Taste of Aztec

Come feast and honor the Aztecs - one of the most influential empires of all time during the Taste of The Aztec World: a week-long celebration of Aztec food and drink. Sunday, January 11 to Saturday, January 17, 2009, Chicagoans can feast at participating establishments. Acclaimed and up-and-coming chefs and mixologists will create dishes and cocktails with the Aztec empire’s cuisine in mind.

For more information on participating restaurants, visit:

Find out more about the Aztec culture in the exhibit:

The Aztec World
October 26, 2008 through April 19, 2009
Explore the grandeur and sophistication of one of history's greatest civilizations—the Aztec Empire—and find out how a community that began in the middle of a lake eventually became the capital of an empire. Hundreds of spectacular artifacts and works of art assembled together for the first time provide a look into the remarkable rise and fall of The Aztec World.
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Is anyone here a current or former grad student in UC Berkeley's Anthro-Archaeology program? I graduated this past May from Massachusetts College of Art with a bachelors in art history focusing on Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and have started investigating PhD programs in archaeology for Fall 2009. From a cursory reading of their website it sounds quite impressive and, more importantly, I seem to meet their admission requirements.

Any first or second hand experiences would be greatly appreciated. Even if it's nothing to do with Berkeley specifically, I would love to hear any advice for someone looking to pursue a PhD in Pre-Columbian Americas studies. Thanks!


Stone Age Cuisinart

Pictured below is an American Indian metate.

A bit of background: It was picked up in 1975 by a railroad weed survey employee who was working in Sorrento Valley, just east of Torrey Pines State Beach, in San Diego County. At the time he was checking for "exotic" or non-native grasses that might have sprouted along the tracks from seeds that fall off railroad cars. It's a job that he said was paid for by tax dollars so I guess it might not exist anymore. In 1975 the population of San Diego was a fraction of what it is today, and the land rush that Proposition 13 started in 1980 hadn't been imagined by more than the most visionary of community planners. In 1980 both Carroll Canyon Road and Black Mountain Road were unpaved and we'd drive down them to go surfing in La Jolla or Del Mar, passing places like this metate spot all the time.

Anyways, he was with a group of people from work doing a job, the guy who found this metate, and he saw it sitting off by itself "in a wash" near where Panasquitos Canyon empties out onto the tidal flats. It was when Interstate 805 was just being finished, and he said there were still some old windmills there built by homesteaders in the 1860s after California had become a state, but they had been abandoned shortly after being erected due to drought. There were also some now vary rare wild walnut trees nearby. This metate belongs to me now but the former owner said that there were grinding holes in the vicinity (the type in large semi-submerged boulders), and I've read on the internet that there's different uses for those too. Perhaps the women had these mobile stones for washing flour with water, although this one's rather heavy to transport over long distances.

Here's a Mapquest page of near the exact spot he described it as being found:

I not sure why I'm sharing this info with you, dear readers. Like me you probably have a busy life, one full of exciting events and ambitious hopes. Just yesterday you might have watched Tiger Woods on TV win the US Open at the Torrey Pines golf course a couple of miles away from this location. Thousands of people pass by this site every hour during a normal day on the 5 and 805 freeway overpasses that merge above it. But down there it sits, the pastoral nexus of coastal valley and seasonal streams where generations of humans had used it continuously until the mid 1800s when the socio-demographic climate began to change and they moved on to greener meadows. Afterwards this metate must have sat untouched in the same spot for at least 100 years, perhaps totally unnoticed, until someone came by and ascribed enough significance to it again. Today's descendants of the hands that ground Torrey pinon nuts, acorns from Live Oaks and walnuts on this granite milling device are doing pretty well for themselves all things considering since the casinos have brought them enough money to afford electric cuisinarts.

I wonder a lot of things about this example of prehistoric kitchen technology. Like how long did it take to carve out that trough used as the grinding bowl? That's a hard-ass piece of granite... And where did they get it? Was it unearthed from a local granite outcropping or did its manufacturer import it from the hills inland where there's more of this stone to be found? Is it possible to determine how old it is, maybe from local tribal knowledge of the history of the area? And who were these people? What sort of society did they have? Why did they leave all of a sudden? Was it a type of military action that drove them out or were they brought to task under the rule of the Catholic Missions?

I'll look into these questions more later, but for now I'm content to occasionally glance at this metate in its place on my counter-top next to my stove. And I smile when I see it because it's a reminder to me of our shared nomadic heritage. Because, no matter who you are descended from, be it English royalty, gypsies, samurai, Scandinavian vikings, Zulu tribesmen or whoever, somewhere back there in the misty bogs of antiquity you had a grandmother who toiled upon a stone not unlike this one.


rabbit scribe

Special Nahuatl Writing PARI Journal

The PARI (Precolumbian Art Research Institute) Journal Vol VIII No 8 is a special issue on Nahuatl (Aztec) writing. I've been following the work of Alfonso Lacadena (author of the leading article of this journal) and Soeren Wichmann for a while because their different approach to Nahuatl writing. Most people (I'm culpable myself) treat Nahuatl or Aztec writing as a logographic system consisting of glyphs representing morphemes or words, with the occasional rebus principle thrown in for rudimentary phonetism. Lacadena and Wichmann are arguing that Nahuatl writing is a logophonetic system, with a fully functional and standard set of glyphs representing sounds, and thus far, their argument makes a lot of sense. You can read for yourself at:

The articles are a bit academic, but it provides the history of why Nahuatl writing has been neglected because of its perception (very much like Maya 50 years ago), and an argument that certain post-Conquest documents should be included as legitimate Nahuatl writing instead of heavily influenced by Spanish. The bonus is, of course, the Nahuatl syllabary.
castillo chichen itza

Archaeological Find of the Century?

Saw an update on the excavation of the tomb of Ahuizotl on the Aztlan mailing list yesterday and thought I'd share it with you.  If it's intact, it could beat the pants of Pakal's tomb and perhaps even King Tut's.  The amazing bits are in bold.


In the summer issue of American Archaeology, not online, Johanna Tuckman has written a wide ranging update on the ongoing excavations in downtown Mexico City below the giant monolith of Tlaltecuhtli that was uncovered in October 2006 contiguous to the Templo Mayor.

Here is a URL for that story;

And a tiny URL;

There are a number of new revelations in this article that Tuckman uncovered in talking to the chief archaeologist at the site, Leonardo Lopez Lujan.

It was surmised by way of certain indications that below the giant Tlaltecuhtli monolith may lie the tomb of Aztec emperor Ahuizotl. If this turns out to be true, this would be the first tomb of an Aztec tlatoani ever found.

1) Lopez Lujan says that further leads may be showing that Ahuizotl's tomb does lie below the monolith. Historical sources point at this spot as likely. There are chambers spotted below the monolith using modern technology to sense them out.

2) There is a date carved on the monolith with a rabbit and two dots on one side and 10 on the other which could be the year 10 Rabbit when Ahuizotl died. But it could also say 12 Rabbit, a year of a solar eclipse or two Rabbit , the name of a god that eclipsed the sun.

3) There could be three chambers below the monolith as remote sensing apparatus may indicate.

4) In February, they uncovered stones that could be the roof of a chamber and 3 stone boxes of offerings yet to be opened.. 15,000 objects have been uncovered so far including 350 species of animals. There is an entranceway that may be the place Aztec workers entered but it is filled with mud and hampering excavation. Bloodletting tools, copal, agave leaves, greenstone beads were found there.

5) The water table is so high at the site that it necessitates three pumps working full time and the pumps do not always work well. This has slowed the excavations but the water has also created bog like conditions which preserves organic matter.

6) Lopez Lujan believes there is a possibility that the two brothers of Ahuizotl who ruled before him, Axayacatl and Tizoc may be in the chambers as well and perhaps Moctezuma II.

Follow up stories like this one are rare in archaeology where we hear of the original find and the theories about them and then we wait long periods of time for updates and further information. If the tombs are found here, it will be one of the most important archaeological finds in all of Mexican history.

Mike Ruggeri

Mike Ruggeri's Aztec and Toltec World

The post is also in the Aztlan archive:

I also found American Archaeology's website but as the post says the actual article isn't online, just a brief snippet.  However, it does have a cool picture of Tlaltecuhtli.
Coat of Arms

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I've been keeping up with the Terra Preta Negro story, or the Black Indian Earth uncovered by archeologists working in the Amazon rainforest. Our picture is incomplete, especially as to how significant a population dwelled there and what exactly they were doing. Certainly it was more than just tribes we can say, now that we've been finding evidence of structures and interesting farming practices. I would personally imagine a lot of promising work awaiting any aspiring archeologist in the Amazon, as well as South America in total. In the end, this serves as another example of how the societies and civilizations of the Americas continue to enrich the Earth as a whole; from the concept of liberty and democracy on Europe (read William Brandon) to something like 65%-70% of the actual foodstuff eaten around the globe having originally been cultivated here in "the West".

As you may or may not know, Terra Preta has been found in the Amazon and dates back 2000-3000 years ago. It looks as if it was a major agricultural adaptation to the poor quality of soil continually found in the Amazon Rainforest. This may be surprising, considering the immense amount of life found there, nearly half the land-dwelling species on earth some have said. However, plant life there is constantly struggling for limited soil resource, limited amounts of nutrients. Large trees hog most of the nutrients and sunlight. Anyone dwelling on the forest floor can see this in practice...underneath the oldest canopy is a completely different world.

A branch of Humanity dwelling in the Amazon Rainforest ingeniously figured out a way to make productive soil, and some of these patches of Terra Preta, or Terra Preta Indio, dates back 3000 years. Consisting of partially burned and charcoaled organic matter (leaves, branches, animal remains which may include bones) and mixing it into soil provides for a hugely rich patch of earth. Patches uncovered by archeologists are said to still be able to produce.

I immediately saw promise in this rediscovered technique as a way to lower food costs, produce higher yields, reduce the amount of artificial fertilizer which is certainly harmful to the environment as a whole, help starving nations around the globe, and slowly help to reduce greenhouse emissions. I thought surely a trip around Africa with this stuff would help alot of people and I handed out several articles to missionaries working in Africa. I'm glad I am not the only one who came to the same conclusion...except researchers have bigger plans.

If you are interested, it’s worth checking out:
Basic properties:

...and today at the 235th national meeting of the American Chemical Society:

I am almost perpetually intrigued by pre-Columbian America. The kinds of things that were happening here in contrast to that of Europe, Africa, and Asia were and are astounding to me and help to illuminate what society and civilization is. I was wondering if anyone here had read William Brandon's New Worlds for Old: Reports from the New World and Their Effect on the Development of Social Thought in Europe, 1500–1800" or his popular history book "The Rise and Fall of North American Indians: From Prehistory Through Geronimo"?