Posts Tagged ‘Toltec’


December 30, 2011

This is about “Apocalypto”, the film by Mel Gibson.

I heard so many bad reviews from the Mayan crowd on this movie that I avoided it when it came out to the theaters.

But that did not stop me from renting it a while back and viewing it at home.

Surprise! It was actually a very enjoyable experience.

I had heard that it showed the Mayans as a blood-thirsty religious-crazed civilization on the decline.

There were enough of those elements in the film to garner that sort of reaction. But I found it to be historically accurate.

The characters all spoke Mayan throughout the film. The cinematography was magnificent, the characters agreeable in the Hollywood-stereotypical fashion.

Perhaps the one thing I knew that the others viewers did not was that the majority of the Mayan centers had been absorbed into the spreading warrior culture of the Toltecs from the west.

Most of the Mayan civilized areas had already been abandoned by the Maya themselves before this period.

So, the blood-thirsty group that rounded up the Mayan peasants and dragged them to the city for execution were not the same as the Mayan rulers of old.

It is not to say that the Maya themselves did not engage in this sort of activity at times. They most certainly did.

But nothing on the same scale as the Aztecs and the Toltecs of the period around the Spanish Conquest.

No, at that time, the majority of the Mayan were off the radar.

So, though I can understand the concern, the Maya are shown in a favorable light in the film.

But there was no mention of the calendar or their marvelous end-date. Gibson had a different sort of “ending” theme in his mind.

Other Cultures of Ancient Mexico

March 29, 2010

A lot of this information is highly questionable as different authorities have differing opinions. Since the field of Mesoamerican history is still in flux, it may be some time before all this is pinned down. Following is the impressions I have gleaned but they are, by no means, presented as concrete or final.

Zapotecs, c.500BC-1600AD

In the Valley of Oaxaca, Monte Alban is probably their most famous site and is wrapped up in astronomical alignments. Many historians think the script assigned to the Olmecs was actually a proto-Zapotecan script. They and the Mixtecs were renowned as artists and found employ with the Aztec emperors.

Their religion and calendar were like the remainder of Mesoamerica, and they believed their ancestors had emerged from caves to become jaguars that changed into people. This theme is reminiscent of some of the Mayan tales.

Their political power was broken by the Aztecs but they continued their cultural centers until broken by the Spaniards.

Mixtecs, dates uncertain

Apparently from the Valley of Oaxaca as well as the group above and succeeded the Zapotecs at Monte Alban. They were famed for their artistry and Mixtec artists were found at the Aztec capital.

There was also a Mixtec enclave found at Teotihuacan, but it is uncertain if they represented their tribe at that city or were merely squatters setting up shop in the ruins of the great city.

Toltecs, c.900-1200AD

They were once thought to perhaps be an empire of 900-1200AD but now generally believed to be nothing but a word meaning “civilized”; therefore the mythical ancestors of the Aztecs were not a single people as earlier surmised but any civilization who preceded them.

Many historians still cling to the notion that these specific Toltecs were the builders of Teotihuacan though the majority of artifacts does not corroborate the idea. The idea originally came from the Aztecs but it is now believed to be from the more general definition of the term rather than the specific.

The people now termed as Toltecs came from the town of Tula and eventually moved eastward to control parts of the apparently abandoned Maya city-states. They were the apparent rulers at such sites as Chichen Itza.

Chichimecs, various dates

This term applies to a variety of tribes in northern Mexico (and probably the southern United States as well, specifically southern Arizona and New Mexico) who were termed “barbaric nomads” by the civilized tribes of the south, notably the Aztecs.

And the Aztecs should know as they were probably one of the Chichimec tribes before their adventures took them to the southern area. A lot of these tribes offer some interesting middle ground between the civilized south and the tribes of the American southwest who also seem to have had knowledge of the ball game and similar tales of their origins.

Aztecs, c.1250-1522

Probably the best known of all the native Mexican tribes as these were the ones who were in control of the region when the Spaniards arrived. They made a lasting impression on their conquerors through their rather large blood-letting spectacles.

They arrived in the Valley of Mexico around 1250 and founded the town of Tenochtitlan around 1325. They became a dominant power about 1450, their short-lived empire being crushed by Cortés in 1521.

A lot can be found about this culture, on the web and elsewhere.

Where the Maya Fit In

March 28, 2010

With all the history of the Mesoamerican region pretty well mapped out one might think this should be rather simple to explain. But there are still so many questions about the ancient Maya and their culture that even consulting the present Maya cannot answer.

We do know that they followed a lot of the same cultural characteristics of the Olmec culture that (possibly) preceded them but were they borrowing from the Olmec, or did both of them borrow from a third source, or – as believed by the present Maya – the Olmec borrowed from them as they were far older?

There are a few inscriptions that historians have uncovered that they term proto-Olmec but until enough are found to begin actual work at translation, they are nothing more than a curiosity. Perhaps though, someday, enough will be found to help fill in the blanks.

Yet for all the declaimers among some historical circles attempting to move the credit for a lot of the discoveries to one or another of the cultures in Mesoamerica, it remains that the first and only truly literate culture we have found is the Maya.

Many historians point to Teotihuacan and claim that the Toltecs were the “great” civilization of ancient Mexico but I have yet to see any evidence that the historically known Toltecs had anything to do with the site of Teotihuacan. That ancient city seems to be outside the current scheme of Mesoamerican history and the inhabitants were not kind enough to leave us written evidences of themselves.

The classic Maya alone seem to come down to us as the only completely cohesive culture, almost as if (and this is extremely hypothetical) they were trying to make sure their message got through. Now that’s rather a New Age thought, I know, but it could very well be.

And the widely believed notion that the Maya simply abandoned their cities is now thought to be an erroneous conclusion. Many of the Maya cities continued, some merging with Toltec invaders, others continuing for centuries holding out against the Spaniards. The cities that were abandoned, were simply vacated by the inhabitants as they melted back into the forests from which they came.

Again, one wonders if this could be to make sure their message continued?

But, then, what exactly was their message?

the Olmecs, c.1400BC-400BC

March 25, 2010

The earliest civilization we have a record of is one we call the Olmec culture. They left behind no written texts for us to tell us what they were like. (There are some written fragments but not enough to build a history – much less a language – on.) Apart from the archaeological remains and the memories passed down by their neighbors we have no real knowledge of them or their culture.

Still, many historians believe they were the creators of the calendar used later by the Maya and the Aztec; in fact, by all the civilizations of Mesoamerica. That the earliest calendar notations were after their heyday and in the border region where the Maya civilization arose clouds the issue. So, until the certified authors of the calendar can be verified, I shall continue calling it the Mayan Calendar.

The forerunners of the Olmec are assumed to have passed over the Bering land-bridge from Asia, 15,000 to 12,000 BC (or so). The earliest group has been termed the Clovis people from their earliest known site in New Mexico. Some authorities take a dim view of claims of sites that pre-date Clovis. Virginia Steen-McIntyre, and the team she joined at Hueyatlaco (not to be confused with Hueyapan, now Tres Zapotes), an archeological site in Valsequillo, Mexico, determined the site to have been built around 250,000 BC.

This debate will not be settled any time soon, I am certain, even though the pro-Clovis group is holding their own at the moment. Others are finding sites that push the envelope backward as well.

Regardless of earlier sites, the earliest actual civilization we know of is the Olmecs. We know little of their society as all they left us were some large stone heads and other artifacts. Even so, most scholars still attribute the calendar to this mysterious group as well as the ball that is used by all the later cultures that survived in the region: Toltec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Aztec, and the Maya.

Early celestial observatories can be traced to the Olmec civilization as can the ball courts. The rubber balls came from the region of the Olmecs and the culture’s name comes to us from the Aztecs who called them the “rubber people”.

Perhaps new discoveries will tell us more about this mysterious and yet influential people.