources were used, especially in the Aztec Empire. The feathers were obtained from wild birds as well as from domesticated turkeys and ducks, with the finest quetzal feathers coming from Chiapas, Guatemala and Honduras. These feathers were obtained through trade and tribute. Due to the difficulty of conserving feathers, fewer than ten pieces of original Aztec featherwork exist today. [127]

Mexico City was built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, gradually replacing and covering the lake, the island and the architecture of Aztec Tenochtitlan. [128] [129] [130] After the fall of Tenochtitlan, Aztec warriors were enlisted as auxiliary troops alongside the Spanish Tlaxcalteca allies, and Aztec forces participated in all of the subsequent campaigns of conquest in northern and southern Mesoamerica. This meant that aspects of Aztec culture and the Nahuatl language continued to expand during the early colonial period as Aztec auxiliary forces made permanent settlements in many of the areas that were put under the Spanish crown. [131]

The Aztec ruling dynasty continued to govern the indigenous polity of San Juan Tenochtitlan, a division of the Spanish capital of Mexico City, but the subsequent indigenous rulers were mostly puppets installed by the Spanish. One was Andrés de Tapia Motelchiuh, who was appointed by the Spanish. Other former Aztec city states likewise were established as colonial indigenous towns, governed by a local indigenous gobernador. This office was often initially held by the hereditary indigenous ruling line, with the gobernador being the tlatoani, but the two positions in many Nahua towns became separated over time. Indigenous governors were in charge of the colonial political organization of the Indians. In particular they enabled the continued functioning of the tribute and obligatory labor of commoner Indians to benefit the Spanish holders of encomiendas. Encomiendas were private grants of labor and tribute from particular indigenous communities to particular Spaniards, replacing the Aztec overlords with Spanish. In the early colonial period some indigenous governors became quite rich and influential and were able to maintain positions of power comparable to that of Spanish encomenderos. [132]

Population decline

After the arrival of the Europeans in Mexico and the conquest, indigenous populations declined significantly. This was largely the result of the epidemics of viruses brought to the continent against which the natives had no immunity. In 1520–1521, an outbreak of smallpox swept through the population of Tenochtitlan and was decisive in the fall of the city further significant epidemics struck in 1545 and 1576. [133]

There has been no general consensus about the population size of Mexico at the time of European arrival. Early estimates gave very small population figures for the Valley of Mexico, in 1942 Kubler estimated a figure 200,000. [134] In 1963 Borah and Cook used pre-Conquest tribute lists to calculate the number of tributaries in central Mexico, estimating over 18–30 million . Their very high figure has been highly criticized for relying on unwarranted assumptions. [135] Archeologist William Sanders based an estimate on archeological evidence of dwellings, arriving at an estimate of 1–1.2 million inhabitants in the Valley of Mexico. [136] Whitmore used a computer simulation model based on colonial censuses to arrive at an estimate of 1.5 million for the Basin in 1519, and an estimate of 16 million for all of Mexico. [137] Depending on the estimations of the population in 1519 the scale of the decline in the 16th century, range from around 50% to around 90% – with Sanders's and Whitmore's estimates being around 90%. [135] [138]

Social and political continuity and change

Although the Aztec empire fell, some of its highest elites continued to hold elite status in the colonial era. The principal heirs of Moctezuma II and their descendants retained high status. His son Pedro Moctezuma produced a son, who married into Spanish aristocracy and a further generation saw the creation of the title, Count of Moctezuma. From 1696 to 1701, the Viceroy of Mexico was held the title of count of Moctezuma. In 1766, the holder of the title became a Grandee of Spain. In 1865, (during the Second Mexican Empire) the title, which was held by Antonio María Moctezuma-Marcilla de Teruel y Navarro, 14th Count of Moctezuma de Tultengo, was elevated to that of a Duke, thus becoming Duke of Moctezuma, with de Tultengo again added in 1992 by Juan Carlos I. [139] Two of Moctezuma's daughters, Doña Isabel Moctezuma and her younger sister, Doña Leonor Moctezuma, were granted extensive encomiendas in perpetuity by Hernán Cortes. Doña Leonor Moctezuma married in succession two Spaniards, and left her encomiendas to her daughter by her second husband. [140]

The different Nahua peoples, just as other Mesoamerican indigenous peoples in colonial New Spain, were able to maintain many aspects of their social and political structure under the colonial rule. The basic division the Spanish made was between the indigenous populations, organized under the Republica de indios, which was separate from the Hispanic sphere, the República de españoles. The República de españoles included not just Europeans, but also Africans and mixed-race castas. The Spanish recognized the indigenous elites as nobles in the Spanish colonial system, maintaining the status distinction of the pre-conquest era, and used these noblemen as intermediaries between the Spanish colonial government and their communities. This was contingent on their conversion to Christianity and continuing loyalty to the Spanish crown. Colonial Nahua polities had considerable autonomy to regulate their local affairs. The Spanish rulers did not entirely understand the indigenous political organization, but they recognized the importance of the existing system and their elite rulers. They reshaped the political system utilizing altepetl or city-states as the basic unit of governance. In the colonial era, altepetl were renamed cabeceras or "head towns" (although they often retained the term altepetl in local-level, Nahuatl-language documentation), with outlying settlements governed by the cabeceras named sujetos, subject communities. In cabeceras, the Spanish created Iberian-style town councils, or cabildos, which usually continued to function as the elite ruling group had in the pre-conquest era. [141] [142] Population decline due to epidemic disease resulted in many population shifts in settlement patterns, and the formation of new population centers. These were often forced resettlements under the Spanish policy of congregación. Indigenous populations living in sparsely populated areas were resettled to form new communities, making it easier for them to brought within range of evangelization efforts, and easier for the colonial state to exploit their labor. [143] [144]

Today the legacy of the Aztecs lives on in Mexico in many forms. Archeological sites are excavated and opened to the public and their artifacts are prominently displayed in museums. Place names and loanwords from the Aztec language Nahuatl permeate the Mexican landscape and vocabulary, and Aztec symbols and mythology have been promoted by the Mexican government and integrated into contemporary Mexican nationalism as emblems of the country. [146]

During the 19th century, the image of the Aztecs as uncivilized barbarians was replaced with romanticized visions of the Aztecs as original sons of the soil, with a highly developed culture rivaling the ancient European civilizations. When Mexico became independent from Spain, a romanticized version of the Aztecs became a source of images that could be used to ground the new nation as a unique blend of European and American. [147]

The Aztecs and Mexico's national identity

Aztec culture and history has been central to the formation of a Mexican national identity after Mexican independence in 1821. In 17th and 18th century Europe, the Aztecs were generally described as barbaric, gruesome and culturally inferior. [148] Even before Mexico achieved its independence, American-born Spaniards (criollos) drew on Aztec history to ground their own search for symbols of local pride, separate from that of Spain. Intellectuals utilized Aztec writings, such as those collected by Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, and writings of Hernando Alvarado Tezozomoc, and Chimalpahin to understand Mexico's indigenous past in texts by indigenous writers. This search became the basis for what historian D.A. Brading calls "creole patriotism." Seventeenth-century cleric and scientist, Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora acquired the manuscript collection of Texcocan nobleman Alva Ixtlilxochitl. Creole Jesuit Francisco Javier Clavijero published La Historia Antigua de México (1780–81) in his Italian exile following the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, in which he traces the history of the Aztecs from their migration to the last Aztec ruler, Cuauhtemoc. He wrote it expressly to defend Mexico's indigenous past against the slanders of contemporary writers, such as Pauw, Buffon, Raynal, and William Robertson. [149] Archeological excavations in 1790 in the capital's main square uncovered two massive stone sculptures, buried immediately after the fall of Tenochtitlan in the conquest. Unearthed were the famous calendar stone, as well as a statue of Coatlicue. Antonio de León y Gama’s 1792 Descripción histórico y cronológico de las dos piedras examines the two stone monoliths. A decade later, German scientist Alexander von Humboldt spent a year in Mexico, during his four-year expedition to Spanish America. One of his early publications from that period was Views of the Cordilleras and Monuments of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. [150] Humboldt was important in disseminating images of the Aztecs to scientists and general readers in the Western world. [151]

In the realm of religion, late colonial paintings of the Virgin of Guadalupe have examples of her depicted floating above the iconic nopal cactus of the Aztecs. Juan Diego, the Nahua to whom the apparition was said to appear, links the dark Virgin to Mexico's Aztec past. [152]

When New Spain achieved independence in 1821 and became a monarchy, the First Mexican Empire, its flag had the traditional Aztec eagle on a nopal cactus. The eagle had a crown, symbolizing the new Mexican monarchy. When Mexico became a republic after the overthrow of the first monarch Agustín de Iturbide in 1822, the flag was revised showing the eagle with no crown. In the 1860s, when the French established the Second Mexican Empire under Maximilian of Habsburg, the Mexican flag retained the emblematic eagle and cactus, with elaborate symbols of monarchy. After the defeat of the French and their Mexican collaborators, the Mexican Republic was re-established, and the flag returned to its republican simplicity. [153] This emblem has also been adopted as Mexico's national Coat of Arms, and is emblazoned on official buildings, seals, and signs. [145]

Tensions within post-independence Mexico pitted those rejecting the ancient civilizations of Mexico as source of national pride, the Hispanistas, mostly politically conservative Mexican elites, and those who saw them as a source of pride, the Indigenistas, who were mostly liberal Mexican elites. Although the flag of the Mexican Republic had the symbol of the Aztecs as its central element, conservative elites were generally hostile to the current indigenous populations of Mexico or crediting them with a glorious prehispanic history. Under Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Anna, pro-indigenist Mexican intellectuals did not find a wide audience. With Santa Anna's overthrow in 1854, Mexican liberals and scholars interested in the indigenous past became more active. Liberals were more favorably inclined to the indigenous populations and their history, but considered a pressing matter being the "Indian Problem." Liberals’ commitment to equality before the law meant that for upwardly mobile indigenous, such as Zapotec Benito Juárez, who rose in the ranks of the liberals to become Mexico's first president of indigenous origins, and Nahua intellectual and politician Ignacio Altamirano, a disciple of Ignacio Ramírez, a defender of the rights of the indigenous, liberalism presented a way forward in that era. For investigations of Mexico's indigenous past, however, the role of moderate liberal José Fernando Ramírez is important, serving as director of the National Museum and doing research utilizing codices, while staying out of the fierce conflicts between liberals and conservatives that led to a decade of civil war. Mexican scholars who pursued research on the Aztecs in the late nineteenth century were Francisco Pimentel, Antonio García Cubas, Manuel Orozco y Berra, Joaquín García Icazbalceta, and Francisco del Paso y Troncoso contributing significantly to the nineteenth-century development of Mexican scholarship on the Aztecs. [154]

The late nineteenth century in Mexico was a period in which Aztec civilization became a point of national pride. The era was dominated by liberal military hero, Porfirio Díaz, a mestizo from Oaxaca who was president of Mexico from 1876 to 1911. His policies opening Mexico to foreign investors and modernizing the country under a firm hand controlling unrest, "Order and Progress," undermined Mexico's indigenous populations and their communities. However, for investigations of Mexico's ancient civilizations, his was a benevolent regime, with funds supporting archeological research and for protecting monuments. [155] "Scholars found it more profitable to confine their attention to Indians who had been dead for a number of centuries." [156] His benevolence saw the placement of a monument to Cuauhtemoc in a major traffic roundabout (glorieta) of the wide Paseo de la Reforma, which he inaugurated in 1887. In world's fairs of the late nineteenth century, Mexico's pavilions included a major focus on its indigenous past, especially the Aztecs. Mexican scholars such as Alfredo Chavero helped shape the cultural image of Mexico at these exhibitions. [157]

The Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) and significant participation of indigenous people in the struggle in many regions, ignited a broad government-sponsored political and cultural movement of indigenismo, with symbols of Mexico's Aztec past becoming ubiquitous, most especially in Mexican muralism of Diego Rivera. [158] [159]

In their works, Mexican authors such as Octavio Paz and Agustin Fuentes have analyzed the use Aztec symbols by the modern Mexican state, critiquing the way it adopts and adapts indigenous culture to political ends, yet they have also in their works made use of the symbolic idiom themselves. Paz for example critiqued the architectural layout of the National Museum of Anthropology, which constructs a view of Mexican history as culminating with the Aztecs, as an expression of a nationalist appropriation of Aztec culture. [160]

Aztec history and international scholarship

Scholars in Europe and the United States increasingly wanted investigations into Mexico's ancient civilizations, starting in the nineteenth century. Humboldt had been extremely important bringing ancient Mexico into broader scholarly discussions of ancient civilizations. French Americanist Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg (1814–1874) asserted that "science in our own time has at last effectively studied and rehabilitated America and the Americans from the [previous] viewpoint of history and archeology. It was Humboldt. who woke us from our sleep." [161] Frenchman Jean-Frédéric Waldeck published Voyage pittoresque et archéologique dans la province d'Yucatan pendant les années 1834 et 1836 in 1838. Although not directly connected with the Aztecs, it contributed to the increased interest in ancient Mexican studies in Europe. English aristocrat Lord Kingsborough spent considerable energy in their pursuit of understanding of ancient Mexico. Kingsborough answered Humboldt's call for the publication of all known Mexican codices, publishing nine volumes of Antiquities of Mexico (1831–1846) that were richly illustrated, bankrupting him. He was not directly interested in the Aztecs, but rather in proving that Mexico had been colonized by Jews. [ citation needed ] However, his publication of these valuable primary sources gave others access to them. [ citation needed ]

In the United States in the early nineteenth century, interest in ancient Mexico propelled John Lloyd Stephens to travel to Mexico and then publish well-illustrated accounts in the early 1840s. But the research of a half-blind Bostonian, William Hickling Prescott, into the Spanish conquest of Mexico resulted in his highly popular and deeply researched The Conquest of Mexico (1843). Although not formally trained as a historian, Prescott drew on the obvious Spanish sources, but also Ixtlilxochitl and Sahagún's history of the conquest. His resulting work was a mixture of pro- and anti-Aztec attitudes. It was not only a bestseller in English, it also influenced Mexican intellectuals, including the leading conservative politician, Lucas Alamán. Alamán pushed back against his characterization of the Aztecs. In the assessment of Benjamin Keen, Prescott's history "has survived attacks from every quarter, and still dominates the conceptions of the laymen, if not the specialist, concerning Aztec civilization." [162] In the later nineteenth century, businessman and historian Hubert Howe Bancroft oversaw a huge project, employing writers and researchers, to write the history the "Native Races" of North America, including Mexico, California, and Central America. One entire work was devoted to ancient Mexico, half of which concerned the Aztecs. It was a work of synthesis drawing on Ixtlilxochitl and Brasseur de Bourbourg, among others. [154]

When the International Congress of Americanists was formed in Nancy, France in 1875, Mexican scholars became active participants, and Mexico City has hosted the biennial multidisciplinary meeting six times, starting in 1895. Mexico's ancient civilizations have continued to be the focus of major scholarly investigations by Mexican and international scholars.

Language and placenames

The Nahuatl language is today spoken by 1.5 million people, mostly in mountainous areas in the states of central Mexico. Mexican Spanish today incorporates hundreds of loans from Nahuatl, and many of these words have passed into general Spanish use, and further into other world languages. [163] [164] [165]

In Mexico, Aztec place names are ubiquitous, particularly in central Mexico where the Aztec empire was centered, but also in other regions where many towns, cities and regions were established under their Nahuatl names, as Aztec auxiliary troops accompanied the Spanish colonizers on the early expeditions that mapped New Spain. In this way even towns, that were not originally Nahuatl speaking came to be known by their Nahuatl names. [166] In Mexico City there are commemorations of Aztec rulers, including on the Mexico City Metro, line 1, with stations named for Moctezuma II and Cuauhtemoc.

Cuisine

Mexican cuisine continues to be based on staple elements of Mesoamerican cooking and, particularly, of Aztec cuisine: corn, chili, beans, squash, tomato, avocado. Many of these staple products continue to be known by their Nahuatl names, carrying in this way ties to the Aztec people who introduced these foods to the Spaniards and to the world. Through spread of ancient Mesoamerican food elements, particularly plants, Nahuatl loan words (chocolate, tomato, chili, avocado, tamale, taco, pupusa, chipotle, pozole, atole) have been borrowed through Spanish into other languages around the world. [165] Through the spread and popularity of Mexican cuisine, the culinary legacy of the Aztecs can be said to have a global reach. Today Aztec images and Nahuatl words are often used to lend an air of authenticity or exoticism in the marketing of Mexican cuisine. [167]

In popular culture

The idea of the Aztecs has captivated the imaginations of Europeans since the first encounters, and has provided many iconic symbols to Western popular culture. [168] In his book The Aztec Image in Western Thought, Benjamin Keen argued that Western thinkers have usually viewed Aztec culture through a filter of their own cultural interests. [169]

The Aztecs and figures from Aztec mythology feature in Western culture. [170] The name of Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent god, has been used for a genus of pterosaurs, Quetzalcoatlus, a large flying reptile with a wingspan of as much as 11 metres (36 ft). [171] Quetzalcoatl has appeared as a character in many books, films and video games. D.H. Lawrence gave the name Quetzalcoatl to an early draft of his novel The Plumed Serpent, but his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, insisted on a change of title. [172] American author Gary Jennings wrote two acclaimed historical novels set in Aztec-period Mexico, Aztec (1980) and Aztec Autumn (1997). [173] The novels were so popular that four more novels in the Aztec series were written after his death. [174]

Aztec society has also been depicted in cinema. The Mexican feature film The Other Conquest (Spanish: La Otra Conquista) from 2000 was directed by Salvador Carrasco, and illustrated the colonial aftermath of the 1520s Spanish Conquest of Mexico. It adopted the perspective of an Aztec scribe, Topiltzin, who survived the attack on the temple of Tenochtitlan. [175] The 1989 film Retorno a Aztlán by Juan Mora Catlett is a work of historical fiction set during the rule of Motecuzoma I, filmed in Nahuatl and with the alternative Nahuatl title Necuepaliztli in Aztlan. [176] [177] In Mexican exploitation B movies of the 1970s, a recurring figure was the "Aztec mummy" as well as Aztec ghosts and sorcerers. [178]


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Contents

The namesake cultural trait of the Mound Builders was the building of mounds and other earthworks. These burial and ceremonial structures were typically flat-topped pyramids or platform mounds, flat-topped or rounded cones, elongated ridges, and sometimes a variety of other forms. They were generally built as part of complex villages. The early earthworks built in Louisiana around 3500 BCE are the only ones known to have been built by a hunter-gatherer culture, rather than a more settled culture based on agricultural surpluses.

The best-known flat-topped pyramidal structure is Monks Mound at Cahokia, near present-day Collinsville, Illinois. This mound appears to have been the main ceremonial and residential mound for the religious and political leaders it is more than 100 feet (30 m) tall and is the largest pre-Columbian earthwork north of Mexico. This site had numerous mounds, some with conical or ridge tops, as well as a Woodhenge, and palisaded stockades protecting the large settlement and elite quarter. At its maximum about 1150 CE, Cahokia was an urban settlement with 20,000–30,000 people this population was not exceeded by North American European settlements until after 1800.

Some effigy mounds were constructed in the shapes or outlines of culturally significant animals. The most famous effigy mound, Serpent Mound in southern Ohio, ranges from 1 foot (0.30 m) to just over 3 feet (0.91 m) tall, 20 feet (6.1 m) wide, more than 1,330 feet (410 m) long, and shaped as an undulating serpent.

Many different tribal groups and chiefdoms, involving an array of beliefs and unique cultures over thousands of years, built mounds as expressions of their cultures. The general term, "mound builder", does not describe one culture or tribe, but is applied to their shared architectural practice of earthwork mound construction. This practice, believed to be associated with a cosmology that had a cross-cultural appeal, may indicate common cultural antecedents. The first mound building was an early marker of political and social complexity among the cultures in the Eastern United States. Watson Brake in Louisiana, constructed about 3500 BCE during the Middle Archaic period, is the oldest dated mound complex in North America. It is one of 11 mound complexes from this period found in the Lower Mississippi Valley. [3]

These cultures generally had developed hierarchical societies that had an elite. These commanded hundreds or even thousands of workers to dig up tons of earth with the hand tools available, move the soil long distances, and finally, workers to create the shape with layers of soils as directed by the builders.

The most complete reference for these earthworks is Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, written by Ephraim G. Squier and Edwin H. Davis. It was published in 1848 by the Smithsonian Institution. Since many of the features which the authors documented have since been destroyed or diminished by farming and development, their surveys, sketches, and descriptions are still used by modern archaeologists. All of the sites which they identified as located in Kentucky came from the manuscripts of C. S. Rafinesque.

Between 1540 and 1542, Hernando de Soto, the Spanish conquistador, traversed what became the southeastern United States. There he encountered many different mound-builder peoples who were perhaps descendants of the great Mississippian culture. De Soto observed people living in fortified towns with lofty mounds and plazas, and surmised that many of the mounds served as foundations for priestly temples. Near present-day Augusta, Georgia, de Soto encountered a group ruled by a queen, Cofitachequi. She told him that the mounds within her territory served as the burial places for nobles.

The artist Jacques le Moyne, who had accompanied French settlers to northeastern Florida during the 1560s, likewise noted Native American groups using existing mounds and constructing others. He produced a series of watercolor paintings depicting scenes of native life. Although most of his paintings have been lost, some engravings were copied from the originals and published in 1591 by a Flemish company. Among these is a depiction of the burial of an aboriginal Floridian tribal chief, an occasion of great mourning and ceremony. The original caption reads:

Sometimes the deceased king of this province is buried with great solemnity, and his great cup from which he was accustomed to drink is placed on a tumulus with many arrows set about it.

Maturin Le Petit, a Jesuit priest, met the Natchez people, as did Le Page du Pratz (1758), a French explorer. Both observed them in the area that today is known as Mississippi. The Natchez were devout worshippers of the sun. Having a population of some 4,000, they occupied at least nine villages and were presided over by a paramount chief, known as the Great Sun, who wielded absolute power. Both observers noted the high temple mounds which the Natchez had built so that the Great Sun could commune with God, the sun. His large residence was built atop the highest mound, from "which, every morning, he greeted the rising sun, invoking thanks and blowing tobacco smoke to the four cardinal directions". [4] [5] [6]

Later explorers to the same regions, only a few decades after mound-building settlements had been reported, found the regions largely depopulated, the residents vanished, and the mounds untended. Since little violent conflict with Europeans had occurred in that area during that period, the most plausible explanation is that infectious diseases from the Old World, such as smallpox and influenza, had decimated most of the Native Americans who had comprised the last mound-builder civilization. [7] [8] [9] [10]

Archaic era Edit

Radiocarbon dating has established the age of the earliest Archaic mound complex in southeastern Louisiana. One of the two Monte Sano Site mounds, excavated in 1967 before being destroyed for new construction at Baton Rouge, was dated at 6220 BP (plus or minus 140 years). [11] Researchers at the time thought that such societies were not organizationally capable of this type of construction. [11] It has since been dated as about 6500 BP, or 4500 BCE, [12] although not all agree. [13]

Watson Brake is located in the floodplain of the Ouachita River near Monroe in northern Louisiana. Securely dated to about 5,400 years ago (around 3500 BCE), in the Middle Archaic period, it consists of a formation of 11 mounds from 3 feet (0.91 m) to 25 feet (7.6 m) tall, connected by ridges to form an oval nearly 900 feet (270 m) across. [14] In the Americas, building of complex earthwork mounds started at an early date, well before the pyramids of Egypt were constructed. Watson Brake was being constructed nearly 2,000 years before the better-known Poverty Point, and building continued for 500 years. [14] Middle Archaic mound construction seems to have ceased about 2800 BCE, and scholars have not ascertained the reason, but it may have been because of changes in river patterns or other environmental factors. [15]

With the 1990s dating of Watson Brake and similar complexes, scholars established that pre-agricultural, pre-ceramic American societies could organize to accomplish complex construction during extended periods of time, invalidating scholars' traditional ideas of Archaic society. [16] Watson Brake was built by a hunter-gatherer society, the people of which occupied the area on only a seasonal basis, but where successive generations organized to build the complex mounds over a 500-year period. Their food consisted mostly of fish and deer, as well as available plants.

Poverty Point, built about 1500 BCE in what is now Louisiana, is a prominent example of Late Archaic mound-builder construction (around 2500 BCE – 1000 BCE). It is a striking complex of more than 1 square mile (2.6 km 2 ), where six earthwork crescent ridges were built in concentric arrangement, interrupted by radial aisles. Three mounds are also part of the main complex, and evidence of residences extends for about 3 miles (4.8 km) along the bank of Bayou Macon. It is the major site among 100 associated with the Poverty Point culture and is one of the best-known early examples of earthwork monumental architecture. Unlike the localized societies during the Middle Archaic, this culture showed evidence of a wide trading network outside its area, which is one of its distinguishing characteristics.

Horr's Island, Florida, now a gated community next to Marco Island, when excavated by Michael Russo in 1980 found an Archaic Indian village site. Mound A was a burial mound that dated to 3400 BCE, making it the oldest known burial mound in North America. [17] [ better source needed ]

Woodland period Edit

The oldest mound associated with the Woodland period was the mortuary mound and pond complex at the Fort Center site in Glade County, Florida. 2012 excavations and dating by Thompson and Pluckhahn show that work began around 2600 BCE, seven centuries before the mound-builders in Ohio.

The Archaic period was followed by the Woodland period (circa 1000 BCE). Some well-understood examples are the Adena culture of Ohio, West Virginia, and parts of nearby states. The subsequent Hopewell culture built monuments from present-day Illinois to Ohio it is renowned for its geometric earthworks. The Adena and Hopewell were not the only mound-building peoples during this time period. Contemporaneous mound-building cultures existed throughout what is now the Eastern United States, stretching as far south as Crystal River in western Florida. During this time, in parts of present-day Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana, the Hopewellian Marksville culture degenerated and was succeeded by the Baytown culture. [18] Reasons for degeneration include attacks from other tribes or the impact of severe climatic changes undermining agriculture.

Coles Creek culture Edit

The Coles Creek culture is a Late Woodland culture (700-1200 CE) in the Lower Mississippi Valley in the Southern United States that marks a significant change of the cultural history of the area. Population and cultural and political complexity increased, especially by the end of the Coles Creek period. Although many of the classic traits of chiefdom societies were not yet made, by 1000 CE, the formation of simple elite polities had begun. Coles Creek sites are found in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Texas. The Coles Creek culture is considered ancestral to the Plaquemine culture. [19] [20]

Mississippian cultures Edit

Around 900–1450 CE, the Mississippian culture developed and spread through the Eastern United States, primarily along the river valleys. [21] The largest regional center where the Mississippian culture is first definitely developed is located in Illinois near the Mississippi, and is referred to presently as Cahokia. It had several regional variants including the Middle Mississippian culture of Cahokia, the South Appalachian Mississippian variant at Moundville and Etowah, the Plaquemine Mississippian variant in south Louisiana and Mississippi, [22] and the Caddoan Mississippian culture of northwestern Louisiana, eastern Texas, and southwestern Arkansas. [23] Like the mound builders of the Ohio, these people built gigantic mounds as burial and ceremonial places. [24]

Fort Ancient culture Edit

Fort Ancient is the name for a Native American culture that flourished from 1000 to 1650 CE among a people who predominantly inhabited land along the Ohio River in areas of modern-day southern Ohio, northern Kentucky, and western West Virginia.

Plaquemine culture Edit

A continuation of the Coles Creek culture in the lower Mississippi River Valley in western Mississippi and eastern Louisiana. Examples include the Medora Site in West Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana and the Anna and Emerald Mound sites in Mississippi. Sites inhabited by Plaquemine peoples continued to be used as vacant ceremonial centers without large village areas much as their Coles Creek ancestors had done, although their layout began to show influences from Middle Mississippian peoples to the north. The Winterville and Holly Bluff (Lake George) sites in western Mississippi are good examples that exemplify this change of layout, but continuation of site usage. [25] During the Terminal Coles Creek period (1150 to 1250 CE), contact increased with Mississippian cultures centered upriver near St. Louis, Missouri. This resulted in the adaption of new pottery techniques, as well as new ceremonial objects and possibly new social patterns during the Plaquemine period. [26] As more Mississippian culture influences were absorbed, the Plaquemine area as a distinct culture began to shrink after CE 1350. Eventually, the last enclave of purely Plaquemine culture was the Natchez Bluffs area, while the Yazoo Basin and adjacent areas of Louisiana became a hybrid Plaquemine-Mississippian culture. [27] This division was recorded by Europeans when they first arrived in the area. In the Natchez Bluffs area, the Taensa and Natchez people had held out against Mississippian influence and continued to use the same sites as their ancestors, and the Plaquemine culture is considered directly ancestral to these historic period groups encountered by Europeans. [28] Groups who appear to have absorbed more Mississippian influence were identified as those tribes speaking the Tunican, Chitimachan, and Muskogean languages. [26]

Archaeological culture maps Edit

Through the mid-19th century, European Americans did not recognize that ancestors of the Native Americans had built the prehistoric mounds of the eastern U.S. They believed that the massive earthworks and large ceremonial complexes were built by a different people. A New York Times article from 1897 described a mound in Wisconsin in which a giant human skeleton measuring over 9 feet (2.7 m) in length was found. [29] From 1886, another New York Times article described water receding from a mound in Cartersville, Georgia, which uncovered acres of skulls and bones, some of which were said to be gigantic. Two thigh bones were measured with the height of their owners estimated at 14 feet (4.3 m). [30] President Lincoln made reference to the giants whose bones fill the mounds of America.

But still there is more. It calls up the indefinite past. When Columbus first sought this continent – when Christ suffered on the cross – when Moses led Israel through the Red-Sea – nay, even, when Adam first came from the hand of his Maker – then as now, Niagara was roaring here. The eyes of that species of extinct giants, whose bones fill the mounds of America, have gazed on Niagara, as ours do now. Co[n]temporary with the whole race of men, and older than the first man, Niagara is strong, and fresh to-day as ten thousand years ago. The Mammoth and Mastodon – now so long dead, that fragments of their monstrous bones, alone testify, that they ever lived, have gazed on Niagara. In that long – long time, never still for a single moment. Never dried, never froze, never slept, never rested. [31]

The antiquarian author William Pidgeon created fraudulent surveys of mound groups that did not exist, possibly tainting this opinion, which was replaced by others. [32] [33] [34]

A major factor in increasing public knowledge of the origins of the mounds was the 1894 report by Cyrus Thomas of the Bureau of American Ethnology. He concluded that the prehistoric earthworks of the Eastern United States were the work of early cultures of Native Americans. A small number of people had earlier made similar conclusions: Thomas Jefferson, for example, excavated a mound and from the artifacts and burial practices, noted similarities between mound-builder funeral practices and those of Native Americans in his time. In addition, Theodore Lewis in 1886 had refuted Pidgeon's fraudulent claims of pre-Native American moundbuilders. [35]

Writers and scholars have proposed many alternative origins for the Mound Builders:

In 1787, Benjamin Smith Barton proposed the theory that the Mound Builders were Vikings who came to North America and eventually disappeared. [36]

Other people believed that Greeks, Africans, Chinese, or assorted Europeans built the mounds. Some Euro-Americans thought the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel had built the mounds. [36]

Book of Mormon inhabitants

During the 19th century, a common belief was that the Jews, particularly the Lost Ten Tribes, were the ancestors of Native Americans and the Mound Builders. [37] The Book of Mormon (published first in 1830) provides a related belief, as its narrative describes two major immigrations to the Americas from Mesopotamia: the Jaredites (3000–2000 BCE) and an Israelite group in 590 BCE (termed Nephites, Lamanites, and Mulekites). While the Nephites, Lamanites, and Mulekites were all of Jewish origin coming from Israel around 590 BCE, the Jaradites were a non-Abrahamic people separate in all aspects, except in a belief in Jehovah, from the Nephites. The Book of Mormon depicts these settlers building magnificent cities, which were destroyed by warfare about CE 385.

Numerous observers have suggested that the Book of Mormon appears to be a work of fiction that parallels others within the 19th-century "mound-builder" genre that was pervasive at the time. [38] [39] [40] [41] [42] [43] Some nineteenth-century archaeological finds (e.g., earth and timber fortifications and towns, [44] the use of a plaster-like cement, [45] ancient roads, [46] metal points and implements, [47] copper breastplates, [48] head-plates, [49] textiles, [50] pearls, [51] native North American inscriptions, North American elephant remains etc.) were well-publicized at the time of the publication of the Book of Mormon and there is incorporation of some of these ideas into the narrative. References are made in the Book of Mormon to then-current understanding of pre-Columbian civilizations, including the Formative Mesoamerican civilizations such as the (Pre-Classic) Olmec, Maya, and Zapotec.

During the 20th century, certain sects affiliated with the Black nationalist Moorish Science philosophy theorized an association with the Mound Builders. [52] [53] They argue that the Mound Builders were an ancient advanced Black civilization that developed the legendary continents of Atlantis and Mu, as well as ancient Egypt and Mesoamerica. These Black groups claim that the Indigenous Americans were too primitive to have developed the sophisticated societies and the technology believed necessary to build the mounds. [ citation needed ]

The Reverend Landon West claimed that Serpent Mound in Ohio was built by God, or by man inspired by him. He believed that God built the mound and placed it as a symbol of the story of the Garden of Eden. [54] [55]

Some people attributed the mounds to mythical cultures: Lafcadio Hearn suggested that the mounds were built by people from the lost continent of Atlantis. [36] [56]

Effects of alternative explanations Edit

The mound-builder explanations were often honest misinterpretations of real data from valid sources. Both scholars and laymen accepted some of these explanations. Reference to an alleged race appears in the poem "The Prairies" (1832) by William Cullen Bryant. [57]

Assumption that construction was too complex for Native Americans

One belief was that Native American Indians were too unsophisticated to have constructed such complex earthworks and artifacts. The associated stone, metal, and clay artifacts were thought to be too complex for ancient Native Americans to have made. In the American Southeast and Midwest, numerous Native American cultures were sedentary and used agriculture. Numerous Native American towns had built surrounding stockades for defense. Capable of this type of construction, their ancestors and they could have built mounds, but people who believed that Native Americans did not build the earthworks did not analyze it in this manner. They thought the Native American nomadic cultures would not organize to build such monuments, for failure to devote the time and effort to construct such time-consuming projects. [36]

When British colonists first arrived in America, they did not witness the Native Americans building mounds and these colonists reported that few Native Americans (specifically referring to those Native Americans living in this area newly colonized by England) on the Atlantic coast - knew of their own (ancient ?) history when asked. Yet earlier Europeans, especially the Spanish, had written numerous non-English-language accounts about the Indians' construction of mounds. Garcilaso de la Vega reported how the Indians built the mounds and placed temples on top of them. A few French expeditions reported staying with Indian societies who had built mounds also. [36]

Assumption that construction was older than Native Americans known to European Americans at that time.

People also claimed that Native Americans were not the Mound Builders because the mounds and related artifacts were older than Native American cultures known by European Americans at that time. For example, Caleb Atwater's misunderstanding of stratigraphy caused him to believe that the Mound Builders were a much older civilization than known Native Americans. In his book, Antiquities Discovered in the Western States (1820), Atwater claimed that Indian remains were always found right beneath the surface of the earth. Since the artifacts associated with the Mound Builders were found fairly deep in the ground, Atwater argued that they must be from a different group of people. The discovery of metal artifacts further convinced people that the Mound Builders were not Native Americans. This is because the Native Americans encountered by the Europeans and European Americans were not thought to engage in metallurgy. Some artifacts that were found in relation to the mounds were inscribed with symbols. As the Europeans did not know of any Native American cultures that had a writing system, they assumed a different group had created them. [36]

Several hoaxes have involved the Mound Builder cultures.

Newark Holy Stones In 1860, David Wyrick discovered the "Keystone tablet", containing Hebrew language inscriptions written on it, in Newark, Ohio. Soon afterward, he found the "Newark Decalogue Stone" nearby, also claimed to be inscribed in Hebrew. The authenticity of the "Newark Holy Stones" and the circumstances of their discovery are disputed. [36] Davenport tablets Reverend Jacob Gass discovered what were called the "Davenport tablets" in Iowa in the 1870s. These bore inscriptions that later were determined to be fake. [36] [ dead link ] Walam Olum hoax The Walam Olum hoax had considerable influence on perceptions of the Mound Builders. In 1836, Constantine Samuel Rafinesque published his translation of a text he claimed had been written in pictographs on wooden tablets. This text explained that the Lenape Indians originated in Asia, told of their passage over the Bering Strait, and narrated their subsequent migration across the North American continent. This "Walam Olum" tells of battles with native peoples already in America before the Lenape arrived. People hearing of the account believed that the "original people" were the Mound Builders, and that the Lenape overthrew them and destroyed their culture. David Oestreicher later asserted that Rafinesque's account was a hoax. He argued that the Walam Olum glyphs derived from Chinese, Egyptian, and Mayan alphabets. Meanwhile, the belief that the Native Americans destroyed the mound-builder culture had gained widespread acceptance. [36] Kinderhook plates Another hoax, the "Kinderhook plates" "discovered" in 1843, involved material planted by a contemporary in Native American mounds. This hoax aimed to discredit the account of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith having translated an ancient book. [58] [59]


What Is Obsidian Rock?

If you strive to know the obsidian meaning, go ahead in this section. Obsidian is a class of igneous rocks, which forms when felsic lava extruded from a volcano onto the surface of the earth.

The cooling of lava takes place so rapidly that no chance remains for proper crystallization (Atomic Arrangements) and finds as an amorphous glass material. It has a smooth and uniform texture, which breaks with a conchoidal fracture.

Geological Classification of Obsidian Rocks:

Let’s see the classification of obsidian rocks at the perspectives of a geologist.

Family-Group: Volcanic

Category: Opaque Rocks

Formation of Obsidian Rocks in Nature

We have seen in the earlier section that obsidian is an extrusive rock type and formation used to takes place on the surface of the earth when magma or lava coming out due to volcanic phenomena and rapid cooling takes place. The obsidian formation can happen in a variety of cooling environment such as

  • Along the edges of a flow of magma or lava
  • Along the edges of a dome of the volcano
  • Along the edges of a sill or dike, which takes place under the surface and it is the only intrusive type
  • The point where magma comes into contact with water on the surface
  • The point where magma cools due to airborne cooling effects

Natural Stone Pavers Collection

Exotic Collection

Premia Collection

Porcelain Pavers

Steps Stones

Window Sills

Pool Copings

Properties of Obsidian

Obsidians have various physical & visual properties, such as Hardness, Grain Size, Fracture, Streak (Colors), Porosity, Luster, and Strength. These all property attributes determine the applications of obsidian rocks. Let’s see some significant properties of obsidians.

Specific Gravity & Density of Obsidian

The density of rock used to expresses as specific gravity, and it is measured in relevance to the density of water in gram per cubic centimeter of the mass. The density of obsidian is 2.55 g/cubic cm. It means it is heavier than water and dense medium as a mass.

Streaks & Colors of Obsidian

The streak of obsidian is white, but various colors occur in nature.

Frequently found colors of Obsidian rocks are:

The highest occurrence of obsidians is in Black, but it also available in Brown, Green, or Tan.

Rarely found colors of Obsidian rocks are:

A very rare occurrence of obsidians is in Blue, Orange, Red, and Yellow.

The hardness of Obsidian (How Hard Is Obsidian Rocks)

In physics and geology, the hardness of the physical objects or rocks is measured in Moh’s scale, which rates the objects in question on the scale from 1 to 10.

  • Rocks with Moh’s hardness scale from 1 to 3 are considering soft rocks.
  • From 3 to 6 scale – medium hardness
  • From 6 to 10 hardness scale – the hardest rocks

Compressive Strength of Obsidian

Porosity of Obsidian

Obsidian Fracture

Obsidians breaks into the conchoidal fracture. Obsidian has no natural or defined planes of separation when a pressure exceeding its physical strength exerts on it. Therefore, smoothly curved fracture takes place on the surface of obsidian glass rock.

Luster & Transparency of Obsidian

What Type of Rock Is Obsidian?

Geologically, rocks used to divide into types. Based on the texture of the Obsidian rock types are decided. The main types of Obsidian rocks are as follows:

The occurrence of Obsidian Rocks in Different Geographic Regions of the Earth

Obsidian is falling into a volcanic-group of rocks. Therefore, the occurrence of Obsidian confined to geological areas where volcanic activity happened in the recent past. Obsidian rocks are not expected in volcanic areas of distance past like before billions of years because the glassy rocks are destroying rapidly due to weathering effects and various geological processes.

Significant deposits of obsidian rocks exist in the following continents of the world.

Asia: Afghanistan, Indonesia, Japan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia.
Africa: Kenya.
Europe: Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Scotland, and Turkey.
North America: Canada, Mexico, and the USA.
Central America: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Papua New Guinea.
>South America: Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru.
Australia: New Zealand.

The highest production of jewelry grade obsidians takes place in the United States. However, in the USA, obsidian rocks are not found in eastern regions of the Mississippi River because that area lacks volcanic activities in the recent past at all. The remaining areas of the States of America where obsidian rocks available are:

Arizona California Idaho Nevada
New Mexico Oregon Washington Wyoming
Colorado Texas Utah

Obsidian rocks also available in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.

Obsidian Uses

Now, I am going to acknowledge your use of obsidian. Do you know a conchoidal fracture of a rock resulting in pieces of rocks in curved surfaces?

Obsidian rocks can produce fragments with sharp edges, and sharp fragments of obsidian rocks first used as cutting tools in ancient eras of the civilization of humankind.

Today, a variety of uses found in different industries, such as:

Obsidians as Weapons & Tools:

The human civilization has used obsidian rocks to make knives, spear points, arrowheads, scrapers, and various weapons.

Obsidians in Construction Industry:

Obsidian rocks use in interior and exterior decoration. Decorative aggregates, gravels, and pebbles from obsidian rocks are a favorite material for creating architectural beauty and artwork on walls, ceilings, and floors of the buildings. Artworks in gardens, patios, swimming pools, fire features, and water features look amazing when obsidian rocks applied along with other Gemstones.

Obsidians in Medical Surgery:

Obsidian rocks are continuously used in the modern era to create cutting-edge surgical tools. Studies have revealed the fact that thin blades for scalpel of obsidians are superior in sharpness and performance than or equivalent to blades created from the latest surgical steel.

Do you know household razor blades are 300-600 Angstroms while obsidian can produce blades of 30 Angstroms? It means obsidian can produce the sharpest materials that only Nanotechnologies can produce.

Obsidians in Antiquity and Jewelry Industry:

Obsidian rocks often cut into beads and cabochons. Mahogany and Snowflakes obsidian types of rocks are providing gemstones for earrings, brooches, and pendants.

In the creation of Opal Doublets and Triplets, a thin slice of obsidian is glued as a backing material in the construction of composite gemstones. The black obsidian is an ideal material in making Opals to offer color-contrasting background.

Obsidian Rocks for Sales

If you are curious about obsidian for sale, I would like to describe obsidian rocks for sale in a nutshell here.

Obsidians are delicate rocks for many jewelry applications where the chances of various impacts are high. So, the jewelry industry avoids the high usage of these natural rocks/gems/glasses. It mainly used in delicate jewelry, and the following varieties are popular for commercial usages of obsidians.

The richest market of obsidian for sales is aiming for heal purposes. It is believed that obsidian stones have natural healing capabilities. Therefore, along with described various obsidian types earlier, the following varieties of obsidian products are in demand in the healing gemstone market.

Apache Tears Spiderweb Cat Eye
Flame/Fire Peanut Midnight Lace

eBay and Etsy are popular marketplaces to obtain raw obsidians. Various eCommerce jewelry sites are selling ready to use jewelry made from different kinds of obsidian rocks and for a variety of jewelry products. The online marketplaces including Alibaba and others are selling sorted and unsorted rough obsidian natural stones are weighing from 1/4lb to 1-2lbs.

Wrapping It Up

In the series of identifying various rocks and natural stones at World of Stones, USA, we have explored different aspects of obsidian rocks such as meaning, uses, facts, properties, and colors of obsidians.

World of Stones, USA is an excellent place to buy a variety of natural rocks mainly used for exterior applications in the building construction industry. If you are interested to know about rocks and stones, keep reading blogs at World of Stones.


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