Carlos Velez-Ibañez Interview
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. It’s 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 weren’t the original tribal peoples.

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 didn’t 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.
What’s 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. It’s 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 there’s 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. It’s very difficult to make a date connection between the ebb and flow of the lake and their actual arrival, since, again, what you’re 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, there’s 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 what’s interesting, it’s because of influence from the South to the North, not from the North to the South. So there’s a great deal of dynamic activity that’s 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, can’t be tied down to a single population, or to a single area. But certainly, the whole Lake Cahuilla area is extremely important, because it’s 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. It’s 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, it’s called the Rio Grande. And it’s 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 there’s 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 it’s 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: Let’s 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 you’ve 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 that’s 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 that’s 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 that’s what’s 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 isn’t. What it is, it’s 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 that’s what I find absolutely [fascinating]. It isn’t 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 didn’t 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 one.

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 didn’t 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 number’s 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 it.