sábado, 19 de septiembre de 2009



The name Aztec comes from Nahuatl: aztēcah, plural of aztēcatl 'person from Aztlān (Aztlán).

According to the mythico-historical Aubin codex, seven Nahua tribes lived in Aztlán under the rule of a powerful elite. The seven tribes fled Aztlán, to seek new lands. The Mexicas were the last group to leave. The Aubin Codex relates that after leaving Aztlán, their god Huitzilopochtli ordered his people to never identify themselves as Azteca, the name of their former masters. Instead they should henceforth call themselves Mexìcâ.

The word "Aztec" was not originally an endonym for any ethnic group, but achieved wide use as an exonym first in the English language and later in Castilian from the 19th century on. Some modern day scholars use the word "Aztec" to refer to the Nahuatl speaking peoples of Mexico before the Spanish conquest in 1519 and the word "Nahua" to refer to the same peoples after the conquest. Because no people ever referred to itself as "Aztecs", and because the peoples to whom the word is popularly used to refer never saw themselves as a unified ethnic group, many scholars now prefer to refer to particular ethnic groups individually e.g. the "Mexica", "Acolhua" or "Tepaneca" rather than subsuming them under a solitary term such as "Aztec".

The Spanish conquistadores referred to them as "Mexicas" or "Culua-Mexicas". In Mexico, archaeologists and museums use the term Mexicas. The wider population in and outside Mexico generally speaks of Aztecs. In this article, the term "Mexica" is used to refer to the Mexica people up until the time of the formation of the Triple Alliance. After this, the term "Aztecs" is used to refer to the three peoples who made up the Triple Alliance, or in the wider context to all the Nahuatl speaking peoples as bearers of "Aztec culture".


Mexica or Mexìcâ is a term of uncertain origin. Various proposed etymologies include the old Nahuatl word for the moon, the name of their leader Mexitli, or mexixin, a type of weed that grows in Lake Texcoco. Mexican scholar Miguel León-Portilla suggests that it is derived from mexictli, "navel of the moon", from Nahuatl metztli (moon) and xictli (navel).[2] Alternatively, mexictli could mean "navel of the maguey" using the Nahuatl metl and the locative "co".

According to a aztec legend, it was Huitzilopochtli, the war deity and patron of the Mexica who gave them their name. The most probable interpretation is that the name comes from Mexitl or Mexi a secret name for the deity.


In Nahuatl, Aztecatl means "someone who comes from Aztlán". In 1810 Alexander von Humboldt originated the modern usage of "Aztec" 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, it 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.

Nahuatl (nahuatl/nawatlahtolli) Classical Nahuatl (also known as Aztec, and simply Nahuatl) is a term used to describe the variants of the Nahuatl language. The majority of the speakers live in Central Mexico in the states of Estado de Mexico, Distrito Federal, Puebla, Tlaxcala, Morelos, Guerrero, Veracruz, Michoacán and Hidalgo. Other variants of the language "Nahuatl" were spoken by many of the central Mexican city-states under the domination of the Aztec Empire. Nahuatl was originally written with a pictographic script which was not a full writing system but instead served as a mnemonic to remind readers of texts they had learned orally.


The Nahua peoples began to migrate into Mesoamerica from northern Mexico in the 6th century. They 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. During the Postclassic period they rose to power at such sites as Tula, Hidalgo. In the 12th century the Nahua power center was in Azcapotzalco, from where the Tepanecs dominated the valley of Mexico. Around this time the Mexica tribe arrived in central Mexico.

Rise of the Triple Alliance

The true origin of the Mexicas is uncertain. According to their legends, the Mexica tribe place of origin was Aztlán. It is generally thought that Aztlán was somewhere to the north of the Valley of Mexico; some experts have placed it as far north as Southwestern United States.

Based on these codices as well as other histories, it appears that the Mexicas arrived at Chapultepec in or around the year 1248.

At the time of their arrival, the Valley of Mexico had many city-states, the most powerful of which were Culhuacan to the south and Azcapotzalco to the west. The Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco soon expelled the Mexicas from Chapultepec. In 1299, Culhuacan ruler Cocoxtli gave them permission to settle in the empty barrens of Tizapan, where they were eventually assimilated into Culhuacan culture.

In 1323, the Mexicas were shown a vision of an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus, eating a snake. This vision indicated that this was the location where they were to build their home. In any event, the Mexicas eventually arrived on a small swampy island in Lake Texcoco where they founded the town of Tenochtitlan in 1325. In 1376, the Mexicas elected their first Huey Tlatoani, Acamapichtli, who was living in Texcoco at the time.

For the next 50 years, until 1427, the Mexica were a tributary of Azcapotzalco, which had become a regional power, perhaps the most powerful since the Toltecs, centuries earlier. Maxtla, son of Tezozomoc, assassinated Chimalpopoca, the Mexica ruler. In an effort to defeat Maxtla, Chimalpopoca's successor, Itzcoatl, allied with the exiled ruler of Texcoco, Nezahualcoyotl. This coalition became the foundation of the Aztec Triple Alliance.

The Triple Alliance of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan would, in the next 100 years, come to dominate the Valley of Mexico and extend its power to both the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific shore. Over this period, Tenochtitlan gradually became the dominant power in the alliance.

Two of the primary architects of the Aztec empire were the half-brothers Tlacaelel and Montezuma I, nephews of Itzcoatl. Moctezuma I succeeded Itzcoatl as Hueyi Tlatoani in 1440. Although he was also offered the opportunity to be tlatoani, Tlacaelel preferred to operate as the power behind the throne. Tlacaelel reformed the Aztec state and religion. According to some sources, he ordered the burning of most of the extant Aztec books claiming that they contained lies. He thereupon rewrote the history of the Aztec people, thus creating a common awareness of history for the Aztecs. This rewriting led directly to the curriculum taught to scholars and promoted the belief that the Aztecs were always a powerful and mythic nation; forgetting forever a possible true history of modest origins. One component of this reform was the institution of ritual war (the flower wars) as a way to have trained warriors, and created the necessity of constant sacrifices to keep the Sun moving.

Spanish conquest

The empire reached its height during Ahuitzotl's reign in 1486–1502. His successor, Motehcuzōma Xocoyotzin (better known as Montezuma II or Montezuma), had been Hueyi Tlatoani for 17 years when the Spaniards, led by Hernán Cortés, landed on the Gulf Coast in the spring of 1519.

Despite some early battles between the two, Cortés allied himself with the Aztecs’ long-time enemy, the Confederacy of Tlaxcala, and arrived at the gates of Tenochtitlan on November 8, 1519.

The Spaniards and their Tlaxcallan allies became increasingly dangerous and unwelcome guests in the capital city. In June, 1520, hostilities broke out, culminating in the massacre in the Main Temple and the death of Moctezuma II. The Spaniards fled the town on July 1, an episode later characterized as La Noche Triste (the Sad Night). They and their native allies returned in the spring of 1521 to lay siege to Tenochtitlan, a battle that ended on August 13 with the destruction of the city. During this period the now crumbling empire went through a rapid line of ruler succession. After the death of Montezuma II, the empire fell into the hands of severely weakened emperors, such as Cuitláhuac, before eventually being ruled by puppet rulers, such as Andrés de Tapia Motelchiuh, installed by the Spanish.

Despite the decline of the Aztec empire, most of the Mesoamerican cultures were intact after the fall of Tenochtitlan. Indeed, the freedom from Aztec domination may have been considered a positive development by most of the other cultures. The upper classes of the Aztec empire were considered noblemen by the Spaniards and generally treated as such initially. All this changed rapidly and the native population were soon forbidden to study by law, and had the status of minors.

The Tlaxcalans remained loyal to their Spanish friends and were allowed to come on other conquests with Cortés and his men.

Colonial period population decline

In 1520–1521, an outbreak of smallpox swept through the population of Tenochtitlan and was decisive in the fall of the city. It is estimated that between 10% and 50% of the population fell victim to this epidemic.

Subsequently, the Valley of Mexico was hit with two more epidemics, smallpox (1545–1548) and typhus (1576–1581). The Spaniards, to consolidate the diminishing population, merged the survivors from small towns in the Valley of Mexico into bigger ones. This broke the power of the upper classes, but did not dissolve the coherence of the indigenous society in greater Mexico.

The population before the time of the conquest is unknown and hotly contested,[6] but disease is known to have ravaged the region; thus, the indigenous population of the Valley of Mexico is estimated to have declined by more than 80% in the course of about 60 years.[7]

Cultural patterns


The Aztec Empire was an example of an empire that 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. In the theoretical framework of imperial systems posited by Alexander J. Moty the Aztec empire was an informal or hegemonic empire because it did not exert supreme authority over the conquered lands, it merely expected tributes to be paid. 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 interfere in local affairs as long as the tribute payments were made.

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 king (tlatoani) from a legitimate dynasty. The Early Aztec period was a time of growth and competition among altepetl. Even after the empire was formed (1428) and began its program of 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.

Tribute and trade

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.

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 included the enemy Tarascan, 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.


The Aztec economy can be divided into a political sector, under the control of nobles and kings, and a commercial sector that operated independently of the political sector. The political sector of the economy centered on the control of land and labor by kings and nobles. Nobles owned all land, and commoners got access to farmland and other fields through a variety of arrangements, from rental through sharecropping to serf-like labor and slavery. These payments from commoners to nobles supported both the lavish lifestyles of the high nobility and the finances of city-states. Many luxury goods were produced for consumption by nobles. The producers of featherwork, sculptures, jewelry, and other luxury items were full-time commoner specialists who worked for noble patrons.

In the commercial sector of the economy several types of money were in regular use. 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. One source stated that 20 quachtli could support a commoner for one year in Tenochtitlan. A man could also sell his own daughter as a sexual slave or future religious sacrifice, generally for around 500 to 700 beans. A small gold statue (approximately 0.62 kg / 1.37 lb) cost 250 beans. Money was used primarily in the many periodic markets that were held in each town. A typical town would have a weekly market (every 5 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. The pochteca were specialized merchants organized into exclusive guilds. They made lengthy expeditions to all parts of Mesoamerica, 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), it was not "a capitalist economy because land and labor were not commodities for sale."


The main contribution of the Aztec rule was a system of communications between the conquered cities. In Mesoamerica, without draft animals for transport (nor, as a result, wheeled vehicles), the roads were designed for travel on foot. Usually these roads were maintained through tribute, and travelers had places to rest and eat and even latrines to use at regular intervals, roughly every 10 or 15 km. Couriers (paynani) were constantly travelling along those ways, keeping the Aztecs informed of events, and helping to monitor the integrity of the roads. Due to the steady surveillance, even women could travel alone, a fact that amazed the Spaniards, as that was not at all possible in Europe since the time of the Romans.

After the conquest those roads were no longer subject to maintenance and were lost.

Mythology and religion

The Mexica made reference to at least two manifestations of the supernatural: tēōtl and tēixiptla. Tēōtl, which the Spaniards and European scholars routinely mistranslated as "god" or "demon", referred rather to an impersonal force that permeated the world. Tēixiptla, by contrast, denoted the physical representations ("idols", statues and figurines) of the tēōtl as well as the human cultic activity surrounding this physical representation. The Mexica "gods" themselves had no existence as distinct entities apart from these tēixiptla representations of tēōtl (Boone 1989).

Veneration of Huitzilopochtli, the personification of the sun and of war, was central to the religious, social and political practices of the Mexicas. Huitzilopochtli attained this central position after the founding of Tenochtitlan and the formation of the Mexica city-state society in the 14th century. Prior to this, Huitzilopochtli was associated primarily with hunting, presumably one of the important subsistence activities of the itinerant bands that would eventually become the Mexica.

According to myth, Huitzilopochtli directed the wanderers to found a city on the site where they would see an eagle devouring a snake perched on a fruit-bearing nopal cactus. (It was said that Huitzilopochtli killed his nephew, Cópil, and threw his heart on the lake. Huitzilopochtli honoured Cópil by causing a cactus to grow over Cópil's heart.) Legend has it that this is the site on which the Mexicas built their capital city of Tenochtitlan. This legendary vision is pictured on the Coat of arms of Mexico.

According to their own history, when the Mexicas arrived in the Anahuac valley (Valley of Mexico) around Lake Texcoco, the groups living there considered them uncivilized. The Mexicas borrowed much of their culture from the ancient Toltec whom they seem to have at least partially confused with the more ancient civilization of Teotihuacan. To the Mexicas, the Toltecs were the originators of all culture; "Toltecayōtl" was a synonym for culture. Mexica legends identify the Toltecs and the cult of Quetzalcoatl with the mythical city of Tollan, which they also identified with the more ancient Teotihuacan.

Human sacrifice

For most people today, and for the European Catholics who first met the Aztecs, human sacrifice was the most striking feature of Aztec civilization. While human sacrifice was practiced throughout Mesoamerica, the Aztecs, if their own accounts are to be believed, brought this practice to an unprecedented level. For example, for the reconsecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed 84,400 prisoners over the course of four days, reportedly by Ahuitzotl, the Great Speaker himself.

However, most experts consider these numbers to be overstated. For example, the sheer logistics associated with sacrificing 84,000 victims would be overwhelming, 2,000 being a more likely figure. A similar consensus has developed on reports of cannibalism among the Aztecs.

Accounts by the Tlaxcaltecas, the primary enemy of the Aztecs at the time of the Spanish Conquest, show that at least some of them considered it an honor to be sacrificed. In one legend, the warrior Tlahuicole was freed by the Aztecs but eventually returned of his own volition to die in ritual sacrifice. Tlaxcala also practiced the human sacrifice of captured Aztec Citizens.

Social structures

Class structure

The highest class were the pīpiltin or nobility. Originally this status was not hereditary, although the sons of pillis had access to better resources and education, so it was easier for them to become pillis. Later the class system took on hereditary aspects.

The second class were the mācehualtin, originally peasants. Eduardo Noguera estimates that in later stages only 20% of the population was dedicated to agriculture and food production. 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.

Slaves or tlacotin also constituted an important class. Aztecs could become slaves because of debts, as a criminal punishment or as war captives. A slave could have possessions and even own other slaves. However, upon becoming a slave, all of the slave's animals and excess money would go to his purchaser. Slaves could buy their liberty, and slaves could be set free if they had children with or were married to their masters. Typically, upon the death of the master, slaves who had performed outstanding services were freed. The rest of the slaves were passed on as part of an inheritance.

Traveling merchants called pochtecah were a small, but important class as they not only facilitated commerce, but also communicated vital information across the empire and beyond its borders. They were often employed as spies.


As with all Mesoamerican cultures, the Aztecs played a variant of the Mesoamerican ballgame, named tlachtli or ollamaliztli in Nahuatl. The game was played with a ball of solid rubber, called an olli, whence derives the Spanish word for rubber, hule. The players hit the ball with their hips, knees, and elbows and had to pass the ball through a stone ring to automatically win. Getting the ball through the hoop was so hard, if a player actually scored a goal, they were given some jewelry. No one knows the exact rules of the game, as the rules have never been recorded, and thus, only speculations exist. The Aztec variant of the Mesoamerican ballgame is the only one to be described in postcolonial sources, and not much is known about how other Mesoamerican people played the game.

The Aztecs also enjoyed board games, like patolli and totoloque. Bernal Diaz records that Cortés and Moctezuma II played totoloque together.


Until the age of fourteen, the education of children was in the hands of their parents, but supervised by the authorities of their calpōlli. Part of this education involved learning a collection of sayings, called huēhuetlàtolli ("sayings of the old"), that embodied the Aztecs' ideals. Judged by their language, most of the huēhuetlatolli seemed to have evolved over several centuries, predating the Aztecs and most likely adopted from other Nahua cultures.

At 15, all boys and girls went to school. The Mexica, one of the Aztec groups, were one of the first people in the world to have mandatory education for nearly all children, regardless of gender, rank, or station. There were two types of schools: the telpochcalli, for practical and military studies, and the calmecac, for advanced learning in writing, astronomy, statesmanship, theology, and other areas. The two institutions seem to be common to the Nahua people, leading some experts to suggest that they are older than the Aztec culture.

Aztec teachers (tlatimine) propounded a spartan regime of education with the purpose of forming a stoical people.

Girls were educated in the crafts of home and child raising. They were not taught to read or write. All women were taught to be involved in religion; there are paintings of women presiding over religious ceremonies, but there are no references to female priests.


This ornament features a turquoise mosaic on a carved wooden base, with red and white shells used for the mouths. Probably worn across the chest, this ornament measures 20 cm by 43 cm (8 in by 17 in). It was likely created by Mixtec artisans from an Aztec tributary state. 1400–1521, from the British Museum [1].

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.

Poetry was the only occupation worthy of an Aztec warrior in times of peace. 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. Miguel León-Portilla, a well-respected Aztec scholar of Mexico, has stated that it is in this poetry where we can find the real thought of the Aztecs, independent of "official" Aztec ideology.

It is also important to note that the Spanish classified many aspects of the Aztec/Nahuatl culture according to the lexicon and organizational categories with which they would distinguish in Europe. In the same way that the second letter of Cortez made a mention of "mesquitas", or in English, "mosques", when trying to convey his impression of Aztec architecture, early colonists and missionaries divided the principal bodies of nahuatl literature as "poetry" and "prose". "Poetry" was in xochitl in cuicatl a dual term meaning "the flower and the song" and was divided into different genres. 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 (Garganigo et al.).

The most important collection of these poems is Romances de los señores de la Nueva España, collected (Tezcoco 1582), probably by Juan Bautista de Pomar. Bautista de Pomar was the great-grandson of Netzahualcoyotl. He spoke Nahuatl, but was raised a Christian and wrote in Latin characters. (See also: "Is It You?", a short poem attributed to Netzahualcoyotl, and "Lament on the Fall of Tenochtitlan", a short poem contained within the "Anales de Tlatelolco" manuscript.)

The Aztec people also enjoyed a type of dramatic presentation, a kind of theatre. Some plays were comical with music and acrobats, others were staged dramas of their gods. After the conquest, the first Christian churches had open chapels reserved for these kinds of representations. Plays in Nahuatl, written by converted Indians, were an important instrument for the conversion to Christianity, and are still found today in the form of traditional pastorelas, which are played during Christmas to show the Adoration of Baby Jesus, and other Biblical passages.

Music and dance formed an essential part of the indigenous rites and ceremonies. Research about music of the Aztec people dates back to the writings of Bernal del Castillo, who was appalled by the music of these people because he viewed it during their ritualistic sacrifices, which were very different from rituals of Christian worship. Others, such as the Franciscan monk Fray Bernardino de Sahagún and the Dominican monk Diego Durán, were able to look at the music from different viewpoints, noting the unique instruments and the qualities of pitch and harmony that were achieved with these instruments—new sounds to their ears. Some musical instruments used are Tetzilacatl, Teponaztli, Tecomapiloa, Omichicahuaztli, Huehuetl, Coyolli, Chililitli, Caililiztli, Chicahuaztli, Cacalachtli, Áyotl, Ayacahtli.

City-building and architecture

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 campans. The city was interlaced with canals which were useful for transportation.

Tenochtitlan was built according to a fixed plan and centered on the ritual precinct, where the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan rose 50 m 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.

Around the island, chinampa beds were used to grow foods as well as, over time, to increase the size of the island. Chinampas, misnamed "floating gardens", were long raised plant beds set upon the shallow lake bottom. They were a very efficient agricultural system and could provide up to seven crops a year. On the basis of current chinampa yields, it has been estimated that 1 hectare of chinampa would feed 20 individuals and 9,000 hectares of chinampas could feed 180,000.

Anthropologist Eduardo Noguera estimates the population at 200,000 based in the house count and merging the population of Tlatelolco (once an independent city, but later became a suburb of Tenochtitlan). If one includes the surrounding islets and shores surrounding Lake Texcoco, estimates range from 300,000 to 700,000 inhabitants.


The pre-conquest Aztecs were a society that had four main methods of agriculture. The earliest, most basic form of agriculture implemented by the Aztecs is known as “rainfall cultivation.” The Aztecs also implemented terrace agriculture in hilly areas, or areas that could not be used for level ground farming. In the valleys irrigation farming was used. Dams diverted water from natural springs to the fields. This allowed for harvests on a regular basis. The Aztecs built canal systems that were longer and much more elaborate than previous irrigation systems. They managed to divert a large portion of the Cuauhtitlan River to provide irrigation to large areas of fields. The network of canals was a very complex and intricate system.

In the swampy regions along Lake Xochimilco, the Aztecs implemented yet another method of crop cultivation. They built what are called chinampas. Chinampas are areas of raised land, created from alternating layers of mud from the bottom of the lake, and plant matter/other vegetation. These “raised beds” were separated by narrow canals, which allowed farmers to move between them by canoe. The chinampas were extremely fertile pieces of land, and yielded, on average, seven crops annually. In order to plant on them, farmers first created “seedbeds,” or reed rafts, where they planted seeds and allowed them to germinate. Once they had, they were re-planted in the chinampas. This cut the growing time down considerably.

The Aztecs are credited with domestication of the subspecies of Wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, which is native to this region.

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.

Of the various crops grown by the Aztecs, maize was the most important. Aztec diets centered around it. Maize was grown across the entire empire, in the highland terraces, valley farms and also on the chinampas. Women ground maize into a coarse meal by rubbing it with a grinding stone called a mano against a flat stone called a metate. The Aztecs made tortillas from the corn meal. Other crops that the Aztecs relied upon were avocados, beans, squashes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, chia, amaranth and chilies. These crops were also grown everywhere. Crops that were specific to the lowland regions were cotton, fruits, cacao beans and rubber trees.

Relationship to other Mesoamerican cultures

Aztecs admired Mixtec craftsmanship so much that they imported artisans to Tenochtitlan and requested work to be done in certain Mixtec styles. The Aztecs also admired the Mixtec codices, so some of them were made to order by Mixteca for the Aztecs. In the later days, high society Aztec women started to wear Mixtec clothing, specifically the quexquemetl. It was worn over their traditional huipil, and much coveted by the women who could not afford such imported goods.

The situation was analogous in many ways to the Phoenician culture which imported and duplicated art from other cultures that they encountered.

Archaeologists usually do not have a problem differentiating between Mixtec and Aztec artifacts. However, the Mixtec made some products for "export" and that makes classification more problematic. In addition, the production of craft was an important part of the Mexica economy, and they also made pieces for "export".


Most modern day Mexicans (and people of Mexican descent in other countries) are mestizos, of mixed indigenous and European Spanish ancestry. During the 16th century the racial composition of Mexico began to change from one that featured distinct indigenous (Mexicas and members of the many other Mexican indigenous groups) and immigrant (mostly Spanish) populations, to the population composed primarily of mestizos that is found in modern day Mexico.

The Nahuatl language is today spoken by 1.5 million people, mostly in mountainous areas in the states of central Mexico. Local dialects of Spanish, Mexican Spanish generally, and the Spanish language worldwide have all been influenced, in varying degrees, by Nahuatl. Some Nahuatl words (most notably chocolate and tomato) have been borrowed through Spanish into other languages around the world.

Mexico City was built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, making it one of the oldest living cities of the Americas. Many of its districts and natural landmarks retain their original Nahuatl names. Many other cities and towns in Mexico and Central America have also retained their Nahuatl names (whether or not they were originally Mexica or even Nahuatl-speaking towns). A number of town names are hybrids of Nahuatl and Spanish.

Mexican cuisine continues to be based on and flavored by agricultural products contributed by the Mexicas/Aztecs and Mesoamerica, most of which retain some form of their original Nahuatl names. The cuisine has also become a popular part of the cuisine of the United States and other countries around the world, typically altered to suit various national tastes.

The modern Mexican flag bears the emblem of the Mexica migration story.

Mexico's premier religious icon, the Virgin of Guadalupe has certain similarities to the Mexica earth mother goddess Tonantzin.

For the 1986 FIFA World Cup Adidas designed the official match ball to show in its "triades" Aztec architectural and mural designs .

Modern views of the Aztec culture

Laurette Séjourné, a French anthropologist, wrote about Aztec and Mesoamerican spirituality. Her depiction of the Aztecs as a spiritual people was so compelling that new religions have been formed based on her writings. Some parts of her work have been adopted by esoteric groups, searching for occult teachings of the pre-Columbian religions. Séjourné never endorsed any of these groups.

Miguel León-Portilla also idealizes the Aztec culture, especially in his early writings.

Others, such as Antonio Velazco, have transformed the writings by Sejourné and León-Portilla into a religious movement. Antonio Velasco Piña has written three books, Tlacaelel, El Azteca entre los Aztecas, La mujer dormida debe dar a luz, and Regina. When mixed with the currents of Neopaganism, these books resulted in a new religious movement called "Mexicanista". This movement called for a return to the spirituality of the Aztecs. It is argued that, with this return, Mexico will become the next center of power. This religious movement mixes Mesoamerican cults with Hindu esoterism. The Mexicanista movement reached the peak of its popularity in the 1990s.

Aztec codices

There are few extant Aztec codices created before the conquest and these are largely ritual texts. Post-conquest codices, like Codex Mendoza or Codex Ríos, were painted by Aztec tlacuilos (codex creators), but under the control of Spanish authorities. The possibility of Spanish influence poses potential problems for those studying the post-conquest codices. Itzcoatl had the oldest hieroglyphics destroyed for political-religious reasons and Bishop Zumarraga of Mexico (1528–48) had all available texts burned for missionary reasons.

The conquistadors

The accounts of the conquistadors are those of men confronted with a new civilization, which they tried to interpret according to their own culture. Cortés was the most educated, and his letters to Charles V are a valuable firsthand account. Unfortunately, one of his letters is lost and replaced by a posterior text and the others were censored prior to their publication. In any case, Cortés was not writing a dispassionate account, but letters justifying his actions and to some extent exaggerating his successes and downplaying his failures.

Bernal Díaz del Castillo accompanied Cortes, but he wrote decades after the fact, he never learned the native languages, and he did not take notes. His account is colorful, but his work is considered erratic and exaggerated.

Although Francisco López de Gómara was Cortes' chaplain, friend, and confidant, he never visited the New World so his account is based on hearsay.

Priests and scholars

The accounts of the first priests and scholars, while reflecting their faith and their culture, are important sources. Fathers Diego Durán, Motolinia, and Mendieta wrote with their own religion in mind, Father Duran wrote trying to prove that the Aztec were one of the lost tribes of Israel. Bartolomé de las Casas wrote instead from an apologetic point of view. There are also authors that tried to make a synthesis of the pre-Hispanic cultures, like "Oviedo y Herrera", Jose de Acosta, and Pedro Mártir de Anghera.

Perhaps the most important source about the Aztec are the manuscripts of Bernardino de Sahagún, who worked with the surviving Aztec wise men. He taught Aztec tlacuilos to write the original Nahuatl accounts using the Latin alphabet. Because of fear of the Spanish authorities, he maintained the anonymity of his informants, and wrote a heavily censored version in Spanish. Unfortunately the Nahuatl original was not fully translated until the 20th century, thus realising the extent of the censorship of the Spanish version. The original Nahuatl manuscript is known as the Florentine Codex.

Native authors

Other important sources are the work of native and mestizo authors, descendants of the upper classes. These authors include Don Fernando Alvarado Tezozómoc, Chimalpahin Cuauhtlehuanitzin, Juan Bautista de Pomar, and Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxochitl. Ixtlixochitl, for example, wrote a history of Texcoco from a Christian point of view. His account of Netzahualcoyotl, an ancestor of Ixtlilxochitl's, has a strong resemblance to the story of King Solomon and portrays Netzahualcoyotl as a monotheist and a critic of human sacrifice.

jueves, 17 de septiembre de 2009


Geographical extent

The geographic extent of the Maya civilization, known as the Maya area, extended throughout the southern Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, and the Yucatán Peninsula states of Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatán. The Maya area also extended throughout the northern Central American region, including the present-day nations of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and western Honduras.

As the largest sub-region in Mesoamerica, it encompassed a vast and varied landscape, from the mountainous regions of the Sierra Madre to the semi-arid plains of northern Yucatán. Climate in the Maya region can vary tremendously, as the low-lying areas are particularly susceptible to the hurricanes and tropical storms that frequent the Caribbean.

The Maya area is generally divided into three loosely defined zones: the southern Maya highlands, the southern (or central) Maya lowlands, and the northern Maya lowlands. The southern Maya highlands include all of elevated terrain in Guatemala and the Chiapas highlands. The southern lowlands lie just north of the highlands, and incorporate the Mexican states of Campeche and Quintana Roo and northern Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador. The northern lowlands cover the remainder of the Yucatán Peninsula, including the Puuc hills.



The Maya area was initially inhabited around the 10th century BC. Recent discoveries of Maya occupation at Cuello in Belize have been carbon dated to around 2600 BC. This level of occupation included monumental structures. The Maya calendar, which is based around the so-called Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, commences on a date equivalent to 11 August, 3114 BC. However, according to "accepted history" the first clearly “Maya” settlements were established in approximately 1800 BC in Soconusco region of the Pacific Coast. This period, known as the Early Preclassic, was characterized by sedentary communities and the introduction of pottery and fired clay figurines.

Important sites in the southern Maya lowlands include Nakbe, El Mirador, Cival, and San Bartolo. In the Guatemalan Highlands Kaminal Juyú emerges around 800 BC. For many centuries it controlled the Jade and Obsidian sources for the Petén and Pacific Lowlands. The important early sites of Izapa, Takalik Abaj and Chocolá at around 600 BC were the main producers of Cacao. Mid-sized Maya communities also began to develop in the northern Maya lowlands during the Middle and Late Preclassic, though these lacked the size, scale, and influence of the large centers of the southern lowlands. Two important Preclassic northern sites include Komchen and Dzibilchaltun. The first written inscription in Maya hieroglyphics also dates to this period (c. 250 BC).

There is disagreement about the boundaries which differentiate the physical and cultural extent of the early Maya and neighboring Preclassic Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Olmec culture of the Tabasco lowlands and the Mixe-Zoque– and Zapotec–speaking peoples of Chiapas and southern Oaxaca, respectively. Many of the earliest significant inscriptions and buildings appeared in this overlapping zone, and evidence suggests that these cultures and the formative Maya influenced one another. Takalik Abaj, in the Pacific slopes of Guatemala, is the only site where Olmec and then Maya features have been found.


The Classic period (c. 250–900 AD) witnessed the peak of large-scale construction and urbanism, the recording of monumental inscriptions, and a period of significant intellectual and artistic development, particularly in the southern lowland regions. They developed an agriculturally intensive, city-centered empire consisting of numerous independent city-states. This includes the well-known cities of Tikal, Palenque, Copán and Calakmul, but also the lesser known Dos Pilas, Uaxactun, Altun Ha, and Bonampak, among others. The Early Classic settlement distribution in the northern Maya lowlands is not as clearly known as the southern zone, but does include a number of population centers, such as Oxkintok, Chunchucmil, and the early occupation of Uxmal.

The most notable monuments are the stepped pyramids they built in their religious centers and the accompanying palaces of their rulers. The palace at Cancuen is the largest in the Maya area, though the site, interestingly, lacks pyramids. Other important archaeological remains include the carved stone slabs usually called stelae (the Maya called them tetun, or "tree-stones"), which depict rulers along with hieroglyphic texts describing their genealogy, military victories, and other accomplishments.

The Maya civilization participated in long distance trade with many of the other Mesoamerican cultures, including Teotihuacan, the Zapotec and other groups in central and gulf-coast Mexico, as well as with more distant, non-Mesoamerican groups, for example the Tainos in the Caribbean. Archeologists have also found gold from Panama in the Sacred Cenote of Chichen Itza. Important trade goods included cacao, salt, sea shells, jade and obsidian.

The Maya collapse

For reasons that are still debated, the Maya centers of the southern lowlands went into decline during the 8th and 9th centuries and were abandoned shortly thereafter. This decline was coupled with a cessation of monumental inscriptions and large-scale architectural construction. Although there is no universally accepted theory to explain this “collapse,” current theories fall into two categories: non-ecological and ecological.

Non-ecological theories of Maya decline are divided into several subcategories, such as overpopulation, foreign invasion, peasant revolt, and the collapse of key trade routes. Ecological hypotheses include environmental disaster, epidemic disease, and climate change. There is evidence that the Maya population exceeded carrying capacity of the environment including exhaustion of agricultural potential and overhunting of megafauna. Some scholars have recently theorized that an intense 200 year drought led to the collapse of Maya civilization. The drought theory originated from research performed by physical scientists studying lake beds, ancient pollen, and other data, not from the archaeological community.

Postclassic period

During the succeeding Postclassic period (from the 10th to the early 16th century), development in the northern centers persisted, characterized by an increasing diversity of external influences. The Maya cities of the northern lowlands in Yucatán continued to flourish for centuries more; some of the important sites in this era were Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Edzná, and Coba. After the decline of the ruling dynasties of Chichen and Uxmal, Mayapan ruled all of Yucatán until a revolt in 1450. (This city's name may be the source of the word "Maya", which had a more geographically restricted meaning in Yucatec and colonial Spanish and only grew to its current meaning in the 19th and 20th centuries). The area then degenerated into competing city-states until the Yucatán was conquered by the Spanish.

The Itza Maya, Ko'woj, and Yalain groups of Central Peten survived the "Classic Period Collapse" in small numbers and by 1250 reconstituted themselves to form competing city-states. The Itza maintained their capital at Tayasal (also known as Noh Petén), an archaeological site thought to underlay the modern city of Flores, Guatemala on Lake Petén Itzá. It ruled over an area extending across the Peten Lakes region, encompassing the community of Eckixil on Lake Quexil. The Ko'woj had their capital at Zacpeten. Postclassic Maya states also continued to survive in the southern highlands. One of the Maya nations in this area, the K'iche' Kingdom of Q'umarkaj, is responsible for the best-known Maya work of historiography and mythology, the Popol Vuh. Other highland kingdoms included the Mam based at Huehuetenango, the Kaqchikels based at Iximché, the Chajomá based at Mixco Viejo and the Chuj, based at San Mateo Ixtatán.

Colonial period

Shortly after their first expeditions to the region, the Spanish initiated a number of attempts to subjugate the Maya and establish a colonial presence in the Maya territories of the Yucatán Peninsula and the Guatemalan highlands. This campaign, sometimes termed "The Spanish Conquest of Yucatán," would prove to be a lengthy and dangerous exercise for the conquistadores from the outset, and it would take some 170 years before the Spanish established substantive control over all Maya lands.

Unlike the Aztec and Inca Empires, there was no single Maya political center that, once overthrown, would hasten the end of collective resistance from the indigenous peoples. Instead, the conquistador forces needed to subdue the numerous independent Maya polities almost one by one, many of which kept up a fierce resistance. Most of the conquistadores were motivated by the prospects of the great wealth to be had from the seizure of precious metal resources such as gold or silver; however, the Maya lands themselves were poor in these resources. This would become another factor in forestalling Spanish designs of conquest, as they instead were initially attracted to the reports of great riches in central Mexico or Peru.

The Spanish Church and government officials destroyed Maya texts and with it the knowledge of Maya writing but by chance three of the pre-Columbian books dated to the post classic period have been preserved. The last Maya states, the Itza polity of Tayasal and the Ko'woj city of Zacpeten, were continuously occupied and remained independent of the Spanish until late in the 17th century. They were finally subdued by the Spanish in 1697.

Political structures

A typical Classic Maya polity was a small hierarchical state (ajawil, ajawlel, or ajawlil) headed by a hereditary ruler known as an ajaw (later k’uhul ajaw). Such kingdoms were usually no more than a capital city with its neighborhood and several lesser towns, although there were greater kingdoms, which controlled larger territories and extended patronage over smaller polities. Each kingdom had a name that did not necessarily correspond to any locality within its territory. Its identity was that of a political unit associated with a particular ruling dynasty. For instance, the archaeological site of Naranjo was the capital of the kingdom of Saal. The land (chan ch’e’n) of the kingdom and its capital were called Wakab’nal or Maxam and were part of a larger geographical entity known as Huk Tsuk. Interestingly, despite constant warfare and eventual shifts in regional power, most kingdoms never disappeared from the political landscape until the collapse of the whole system in the 9th century AD. In this respect, Classic Maya kingdoms are highly similar to late Post Classic polities encountered by the Spaniards in Yucatán and Central Mexico: some polities could be subordinated to hegemonic rulers through conquests or dynastic unions and yet even then they persisted as distinct entities.

Mayanists have been increasingly accepting a "court paradigm" of Classic Maya societies which puts the emphasis on the centrality of the royal household and especially the person of the king. This approach focuses on Maya monumental spaces as the embodiment of the diverse activities of the royal household. It considers the role of places and spaces (including dwellings of royalty and nobles, throne rooms, temples, halls and plazas for public ceremonies) in establishing power and social hierarchy, and also in projecting aesthetic and moral values to define the wider social realm.

Spanish sources invariably describe even the largest Maya settlements as dispersed collections of dwellings grouped around the temples and palaces of the ruling dynasty and lesser nobles. None of the Classic Maya cities shows evidence of economic specialization and commerce of the scale of Mexican Tenochtitlan. Instead, Maya cities could be seen as enormous royal households, the locales of the administrative and ritual activities of the royal court. They were the places where privileged nobles could approach the holy ruler, where aesthetic values of the high culture were formulated and disseminated, where aesthetic items were consumed. They were the self-proclaimed centers and the sources of social, moral, and cosmic order. The fall of a royal court as in the well-documented cases of Piedras Negras or Copan would cause the inevitable "death" of the associated settlement.


Many consider Maya art of their Classic Era (c. 250 to 900 AD) to be the most sophisticated and beautiful of the ancient New World. The carvings and the reliefs made of stucco at Palenque and the statuary of Copán are especially fine, showing a grace and accurate observation of the human form that reminded early archaeologists of Classical civilizations of the Old World, hence the name bestowed on this era. We have only hints of the advanced painting of the classic Maya; mostly what have survived are funerary pottery and other Maya ceramics, and a building at Bonampak holds ancient murals that survived by chance. A beautiful turquoise blue color that has survived through the centuries due to its unique chemical characteristics is known as Maya Blue or Azul maya, and it is present in Bonampak, Tajín Cacaxtla, Jaina, and even in some Colonial Convents. The use of Maya Blue survived until the 16th century when the technique was lost. Some Pre Classic murals have been recently discovered at San Bartolo, and are by far the finest in style and iconography, regarded as the Sistine Chapel of the Maya. With the decipherment of the Maya script it was discovered that the Maya were one of the few civilizations where artists attached their name to their work.


As unique and spectacular as Greek or Roman architecture, Maya architecture spans many thousands of years; yet, often the most dramatic and easily recognizable as Maya are the stepped pyramids from the Terminal Pre-classic period and beyond. There are also cave sites that are important to the Maya. These cave sites include Jolja Cave, the cave site at Naj Tunich, the Candelaria Caves, and the Cave of the Witch. There are also cave-origin myths among the Maya. Some cave sites are still used by the modern Maya in the Chiapas highlands.

It has been suggested that temples and pyramids were remodeled and rebuilt every fifty-two years in synchrony with the Maya Long Count Calendar. It appears now that the rebuilding process was often instigated by a new ruler or for political matters, as opposed to matching the calendar cycle. However, the process of rebuilding on top of old structures is indeed a common one. Most notably, the North Acropolis at Tikal seems to be the sum total of 1,500 years of architectural modifications. In Tikal and Yaxhá, there are the Twin Pyramid complexes (seven in Tikal and one in Yaxhá, that commemorate the end of a Baktún). Through observation of the numerous consistent elements and stylistic distinctions, remnants of Maya architecture have become an important key to understanding the evolution of their ancient civilization.

Urban design

As Maya cities spread throughout the varied geography of Mesoamerica, site planning appears to have been minimal. Maya architecture tended to integrate a great degree of natural features, and their cities were built somewhat haphazardly as dictated by the topography of each independent location. For instance, some cities on the flat limestone plains of the northern Yucatán grew into great sprawling municipalities, while others built in the hills of Usumacinta utilized the natural loft of the topography to raise their towers and temples to impressive heights. However, some semblance of order, as required in any large city, still prevailed.

Classic Era Maya urban design could easily be described as the division of space by great monuments and causeways. Open public plazas were the gathering places for people and the focus of urban design, while interior space was entirely secondary. Only in the Late Post-Classic era did the great Maya cities develop into more fortress-like defensive structures that lacked, for the most part, the large and numerous plazas of the Classic.

At the onset of large-scale construction during the Classic Era, a predetermined axis was typically established in a cardinal direction. Depending on the location of natural resources such as fresh-water wells, or cenotes, the city grew by using sacbeob (causeways) to connect great plazas with the numerous platforms that created the sub-structure for nearly all Maya buildings. As more structures were added and existing structures re-built or remodeled, the great Maya cities seemed to take on an almost random identity that contrasted sharply with other great Mesoamerican cities such as Teotihuacan and its rigid grid-like construction.

At the heart of the Maya city were large plazas surrounded by the most important governmental and religious buildings, such as the royal acropolis, great pyramid temples and occasionally ball-courts. Though city layouts evolved as nature dictated, careful attention was placed on the directional orientation of temples and observatories so that they were constructed in accordance with Maya interpretation of the orbits of the heavenly bodies. Immediately outside of this ritual center were the structures of lesser nobles, smaller temples, and individual shrines; the less sacred and less important structures had a greater degree of privacy. Outside of the constantly evolving urban core were the less permanent and more modest homes of the common people.

Building materials

A surprising aspect of the great Maya structures is their lack of many advanced technologies seemingly necessary for such constructions. Lacking draft animals necessary for wheel-based modes of transportation, metal tools and even pulleys, Maya architecture required abundant manpower. Yet, beyond this enormous requirement, the remaining materials seem to have been readily available. All stone for Maya structures appears to have been taken from local quarries. They most often used limestone which remained pliable enough to be worked with stone tools while being quarried and only hardened once removed from its bed. In addition to the structural use of limestone, much of their mortar consisted of crushed, burnt and mixed limestone that mimicked the properties of cement and was used as widely for stucco finishing as it was for mortar. Later improvements in quarrying techniques reduced the necessity for this limestone-stucco as the stones began to fit quite perfectly, yet it remained a crucial element in some post and lintel roofs. In the case of the common Maya houses, wooden poles, adobe and thatch were the primary materials; however, instances of what appear to be common houses of limestone have been discovered as well. Also notable throughout Maya architecture is the corbel arch (also known as a "false arch"), which allowed for more open-aired entrances. The corbelled arch improved upon pier/post and lintel doorways by directing the weight off of the lintel and onto the supporting posts.

Notable constructions

Ceremonial platforms were commonly limestone platforms of typically less than four meters in height where public ceremonies and religious rites were performed. Constructed in the fashion of a typical foundation platform, these were often accented by carved figures, altars and perhaps tzompantli, a stake used to display the heads of victims or defeated Mesoamerican ballgame opponents.

Palaces were large and often highly decorated, and usually sat close to the center of a city and housed the population's elite. Any exceedingly large royal palace, or one consisting of many chambers on different levels might be referred to as an acropolis. However, often these were one-story and consisted of many small chambers and typically at least one interior courtyard; these structures appear to take into account the needed functionality required of a residence, as well as the decoration required for their inhabitants stature.

E-Groups are specific structural configurations present at a number of centers in the Maya area. These complexes are oriented and aligned according to specific astronomical events (primarily the sun’s solsticesequinoxes) and are thought to have been observatories. These structures are usually accompanied by iconographic reliefs that tie astronomical observation into general Maya mythology. The structural complex is named for Group E at Uaxactun, the first documented in Mesoamerica.

Pyramids and temples. Often the most important religious temples sat atop the towering Maya pyramids, presumably as the closest place to the heavens. While recent discoveries point toward the extensive use of pyramids as tombs, the temples themselves seem to rarely, if ever, contain burials. Residing atop the pyramids, some of over two-hundred feet, such as that at El Mirador, the temples were impressive and decorated structures themselves. Commonly topped with a roof comb, or superficial grandiose wall, these temples might have served as a type of propaganda. As they were often the only structure in a Maya city to exceed the height of the surrounding jungle, the roof combs atop the temples were often carved with representations of rulers that could be seen from vast distances

Observatories. The Maya were keen astronomers and had mapped out the phases of celestial objects, especially the Moon and Venus. Many temples have doorways and other features aligning to celestial events. Round temples, often dedicated to Kukulcan, are perhaps those most often described as "observatories" by modern ruin tour-guides, but there is no evidence that they were so used exclusively, and temple pyramids of other shapes may well have been used for observation as well.

Ball courts. As an integral aspect of the Mesoamerican lifestyle, the courts for their ritual ball-game were constructed throughout the Maya realm and often on a grand scale. Enclosed on two sides by stepped ramps that led to ceremonial platforms or small temples, the ball court itself was of a capital "I" shape and could be found in all but the smallest of Maya cities.

Writing and literacy

Writing system

The Maya writing system (often called hieroglyphs from a superficial resemblance to the Ancient Egyptian writing) was a combination of phonetic symbols and logograms. It is most often classified as a logographic or (more properly) a logosyllabic writing system, in which syllabic signs play a significant role. It is the only writing system of the Pre-Columbian New World which is known to completely represent the spoken language of its community. In total, the script has more than a thousand different glyphs, although a few are variations of the same sign or meaning, and many appear only rarely or are confined to particular localities. At any one time, no more than around 500 glyphs were in use, some 200 of which (including variations) had a phonetic or syllabic interpretation.

The earliest inscriptions in an identifiably-Maya script date back to 200–300 BC.[19] However, this is preceded by several other writing systems which had developed in Mesoamerica, most notably that of the Zapotecs, and (following the 2006 publication of research on the recently-discovered Cascajal Block), the Olmecs. There is a pre-Maya writing known as "Epi-Olmec script" (post Olmec) which some researchers believe may represent a transitional script between Olmec and Maya writing, but the relationships between these remain unclear and the matter is unsettled. On January 5, 2006, National Geographic published the findings of Maya writings that could be as old as 400 BC, suggesting that the Maya writing system is nearly as old as the oldest Mesoamerican writing known at that time, Zapotec. In the succeeding centuries the Maya developed their script into a form which was far more complete and complex than any other that has yet been found in the Americas.

Since its inception, the Maya script was in use up to the arrival of the Europeans, peaking during the Maya Classical Period (c. 200 to 900). Although many Maya centers went into decline (or were completely abandoned) during or after this period, the skill and knowledge of Maya writing persisted amongst segments of the population, and the early Spanish conquistadors knew of individuals who could still read and write the script. Unfortunately, the Spanish displayed little interest in it, and as a result of the dire impacts the conquest had on Maya societies, the knowledge was subsequently lost, probably within only a few generations.

At a rough estimate, in excess of 10,000 individual texts have so far been recovered, mostly inscribed on stone monuments, lintels, stelae and ceramic pottery. The Maya also produced texts painted on a form of paper manufactured from processed tree-bark, in particular from several species of strangler fig trees such as Ficus cotinifolia and Ficus padifolia. This paper, common throughout Mesoamerica and generally now known by its Nahuatl-language name amatl, was typically bound as a single continuous sheet that was folded into pages of equal width, concertina-style, to produce a codex that could be written on both sides. Shortly after the conquest, all of the codices which could be found were ordered to be burnt and destroyed by zealous Spanish priests, notably Bishop Diego de Landa. Only three reasonably intact examples of Maya codices are known to have survived through to the present day. These are now known as the Madrid, Dresden, and Paris codices. A few pages survive from a fourth, the Grolier codex, whose authenticity is sometimes disputed, but mostly is held to be genuine. Further archaeology conducted at Maya sites often reveals other fragments, rectangular lumps of plaster and paint chips which formerly were codices; these tantalizing remains are, however, too severely damaged for any inscriptions to have survived, most of the organic material having decayed.

The decipherment and recovery of the now-lost knowledge of Maya writing has been a long and laborious process. Some elements were first deciphered in the late 19th and early 20th century, mostly the parts having to do with numbers, the Maya calendar, and astronomy. Major breakthroughs came starting in the 1950s to 1970s, and accelerated rapidly thereafter. By the end of the 20th century, scholars were able to read the majority of Maya texts to a large extent, and recent field work continues to further illuminate the content.

"[O]ur knowledge of ancient Maya thought must represent only a tiny fraction of the whole picture, for of the thousands of books in which the full extent of their learning and ritual was recorded, only four have survived to modern times (as though all that posterity knew of ourselves were to be based upon three prayer books and 'Pilgrim's Progress')." (Michael D. Coe, The Maya, London: Thames and Hudson, 4th ed., 1987, p. 161.)

Most surviving pre-Columbian Maya writing is from stelae and other stone inscriptions from Maya sites, many of which were already abandoned before the Spanish arrived. The inscriptions on the stelae mainly record the dynasties and wars of the sites' rulers. Also of note are the inscriptions that reveal information about the lives of ancient Maya women. Much of the remainder of Maya hieroglyphics has been found on funeral pottery, most of which describes the afterlife.

Writing tools

Although the archaeological record does not provide examples, Maya art shows that writing was done with brushes made with animal hair and quills. Codex-style writing was usually done in black ink with red highlights, giving rise to the Aztec name for the Maya territory as the "land of red and black".

Scribes and literacy

Scribes held a prominent position in Maya courts. Maya art often depicts rulers with trappings indicating they were scribes or at least able to write, such as having pen bundles in their headdresses. Additionally, many rulers have been found in conjunction with writing tools such as shell or clay inkpots. Although the number of logograms and syllabic symbols required to fully write the language numbered in the hundreds, literacy was not necessarily widespread beyond the elite classes. Graffiti uncovered in various contexts, including on fired bricks, shows nonsensical attempts to imitate the writing system.


In common with the other Mesoamerican civilizations, the Maya used a base 20 (vigesimal) and base 5 numbering system (see Maya numerals). Also, the preclassic Maya and their neighbors independently developed the concept of zero by 36 BC. Inscriptions show them on occasion working with sums up to the hundreds of millions and dates so large it would take several lines just to represent it. They produced extremely accurate astronomical observations; their charts of the movements of the moon and planets are equal or superior to those of any other civilization working from naked eye observation.

In common with the other Mesoamerican civilizations, the Maya had measured the length of the solar year to a high degree of accuracy, far more accurately than that used in Europe as the basis of the Gregorian Calendar. They did not use this figure for the length of year in their calendars, however; the calendars they used were crude, being based on a year length of exactly 365 days, which means that the calendar falls out of step with the seasons by one day every four years. By comparison, the Julian calendar, used in Europe from Roman times until about the 16th Century, accumulated an error of only one day every 128 years. The modern Gregorian calendar is even more accurate, accumulating only a day's error in approximately 3257 years.


Uniquely, there is some evidence to suggest the Maya appear to be the only pre-telescopic civilization to demonstrate knowledge of the Orion Nebula as being fuzzy, i.e. not a stellar pin-point. The information which supports this theory comes from a folk tale that deals with the Orion constellation's area of the sky. Their traditional hearths include in their middle a smudge of glowing fire that corresponds with the Orion Nebula. This is a significant clue to support the idea that the Maya detected a diffuse area of the sky contrary to the pin points of stars before the telescope was invented. Many preclassic sites are oriented with the Pleiades and Eta Draconis, as seen in La Blanca, Ujuxte, Monte Alto, and Takalik Abaj.

The Maya were very interested in zenial passages, the time when the sun passes directly overhead. The latitude of most of their cities being below the Tropic of Cancer, these zenial passages would occur twice a year equidistant from the solstice. To represent this position of the sun overhead, the Maya had a god named Diving God.

The Dresden Codex contains the highest concentration of astronomical phenomena observations and calculations of any of the surviving texts (it appears that the data in this codex is primarily or exclusively of an astronomical nature). Examination and analysis of this codex reveals that Venus was the most important astronomical object to the Maya, even more important to them than the sun.


Like the Aztec and Inca who came to power later, the Maya believed in a cyclical nature of time. The rituals and ceremonies were very closely associated with celestial and terrestrial cycles which they observed and inscribed as separate calendars. The Maya priest had the job of interpreting these cycles and giving a prophetic outlook on the future or past based on the number relations of all their calendars. They also had to determine if the "heavens" or celestial matters were appropriate for performing certain religious ceremonies.

The Maya practiced human sacrifice. In some Maya rituals people were killed by having their arms and legs held while a priest cut the person's chest open and tore out his heart as an offering. This is depicted on ancient objects such as pictorial texts, known as codices. It is believed that children were often offered as sacrificial victims because they were believed to be pure.

Much of the Maya religious tradition is still not understood by scholars, but it is known that the Maya, like most pre-modern societies, believed that the cosmos has three major planes, the underworld, the sky, and the Earth.

The Maya underworld is reached through caves and ball courts. It was thought to be dominated by the aged Maya gods of death and putrefaction. The Sun (Kinich Ahau) and Itzamna, an aged god, dominated the Maya idea of the sky. Another aged man, god L, was one of the major deities of the underworld.

The night sky was considered a window showing all supernatural doings. The Maya configured constellations of gods and places, saw the unfolding of narratives in their seasonal movements, and believed that the intersection of all possible worlds was in the night sky.

Maya gods were not separate entities like Greek gods. The gods had affinities and aspects that caused them to merge with one another in ways that seem unbounded. There is a massive array of supernatural characters in the Maya religious tradition, only some of which recur with regularity. Good and evil traits are not permanent characteristics of Maya gods, nor is only "good" admirable. What is inappropriate during one season might come to pass in another since much of the Maya religious tradition is based on cycles and not permanence.

The life-cycle of maize lies at the heart of Maya belief. This philosophy is demonstrated on the belief in the Maya maize god as a central religious figure. The Maya bodily ideal is also based on the form of this young deity, which is demonstrated in their artwork. The Maize God was also a model of courtly life for the Classical Maya.

It is sometimes believed that the multiple "gods" represented nothing more than a mathematical explanation of what they observed. Each god was literally just a number or an explanation of the effects observed by a combination of numbers from multiple calendars. Among the many types of Maya calendars which were maintained, the most important included a 260-day cycle, a 365-day cycle which approximated the solar year, a cycle which recorded lunation periods of the Moon, and a cycle which tracked the synodic period of Venus.

Philosophically, the Maya believed that knowing the past meant knowing the cyclical influences that create the present, and by knowing the influences of the present one can see the cyclical influences of the future.

Even in the 19th century, there was Maya influence in the local branch of Christianity followed in Chan Santa Cruz. Among the K'iche' in the western highlands of Guatemala these same nine months are replicated, until this very day, in the training of the ajk'ij, the keeper of the 260-day-calendar called ch'olk'ij.


The ancient Maya had diverse and sophisticated methods of food production. It was formerly believed that shifting cultivation (swidden) agriculture provided most of their food but it is now thought that permanent raised fields, terracing, forest gardens, managed fallows, and wild harvesting were also crucial to supporting the large populations of the Classic period in some areas. Indeed, evidence of these different agricultural systems persist today: raised fields connected by canals can be seen on aerial photographs, contemporary rainforest species composition has significantly higher abundance of species of economic value to ancient Maya, and pollen records in lake sediments suggest that corn, manioc, sunflower seeds, cotton, and other crops have been cultivated in association with the deforestation in Mesoamerica since at least 2500 BC.

Contemporary Maya peoples still practice many of these traditional forms of agriculture, although they are dynamic systems and change with changing population pressures, cultures, economic systems, climate change, and the availability of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Rediscovery of the Pre-Columbian Maya

Spanish clergy and administrators dating to the 16th century were largely familiar with ancient Maya sites, writing and calendar systems. Published writings of 16th century Bishop Diego de Landa and writings of 18th century Spanish officials spurred serious investigations of Maya sites by the late 18th century. In 1839 United States traveler and writer John Lloyd Stephens, familiar with earlier Spanish investigations, visited Copán, Palenque, and other sites with English architect and draftsman Frederick Catherwood. Their illustrated accounts of the ruins sparked strong popular interest in the region and the people, and they have once again regained their position as a vital link in Mesoamerican heritage.

However, in many locations, Maya ruins have been overgrown by the jungle, becoming dense enough to hide structures just a few meters away. To help find ruins, researchers have turned to satellite imagery. The best way to find them is to look at the visible and near-infrared spectra. Due to their limestone construction, the monuments affected the chemical makeup of the soil as they deteriorated. Some moisture-loving plants stayed away, while others were killed off or discolored. The effects of the limestone ruins are still apparent today to some satellite sensors.

Much of the contemporary rural population of the Yucatán Peninsula, Chiapas (both in Mexico), Guatemala and Belize is Maya by descent and primary language.

martes, 15 de septiembre de 2009


Spanish conquest and Vilcabamba

Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro explored south from Panama, reaching Inca territory by 1526. It was clear that they had reached a wealthy land with prospects of great treasure. After one more expedition in 1529, Pizarro returned to Spain and received royal approval to conquer the Inca region and become its viceroy.

At the time the Spanish returned to Peru in 1532, a war of succession between Huayna Capac's son Huascar and half brother Atahualpa was in full swing. Additionally, unrest among newly conquered territories, and smallpox, spreading from Central America, had considerably weakened the empire. The Spanish invaders told the Inca that the diseases decimating their population were sent from the Christian god as punishment for their idolatrous ways.

Pizarro did not have a formidable force. With just 180 men, 27 horses and 1 cannon, he often used diplomacy to talk his way out of potential confrontations that could have easily ended in defeat. Their first engagement was the Battle of Puná (near present-day Guayaquil, Ecuador) where his forces rapidly overcame the indigenous warriors of Puná Island. Pizarro then founded the city of Piura in July 1532. Hernando de Soto was sent inland to explore the interior; he returned with an invitation to meet Atahualpa, who had defeated his half brother in the civil war and was resting at Cajamarca with his army of 80,000 troops.

Pizarro met with the Inca, who had brought only a small retinue. Through interpreters, Pizarro requested the new Inca ruler convert to Christianity. A disputed legend claims that Atahualpa was handed a Bible and threw it on the floor. The Spanish supposedly interpreted this action as reason for war. Though some chroniclers suggest that Atahualpa simply did not understand the notion of a book, others portray Atahualpa as being genuinely curious and inquisitive in the situation. Regardless, the Spanish attacked the Inca's retinue, capturing Atahualpa.

Atahualpa offered the Spaniards enough gold to fill the room he was imprisoned in, and twice that amount in silver, in order to be freed. The Incas fulfilled this ransom, but Pizarro refused to release him. During Atahualpa's imprisonment Huascar was assassinated. The Spanish maintained it was at Atahualpa's orders, and this was one of the charges used against Atahualpa when the Spanish finally decided to put him to death in August 1533.

The Spanish installed his brother, Manco Inca Yupanqui, upon the Empire's throne. Yupanqui cooperated with the Spaniards while the conquistadors fought to put down resistance in the north. Meanwhile an associate of Pizarro's, Diego de Almagro, attempted to claim Cuzco for himself. Yupanqui attempted to use this intra-Spanish feud to his advantage, recapturing Cuzco in 1536, but the Spanish retook the city.

Manco Inca Yupanqui then retreated to the mountains of Vilcabamba, where he and his successors ruled for another 36 years, sometimes raiding the Spanish or inciting revolts against them. In 1572 the last Inca stronghold was discovered, and the last ruler, Túpac Amaru, Manco's son, was captured and executed, bringing the Inca Empire to an end.

Politics and government

The Inca Empire was separated into four sections together known as 'Ttahuantin-suyu' or "land of the four sections" each ruled by a governor or viceroy called 'Apu-cuna' under the leadership on the central 'Sapa Inca'. Cuzco was the central capital of the Inca Empire from which where the Sapa Inca ruled from. According to the oral traditions of the Inca the empire was ruled by 14 kings in succession. The earliest kings are likely either local leaders of ayllus around Cuzco or possibly mythical figures.

The term 'ayllu' refers to a grouping of indigenous people of South America and has been translated as clan. The term represents a group based on assumed blood-ties which operates as an economic and social unit. The Inca Empire was essentially several Andean ayllus controlled by a few Inca ayllus. As an economic unit the ayllu represented collective ownership of the land as well as other resources such as llama herds and water sources. The success and cohesiveness of the Andean ayllus was largely attributed to communal agriculture. Ayllus could regularly split apart because of economic hardships, ignoring blood ties, or come together with other ayllus with whom they did not share genealogy for the purposes necessary co-operation such as in irrigation or defence.

Despite regular conquering or grouping of ayllus, the individual ayllu would remain intact even after a break up of the group or empire to which it had belonged. This was largely because of their economic self-sufficiency. However conquering ayllus like the Inca, by building the collective state, gained economic and political power and developed into the ruling class, but in doing so they lost that self-sufficiency. This meant that the failure or defeat of the collective state meant the demise of the ruling class.

The Inca ayllus were based in Cuzco, the empire's capital, which was divided into Hanan-Cuzco (upper Cuzco) and Hurin-Cuzco (lower Cuzco). This separation, common with Andean ayllus is known as dual divisions. The two halves of the ayllu would from separate customs and rites and would form separate units in the army but would remain on good terms with each other socially, taking part in feasts and mock battles. Dual division was mostly religious and symbolic but had little economic relevance. When a ruler died, their chosen successor would receive all their political power and rights, while the ruler's other male descendants received all the monetary treasures. This process was called split inheritance.


While the Inca often tolerated or incorporated the religions of their conquered ayllus they also imposed a state religion upon them. The Inca empire was a theocracy in which the Inca king, Sapa Inca, was the descendant of Inti, the sun god. The Inca required tribute, especially before and after battle, to certain gods. Regular and general festivals punctuated the labors of the empire's subjects with food drink and entertainments. Inti Raymi, the festival of the sun god, lasted nine nights, during which Sapa Inca would provide Aqhachicha, a maize beer, to first Inti, then himself, then the nobles, and finally to all people who attended.


The Inca used quipu (bundled knotted strings), for accounting and census purposes. Much of the information on the surviving quipus has been shown to be numeric data; some numbers seem to have been used as mnemonic labels, and the color, spacing, and structure of the quipu carried information as well. How to interpret the coded or non-numeric data remains unknown. However, some scholars still harbor hope that quipus recorded spoken language like a writing system.

Despite accounts kept on quipus, the Inca depended on oral transmission to maintain and preserve their culture. Inca education was divided into two distinct categories: vocational education for common Inca, and formalized training for the nobility.

Monumental architecture

A detail of an Inca stone work Inca architecture was by far the most important of the Inca arts, with pottery and textiles reflecting motifs that were at their height in architecture. The main example is the capital city of Cuzco. The breathtaking site of Machu Picchu was constructed by Inca engineers. The Inca constructed stone temples without using mortars yet the stones fit together so well that one could not fit a knife through the stonework. The rocks used in construction were sculpted to fit together exactly by repeatedly lowering a rock onto another and carving away any sections on the lower rock where the dust was compressed. The tight fit and the concavity on the lower rocks made them extraordinarily stable. Similar rockwork allegedly exists on Easter island. Some schools of thought contend that this similarity could be evidence for Inca voyages to Easter island. This hypothesis is rejected in the following quote from a Nova program where Dr. Jo Anne Van Tilburg" 'all archaeological, linguistic, and biological data' point to Polynesian origins in island Southeast Asia." In a related set of questions and answers, the architect Vince Lee said "I think that the answer to that is probably not. It's the sort of question you can never answer 100 percent in the negative. In other words, we can't prove that something didn't happen but to date a lot of excavation and study has been done on Easter Island. Absolutely no evidence has been found of visitation by Andean peoples such as broken pottery or stone implements or really anything else that would indicate the presence of Andean people here so I think it's very unlikely that these walls were built by Andean peoples or that they were influenced by Andean builders. But they are remarkably similar to some of the walls of Peru, especially these two examples, so I think that will forever remain somewhat of a question. I believe that the prevailing answer to date, which is that the Peruvians had nothing to do with them, is probably correct."

The Inca had an extensive road system which consisted of two main roads as described in the following quote by Cieza de Léon: "The Incas built two roads the length of the country. The Royal Road went through the highlands for a distance of 3,250 miles, while the Coastal Road followed the seacoast for 2,520 miles."

Ceramics, precious metal work, and textiles

The Inca had an extensive road system which consisted of two main roads as described in the following quote by Cieza de Léon: "The Incas built two roads the length of the country. The Royal Road went through the highlands for a distance of 3,250 miles, while the Coastal Road followed the seacoast for 2,520 miles."

Agriculture and farming

Coca leaves The Inca lived in mountainous terrain, which is not good for farming. To resolve this problem, terraces were cut into steep slopes, known as andenes, in order to plant crops. They also used irrigation. They grew maize, quinoa, squash, tomatoes, peanuts, chili peppers, melons, cotton, and potatoes. Though all of their agriculture was important, their main food source was potatoes, unlike the Maya and the Aztecs, whose main food source was maize. The Inca was the first civilization to plant and harvest potatoes. Quinoa was also a main crop. They would use their seeds to make different foods. The Inca were the first civilization to use the freeze-dry method of storage. They would leave potatoes outside in the cold, then stomp on them in the morning to push out the water, and allow them to dry in the sun. This process would be repeated 3 or 4 times, until the dried potatoes were ready for storage. At this point they were called chuño.

Mathematics and medicine

An important Inca technology was the Quipu, which were assemblages of knotted strings used to record information, the exact nature of which is no longer known. Originally it was thought that Quipu were used only as mnemonic devices or to record numerical data. The Incas had no iron or steel, but they had developed an alloy of bronze superior to that of their enemies and contemporary Mesoamericans. The Andean nations prior to the Incas used arsenical bronze at best. The Incas introduced to South America the tin / copper alloy which is today commonly associated with "Bronze Age" metallurgy.


Every male under Incan rule capable of military service was subject to draft for either the purpose of a single campaign or permanent service. Strict discipline offered punishment in the form of whipping or execution for abuse of civilians by the army while on the march. Officers consisted of two classes: the higher ranked officers were members of the ruling Inca caste, given position and exempt from tribute while lower ranked officers who commanded at most 50 men were natives promoted by higher ranking Inca and not exempt from service.