Eduardo Matos Moctezuma
This chapter discusses the Mexica monumental sculptures uncovered in downtown Mexico City during the late eighteenth century, including the Coatlicue and Tlaltecuhtli sculptures, and the Sun Stone. Other important Mexica archaeological ruins of Tenochtitlan were unearthed during the nineteenth century. The discovery of a stone sculpture of the goddess Coyolxauhqui at base of the Templo Mayor in 1978 led to the excavation of the structure as part of the Proyecto Templo Mayor (Templo Mayor Project). This project has collected data on more than 40 Mexica structures in the heart of Mexico City, including numerous offerings and other important information regarding Aztec history. Some significant findings in recent years include the discovery of several important structures, including the cuauhxicalco, ballcourt, and tzompantli The recent discovery of a stone sculpture of the earth goddess Tlaltecuhtli has also provided essential data, particularly in terms of the offerings found beneath and around the sculpture.
Archaeological remains testify to the spread of goods and ideas over broad areas of Mesoamerica at different times throughout its prehispanic history. However, most material expansions are unaccompanied by texts, so it is difficult to identify which resulted from empires, and which from other types of interaction, like trade, gift giving, and emulation. In contrast, the Aztec Empire, which dominated central Mexico during its final pre-conquest years, is known to us mostly through documents written during and after its overthrow by Spaniards in 1521. Ironically, the material remains do not match the expectations raised by the documents. More relics have been excavated and studied in the last few decades than previously, but relatively few scholars have yet engaged with their evidence. This article shows how the imagery of sculptures can supplement and refine our notions of Aztec strategies.
The Mesoamerican Classic period (ca. 250–900
Ray Hernández Durán
Following the Spanish Conquest, responses to Aztec art were varied. While architecture and many sacred sculptures were demolished and their material remains recycled into new construction, other works were either repurposed to fulfill new functions in the colonial setting or sent to Europe where they were collected and admired. Certain Aztec art forms persisted after the Conquest but with various adaptations or reformulations, as seen in manuscript production and featherwork. Other Colonial artworks, for example sculpture and wall paintings, evince the influence of indigenous esthetics, techniques, and forms, evident in sculpture and wall painting. Eventually, Aztec objects transitioned from being perceived as exotic curiosities in royal collections and world’s fairs to historical and archaeological artifacts to works of art appreciated by audiences in Mexico, as signifiers of national identity and indigenous achievement, and in museum exhibitions abroad where Aztec art often continues to be enigmatic, misunderstood, or unknown.
Aztec religion and the Central Mexican divinatory calendar were intrinsically linked. Focusing on the Aztec conception of art and artists, this chapter presents an overview of how art Aztec art (sculpture, painting, carving, weaving, etc.) and architecture served as an expression of Aztec religion, the calendar, and an overall view of the cosmos. Aztec art addressed the past, both in commemorating historic events, and in recalling and referencing the accomplishments of past cultures, collectively referred to as Toltecs. Art also celebrated past, present, and future periodicities that served as evidence of divine action in the world – particularly action on behalf of the ruling elite and, in the case of the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan, divine approbation of empire. Hence Aztec works usually combine references to what we today would consider mundane historical events and actions with images of divinities and supernatural concepts.
Cynthia L. Otis Charlton and Alejandro Pastrana
Objects of Aztec lapidary work carry great visual impact in contrast to their relatively scarce actual numbers. A combination of historical documents and modern locational techniques has enabled some insight into the movement of lapidary objects and raw material through the Aztec Empire through tribute and trade. To date, the only found and excavated Late Postclassic Aztec lapidary workshops come from Otumba in the northeast Basin of Mexico. Lapidary work itself was a highly specialized process performed by skilled artisans. Replication experimentation and the aid of such techniques as scanning electron microscopy have clarified some questions about how lapidary objects were actually produced. They have also had the unexpected benefit of revealing a change in workshop organization between the Middle and Late Postclassic Aztec lapidary production of offerings at the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan.
Elizabeth Hill Boone
The Aztecs recorded knowledge and wrote down the historical events of their past in painted books, now called codices, in which historical information was encoded in a pictographic writing system of figures and symbols, which were displayed along folded strips of hide and paper or across broad cotton cloths. These historical books were either organized by time, as in annals where events are painted adjacent to the year signs of a sequential count, or by geography, as in cartographic histories where events are recorded according to their location. Two broad historical themes dominate: the long migration from a place of origin or ancestral homeland (usually Aztlan) to the place where they established their capital, and the subsequent development and expansion of the polity. Guarded in royal libraries, these books affirmed the autonomy of the altepetl by recounting and preserving its history.
Eduardo de Jesús Douglas
This article discusses colonial Mesoamerican documents. After 1521, the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica became subjects of the Spanish king, thereby coming into contact with European cultural, economic, political, social, and technological practices. New forms of writing and record keeping as well as types of mundane and literary texts entered the Mesoamerican repertoire, eventually displacing the traditions of iconic script (“picture writing”) inherited from the prehispanic past, which indigenous painter-scribes sustained and transformed throughout the first colonial century. Colonial Mesoamerican documents may be broadly but not categorically defined as private or public and nonofficial or official. The study and publication of Mesoamerican colonial documents began in the nineteenth century, as scholars combed archives, libraries, and private collections for primary sources relating to the history of Spanish America.
From a comparative perspective, the early development of writing in Mesoamerica is poorly preserved. In Mesopotamia, more than six thousand tablets attest the first two centuries of the archaic, proto-cuneiform stage of the world's most ancient writing system. In contrast, the first few centuries of Mesoamerican writing, up to about 400
Ancient Maya civilization is widely known for its hieroglyphic writing system. Although the Maya were not the only Mesoamerican civilization that had developed writing, Maya hieroglyphs have received major attention because of the sheer size of the script corpus as well as the fact that Maya writing has been deciphered during the last thirty years so that approximately 75 percent of its written texts can now be understood. This article discusses the structure of Maya writing, sentences and text structure, the language of Maya inscriptions, and social dimensions of Maya writing and literature.
Anthony F. Aveni
This article reviews archaeological evidence of Mesoamerican calendars and archaeoastronomy. Most Mesoamerican calendars measure a year as eighteen months, each consisting of twenty days, with an added month of only five unlucky days. To reckon deep time, the Maya created the longest Mesoamerican calendar cycle by multiplying the basic unit of twenty to the fifth order, the exception being the multiplication of the 20-day count by 18 to form a cycle of 360 days, or one tun , which approximated the year; thus, 20 × 360 days = 7,200 days, or one katun , and 20 × 7,200 = one baktun . The Long Count cycle consisted of 13 baktuns, or 5,125.37 years. Dates are carved in prominent positions on hundreds of stelae situated in (likely) publicly accessible locations in open plazas fronting temples. In addition to monumental texts, codices are the other major source of calendric information. Of particular interest among the some three hundred almanacs that make up the Maya codices are those that reveal the extraordinary sophistication of Maya astronomical practice. The Paris Codex, for example, contains a thirteen-constellation zodiac that implies that Maya astronomers tracked the movement of the sun, moon, and planets against the background of the stars.
Lori Boornazian Diel
During the Late Postclassic period, Nahuas and Mixtecs kept pictorial books for multiple functions, with the two main genres being religion and history. The Spaniards must have understood the significance of these books for the native peoples because they had specifically targeted the royal archives and temples, burning the books that were housed inside. So successful were they that few pre-conquest manuscripts from western Mesoamerica survive. Those that do, along with many others that were created after the conquest, provide a wealth of information on indigenous religion and history, and they do so by using a pictorial system of writing, whose main strength was its interpretive openness.
Leah D. Minc
Ceramics are a key component of every archaeological study of Aztec society by virtue of their durability and simultaneous encoding of chronological, functional, and status information. This chapter presents a brief overview of Aztec pottery typology and chronology, as well as aspects of ceramic technology, as known from documentary and archaeological lines of evidence. These ceramic data have played a critical role in shedding light on questions concerning craft specialization, market system development, and regional economic integration—and their change through time—in the Aztec heartland.
This article assesses what we presently know of scribal practices between 300 and 1000
Mary e. Pye
This brief article on Preclassic-period art considers some recurrent themes and discusses some new approaches and recent finds. Specifically, it discusses chronology and the transition from the Archaic to Preclassic Period, and Olmec art. The Preclassic period is perhaps the true “florescent” era, at least for Mesoamerican civilization as a whole, given the appearance, development, and coalescence of arguably all of its major components and features long before Classic Maya civilization. Olmec art has captured scholarly and popular attention since the first report of a colossal Olmec head by Melgar (in 1871) and has since become a hallmark of Preclassic art. Olmec-style monuments, ceramics, portable greenstone art, and figurines have been widely reported throughout Mexico, and scholars have been writing about them since the early twentieth century.