IN SEARCH OF AZTLÁN
May 31, 2001
Q: Could you tell us what the Codice Boturini says about the Aztec's trek
from Aztlán to the Valley of Mexico?
A: Well, the Codice Boturini basically lays out the trek from "the
place of heron and reeds," which is really what Aztlán basically
means. People have argued about the location of Aztlán for a number
of years, certainly. Many indications are that perhaps that origin may
be from Michoacan. It could be in California. Some people have said [it
is] in Utah. The place that makes an awful lot of sense to me, because
of the scale and size, and because of its intermittent dry and wet periods,
is probably Lake Cahuilla, which is in the Coachella Valley. [It] is a
huge fresh water lake. The myth lays out a series of transitions from
Aztlán, showing, for example, the boat reed. And certainly this
really coincides with the fact that Lake Cahuilla was, in fact, a place
for both marshes and reeds, and for herons, and thousands of water foul.
In a sense, leaving in a boat is symbolic of leaving the source of their
livelihood. Its highly likely that the lake bed dried up. So, symbolically,
leaving in the boat, itself, gives you a kind of symbolic statement of
how important the boat reed, the boat, itself, was. And the lake, itself.
That they had to depart from there not because there was water, but--more
than likely-- because they lacked water. And that's probably what the
glyph also indicates, as well. So, you have, at least, this mythic tale
of the Mexica, but not just the Mexica, because there are, in fact, indications
that there was more than one migration. That, in fact, there were maybe
five, six, seven migrations of populations from the same basic area. And
this occurs over a period of a couple of hundred years.
The Mexica, also called Chichimecas, intermarried intermittently, as they
trekked south. So the original population that may have left at Point
A by the time they got to Meso-America, were already, in fact,
mixed with other populations. So they werent the original tribal
Q: Going back to Lake Cahuilla. Could you expand on why you think it is
a prime candidate for a possible Aztlán site?
A: Well Lake Cahuilla, itself, was a focus for many indigenous populations
of that particular area. They more than likely didnt have a complex
social and political system, those kinds of polity in society that you
usually associate with very complex systems. More than likely folks were,
basically, hunting and gathering, but hunting for fish. And probably they
had some kind of aquatic cultural system upon which they relied for fish--as
well as animal life in the surrounding areas. Because, in fact, animals
would come down and drink from the lake, itself.
Whats interesting about Lake Cahuilla is that it ebbed and flowed
over time. So that you have periods of one hundred and two hundred years
in which the lake bed dries up totally, driving populations out into the
Colorado delta, and certainly south. And then, filling up again, maybe
forty, fifty years later. It takes a period of around fifty-two years
for the lake bed to dry up completely. Its during those periods,
and certainly we have indications in 900, and later in 1250, that, in
fact, this occurred. This coincides with the notion that, in fact, there
were different Mexica, that is, there were different Chichimecas who also
migrated from the North to the South.
Q: Could you reiterate the similarity of dates between the point at which
theres a large lake between 900 and 1300, when it dries up, and
how that coincides with what the Codice Boturini says?
A: The Codice Boturini, it really kind of dates the arrival at about 1100.
Actually, in the twelfth century. Its very difficult to make a date
connection between the ebb and flow of the lake and their actual arrival,
since, again, what youre talking about is a series of migrations,
not a single migration.
On the other hand, a couple of hundred years in the archeological record
is nothing. Therefore, from my particular point of view, theres
a great deal of coincidence. And the coincidence of dates, 900 being an
absolutely threshold date for the entire Southwest, because, in fact,
the entire Southwest at 900 increases in complexity, but whats interesting,
its because of influence from the South to the North, not from the
North to the South. So theres a great deal of dynamic activity thats
occurring both ecologically, as well as socially and politically. Migration
from the North to the South and from the South to the North and from east
to west and west to east, is a complex of human movements that, in fact,
cant be tied down to a single population, or to a single area. But
certainly, the whole Lake Cahuilla area is extremely important, because
its from the drying up and then the exiting of population that you
can pretty well tie down between 900 and certainly 1250.
Q: Going for a moment to Chaco Canyon. Could the Anasazi have been the
progenitors of the Mexicas that later settled in the Valley of Mexico?
A: Well, you know, the notion that Chaco Canyon could be an origin for
one of the clans that moved from north to south, that is, one of the versions
of the Mexica, is real speculation. Its highly likely that, in fact,
if clans did move from Chaco south, they probably settled in around the
Pueblo area of New Mexico, rather than going all the way south. There
is a huge river there, its called the Rio Grande. And its
more than likely that populations moving from Chaco going down south would
have stayed in the Rio Grande area, rather than going all the way south.
So I kind of doubt it.
What I would suggest is that theres plenty of evidence that at least,
in the fourteenth century, there was trade and exchange going from south
to north. Especially things like Scarlet Macaws, going into Pueblo Bonito.
Which is, as you well know, a very large complex that died out in the
thirteenth and fourteenth century. But its more than likely, the
direction was from the other way. Rather than going from north to south,
it was probably from south to north.
Q: Lets talk about that for a minute. We have a tendency to view
things as east to west, but prior to the arrival of the Europeans, there
was a lot of this thing youve talked about, what today we see as
a migrant trail, and how its antecedent was this trade in commerce from
north to south and visa versa. Could you talk a little bit about that?
A: So much has been made of the north to south movement of populations.
And I think thats probably true. Lake Cahuilla may have been one
of the geneses for that. But the fact of the matter is that more than
likely two grand trails, from the peripheries of Meso-America into the
Southwest, one going up through the Sierra Madre, from the vicinity of
Zacatecas, Durango, and in to the Southwest, all the way up to Pueblo
Bonito. And we have the archeological artifacts that gives us that security.
The second major trail was, more than likely, through Jalisco, through
Colima, through Sinaloa, through present day Sonora, Arizona. And thats
a second grand trail. And we see that by the very strong influences after
900, including the ball court complex, including temple mounds, including,
very complex irrigation, that influence probably indigenous people who
were already there in the Hohokom area. They were heavily influenced by
Meso-American ideas, beliefs, and complexes, as well.
The other interesting thing is that an awful lot of people kind of dismiss
the kiva complex as a possible Meso-American connection. The fact of the
matter is the kiva complex of New Mexico, more than likely, was heavily
influenced by Paquimé. By Casas Grandes. The kiva, originally,
was very much associated with the Quetzalcoatl myth. And thats whats
interesting about the kivas. In fact there are a number of kivas in New
Mexico that have a mural representation--and this is probably a thirteenth
century representation--of a man whose head looks to be devoured by this
plumed serpent. Well, the superficial explanation is here you have this
monster eating this man. But it isnt. What it is, its the
plumed serpent, imparting knowledge to a man.
And so you see, you have this continuation of this grand Quetzalcoatl
origin myth, connected directly between the peripheries of Meso America
and Meso America and the Southwest. As well as trade, as well as exchange.
And thats what I find absolutely [fascinating]. It isnt to
which of course you have a lot of east-west, west-east trade. So you have
shell coming from Baja California, from the Sea of Cortez, as well as
from the pacific coast, being traded to the Hohokom. The Hohokom then
taking those, that same shell, and then [transform] them into necklaces
and ear plugs--and then being traded over to Paquimé, in Chihuahua.
And then from Chihuahua down south into Meso America.
So you have enormous trails, ancient, pre-European trails, that, in fact,
cover much of the Southwest, including California. All the way to Zacatecas
and Durango, around Chachejitas, [which was], for example, an exchange
center for turquoise.
In Chachejitas, there was found a cache, I believe, of sixty-five or seventy
stones of turquoise that were, in fact, treated [by] X-ray diffusion analysis,
and it was found that, in fact, the mineral content of that turquoise
didnt come from Chachejitas. It came from north of Santa Fe, Nuevo
Mexico, at the Los Cerijos mines. So you have this trade and exchange
going on continuously, as well as ideas. And the Quetzalcoatl myth being
Q: Could he Hohokom people have been related to the ancient Mexicas? Could
Casa Grande ruins have been Aztlán?
A: Well, probably the idea that Casa Grande would be a place for the origin
of the Mexica is not very probable, because of the ecology of the region.
Again, the heron and reed seems to me to be the up-most important
glyph in all of this. That you have to have a very large lake, e-especially
a fresh water lake, and that kind of ecology just didnt exist in
that particular area.
The second thing is, the Hohokom are interesting because, in fact, the
Hohokom are derived both from what people call archaic tribal peoples,
as well as the influence from Meso America. That is, the Hohokam were
a synergy of two or more populations. One population that had been around
in that area around the Salt River Valley, just south of Phoenix, since
about 1 B.C. And they had established very archaic, simplified systems.
After 900, that whole thing just explodes with ball games, and I think,
ball courts. I think there are something like a hundred and--I forget
what, exactly--the numbers in my book. A hundred-and-some ball courts,
just in the Salt River area, itself. Most of that influence coming from
the South at about 900 till about 12-, 1300.
So, more than likely, the Hohokom were heavily influenced
by Meso-American populations moving into the Southwest at about 900. Now,
whether it was down the line or direct migration, we have no evidence
to support either of the two. We know, for example, that Meso America
mirrors all sorts of ideological contexts, the very complex organizations
of irrigation systems, the ball courts, themselves, the temple mounds,
all the rest of that, all are derived from Meso America. No doubt about