Dr. Jack Forbes Interview
October 9, 1999

Q: Dr. Forbes, please tell us about the migrations of Native Americans peoples throughout the Americas.

A: From about forty thousand years ago until about eleven or twelve or thirteen thousand years ago, depending on the exact region, a good part of North America was covered with glaciers. The glaciers extended all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific, across the northern United States and across what is now Canada.
During that period of time, linguistic evidence seems to indicate that most of our native language groups, the ancestors of those language groups, were living south of the ice, because it looks like it took twenty to forty thousand years for the special characteristics of American languages to evolve in relation to Asian and other languages. So during that period of time, the ancestors of all of our native people except probably for the people known as Eskimos and Aleut people, were living south of this ice belt. And most of them were probably living in South America or at least down in Central America, because much of the United States was tundra or taiga--pretty hard to live in. And [their population was] probably pretty sparse.
But as the ice began to melt and the weather began to warm up, the migrations seemed to have been from south to north. Most people don’t seem to understand that this is where most of our American ancestors came from. They came from the south moving north rather than coming down from Alaska, where the population was, undoubtably, very scanty during that period of time.
Eventually, of course, these groups meet. But one of the things that is interesting about some of the new DNA studies and so on, is that it looks like our ancient American peoples--whom I’ll just call Americans for short--these Americans had only a very small number of female ancestors. So most of us, whether we’re living in the extreme southern part of South America or living in Mexico or in the U.S. or Canada today, are descended from a very small group of female ancestors, and probably an almost equally small group of original male ancestors, as well. So we are all related. All the native people of the Americas are distinctly related with each other.
So as time goes by, of course, migrations continue to take place because warming continues, and a lot of other processes occur, which lead people to move. We find very large language families developing, such as the family know as the Uto-Aztecan or Uto-Nahua language family, from whom many modern Mexican people are descended. And these people, apparently, when the Europeans begin to move across the U.S. and Canada, it appears that these peoples are spread out all the way from southern Saskatchewan, maybe Alberta, in the form of people known as Shoshones. [They] are spread all the way out from there clear down into Central America, down into Nicaragua, and possibly even, in a few instances, farther south than Nicaragua.
So this is a great language family, which spans a little bit of Canada and most of the western United States, and then all the way down into Mexico and Central America. Today of course, we have many different tribes who are descended from this language family. Groups such as the Utes, the Comanches, the Shoshones, many California Indian groups, the Paiutes and others in Nevada. And of course, many different groups in Mexico.

Q: We heard theories that the historical Aztlán may well have been in Nayarit, the immediate precursor to the trip to Mexico City, and yet we found these maps that alluded to possible original sites that predate this in the American Southwest. Could you explain how this might be possible, in terms of what we’ve known as the succession of migrations?

A: Well, of course, at the time of the Spanish conquest, the field of history was very well developed among the ancient people of what is now central Mexico. They kept track of their own past, year by year. Of course, as time went by, some of it got mixed up a little bit and there were political things that got written in once in a while, but generally speaking it was a pretty profound historical record.
After the conquest, many individuals began writing this history down in Nahuatl as well as in in Spanish, and we have texts, such as that of the Codex Chimaplain, which, specifically, states that the Aztec origin, the place of origin, was in what had come to be known as New Mexico, Nuevo Mexico, which at that particular time, would be, basically, the southern United States, considered broadly rather than the present state of New Mexico.
When the first Spanish expeditions began to move north, out of the Valley of Mexico, one of the things that they were very interested in was finding new riches, otro Mexicos in the north, and so they want very much to know where the Aztecs came from. They want to know about fabled cities that might still exist in the North where they can find a lot of gold and so on. Every expedition that heads towards the north has large numbers of people who speak Mexicano, or Nahuatl. There are people from other language groups, as well, but the main emphasis is on the Mexican-speaking people because they are used as interpreters with different tribes in the north, and it is assumed, by the Spaniards, that an interpreter in the Mexican language will be of extreme value no matter where they go. As they travel north, for example, the Coronado expedition in 1539, 1540, take many many hundreds if not a thousand or more Mexican-speaking people with them into what comes to be known as Nuevo Mexico. And it is this movement, I believe, which leads to the identification of a number of ruins and other places in the Southwest, as being Casas De Moctezuma houses of Moctezuma, or origin places of the Aztecs or Aztlán. One finds the Spaniards talking about this very frequently in their writings. And not only in the writings of people like Chimalpain, but also in writings of Spanish historians, as well.

Q: Could you tell us about Chimalpain?

A: Chimalpain was a Nahua-speaking native person who lived in the area of the city of Mexico in the latter part of the fifteen hundreds and early sixteen hundreds. He was one of the main sources of information for other writers who came along later, so it’s a very valuable text that he has for us, identifying with Aztlán, with a city in a lake, in the north in an area known today--or at time--as Nuevo Mexico.
But in addition to that kind of information, you have the testimony of the Spaniards as they visit the Southwest, and they mark on their maps, as you’re well aware, all of these houses of Montezuma and ruenas, ruins of the Aztecs. And when we find places like Casas Grande Chihuahua, and Casa Grande in southern Arizona, this terminology of “Casa Grande” is one that is closely associated with this belief that the Aztecs came from that region.
Now the exact places where Uto-Azteca speaking people migrated from, are not completely known. Because, of course, as I indicated, during the period of glaciation, the language groups were probably much farther south. There was probably a long northward migration, but there could have been many migrations back and forth, in the mean time. We’re talking about ten thousand years of movements, and many many different things may have happened. But nonetheless we see, if you look at a map of the Uto-Aztecan family, you will see that they have a very very large territory in the arid sections of the western United States, precisely around the area that is identified on some of the maps as being the homeland of the Aztecas.