Geoffrey McCafferty and Sharisse McCafferty
Woven textiles were highly prized commodities in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, to the extent that they were commonly used as tribute items and even as a standard of value in commercial exchange. This article discusses ways that textile production has been approached archaeologically in terms of both its function and cultural meanings. Textile production was important both functionally and symbolically. Major female deities from throughout Mesoamerica were closely associated with this important aspect of domestic production, which was also linked metaphorically with sexual reproduction. Textile symbolism in Mixtec codices were also used to denote architectural and natural spaces, as a metaphor for the acculturation of the landscape.
Emily McClung de Tapia and Diana Martínez Yrizar
This chapter provides a brief discussion of the main themes relevant to historical ecology and how it differs from cultural ecology as used in Mesoamerican archaeology. A historical ecological perspective is appropriate for the study of Aztec landscape modification during the sixteenth century in the Basin of Mexico because of its inherent focus on the dialectical relationship between human populations and their environments. The Aztec landscape was viewed as a sacred entity and intensive exploitation was mediated by complex rituals within the indigenous worldview. Chinampas are discussed as an example of a highly intensive agroecological system within the sacred prehispanic landscape that has persisted until the present, although in the modern urban environment its preservation is fraught with risks and conflicting interests.
Aztec Agricultural Strategies: Intensification, Landesque Capital, and the Sociopolitics of Production
The Aztec Empire was built on an agricultural base. However, the relationships between agriculturalists and the state and the characteristics of farming systems were not monolithic. Agricultural landscapes involved strategies in which farmers responded to demographic growth, ecological conditions, and political economy. Highlighting the processes of intensification and landesque capital, this chapter discusses how farmers cultivated a diverse assemblage of crops by responding to the ecological constraints of soil, slope, and water. These included terrace systems, irrigation systems, and raised fields. These strategies and investments were connected to the structure of the empire. Agriculturalists paid tribute to local lords and imperial officials, and farmer-merchants traded their products in market places. This relationship between production and political economy, however, was mediated by complex and nested systems of tenure that guided patterns of usufruct, labor obligations, and conveyance.
Aztec artisans produced a spectacular, sophisticated, and technically versatile metallurgy. Although they had integrated certain materials and techniques from contemporaneous and earlier Mesoamerican societies, Aztec artisans created astonishing and original gold and copper-gold castings for public display—particularly of flora and fauna from the natural and supernatural worlds. They placed these castings in their pleasure parks. They also cast hundreds of bells from tin and arsenic bronze and other copper-based alloys for dedicatory offerings at the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan. The ore sources (copper, gold, tin, lead) lay outside of the Basin of Mexico but within Aztec tribute provinces; the metal itself was worked or cast in Tenochtitlan workshops.
David M. Carballo and Alejandro Pastrana
Obsidian was the primary lithic or stone material used for cutting activities in Aztec society, including domestic food production, craft production, hunting, warfare, and ritual. The demands of millions of consumers within and outside of the Aztec Empire shaped a diversity of industries and distribution networks that operated through merchants, markets, and state taxes in goods and labor. This chapter provides an overview of the primary obsidian sources, quarry activities, artifact types, use contexts, and innovations in lithic technology during the Aztec (Middle and Late Postclassic) period. A particular focus is the Sierra de Las Navajas (or Pachuca) mine and the detailed history of quarrying and manufacturing activities that have been documented there.
Frances F. Berdan
This article discusses central Mexican tribute systems. Tribute in central Mexican prehistory consisted of one-way movements of goods and labor from conquered polities to their conquerors. Military conquests were frequent, especially during the Postclassic period, and repeated aggressive excursions often resulted in conquest states or, more extensively, in empires. A common goal of conquest was control over economic resources and production, and this goal was achieved through the imposition of tribute demands on conquered peoples. Tribute payments consisted of both raw materials and manufactured goods, with an emphasis on manufactured items. Conquerors demanded materials and items that were readily available to the conquered people. As the empire expanded geographically, more and more luxuries were demanded in tribute.
Prudence M. Rice
This article discusses Mesoamerican ceramic technology and production. Some of the most beautiful art objects of the ancient Western Hemisphere were created by Mesoamerican potters. Meticulously painted in multiple colors (“polychrome”), sometimes with delicately rendered, lifelike human figures, this pottery was nonetheless produced by simple technologies. Prehispanic Mesoamerican ceramics are best described as terra cotta or earthenware: generally low-fired and porous, unvitrified, and unglazed. Potters formed vessels without the use of a wheel and fired them, for the most part, in the absence of formal kiln structures.
E. Christian Wells
Production systems have long been an important subject of archaeological research in Mesoamerica. Studying how and why people formed particular groups and how those groups allocated labor and resources helps us to identify the social, economic, cultural, political, and even cosmological constraints and pressures that motivate people to make things. Driven, in part, by object-hungry museum directors in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, early excavations in Mesoamerica often focused almost exclusively on recovering and analyzing only the most exquisite and intricately fashioned goods—“luxury items” or “prestige goods.” But by the mid-twentieth century, the zeal to acquire and study luxury items was matched by comparable efforts to collect and consider quotidian or utilitarian materials, which revealed a great deal of detail about the daily lives of ancient Mesoamericans. Recent work on both kinds of goods has made important contributions to understanding how production is organized and for what ends. This article provides a selective and critical review of this literature, summarizing important findings and suggesting future directions.
Mesoamericans mastered stone and made cutting, killing, and pounding tools capable of accomplishing all the tasks performed by hard metals in other preindustrial civilizations. The general evolution of stone use conforms to the worldwide progression from paleolithic technologies of chipped flint and quartzite implements to neolithic technologies of ground and polished tools. This technological shift corresponded to the invention of new tool types (axes, adzes) made of different kinds of stone not easily or effectively worked by simple fracture, so the new stone-working techniques effectively expanded the universe of useful rocks and their availability. This article discusses Mesoamerican stone technologies covering unmodified stone, chipped stone, ground stone, polished stone, and burned stone.
The production and exchange of goods and services is a fundamental feature of all human societies, and this certainly was the case in ancient Mesoamerica. Complex forms of exchange linked every level of Pre-Columbian society from simple households to the king's palace. Trade was important for two reasons: meeting the needs that people had for specific goods and reducing subsistence risk and resource shortages. This article examines systems of exchange within Mesoamerica's dual economy. It discusses the structure of the economy along with the role of the marketplace in Mesoamerican exchange systems and how resources were exchanged through both professional and nonprofessional commercial networks.
This article attempts to link multiple lines of evidence to produce as complete a picture as possible of the chaîne opératoire of prehispanic metal production in Mesoamerica. It discusses the development of mining and metallurgy, mineral resources and mining, the prehispanic copper-smelting process, and alloy technology and the fabrication of artifacts. The technological choices made throughout metallurgical production reflect economic and environmental factors, dimensions of the social sphere, and the values and ideologies embedded in the culture in which they are made. Metal production involved social groups of various sizes. Producers also interacted with those who acquired and used their products (i.e., elite patrons). The nature of these interrelationships may have also varied over time and place.
Geoffrey McCafferty and Sharisse McCafferty
This chapter summarizes information about Aztec textiles and their production, providing important information about the economics of this valued good as well as insights into female production and ideology. Textiles, including both clothing and other woven articles, were important commodities in ancient Aztec society. Although they have not preserved well in the archaeological record, textiles are abundantly depicted in pictorial manuscripts, statuary, and ceramic figurines. Additionally, Colonial-period texts describe the gender associations between textile production and female identity and gender ideology. Ethnographic traditions among indigenous groups of the region continue these practices. Finally, archaeological spindle whorls are an abundant artifact type that are often decorated and therefore provide additional information about the functions and symbolic significance of textile production.
Kenneth Hirth and Deborah L. Nichols
This chapter discusses the nature of commerce in Aztec society. It examines the role of merchants, crafts persons, and the marketplace in the structure of Aztec economy. The community of Otumba is known to have contained a group of pochteca merchants who traveled long distances in the pursuit of wealth. The relationship between local crafts persons and merchant behavior is examined, which reveals a richly textured commercial society with economic activity at different levels within the community.