This is the third and final part of my Calixtlahuaca series. In it, I will provide information about the archaeological site's museum artifacts and will also trace the region's history from the earliest times to the Spanish arrival.
Other ancient religious images
The first evidence of agricultural settlements around Calixtlahuaca dates to 1200 BC, although hunter-gatherer nomads had roamed the area for thousands of years previous to that. The people lived in small communities around the volcanic slopes of the small, extinct Cerro Tenismo, located about 2 km from modern Toluca. They supplemented their agricultural production with hunting and fishing. Their homes were made of perishable materials, but they did make decorated pottery, as well as small, clay, female figures. These may have represented a fertility goddess, perhaps an early version of Chicometeotl. These settlements were contemporaneous with the Olmec Civilization (1500 BC - 400 BC). Archaeologists have found a number of Olmec-style sculptures in the area, including chubby children with jaguar faces. These artifacts may indicate a trading relationship with the Olmec centers along the Gulf Coast, or possibly an actual Olmec presence. During the succeeding 2700 years, long-range trading networks were established that continued to function, up through the Spanish era. Some of the old trade routes have survived as 21st century roads.
For several hundred years after the Olmec Civilization disappeared, no other great civilization dominated the area. Then, around 100 AD, in the area northeast of modern Mexico City, Teotihuacan arose. Its appearance launched the pre-hispanic period's Classic Era. Like the Olmecs, Teotihuacan was a great trading civilization. Its capital city was very cosmopolitan and eventually reached 200,000 inhabitants, larger than any European city of its time. Teotihuacan became the dominant force, economically and militarily, throughout Mesoamerica. During the Classic Era, groups from Teotihuacan arrived in the Valley of Toluca. Vases, figurines, and sculptures in the Teotihuacan style begin to appear during this time, some possibly made locally. Before long, trade items that were definitely made in Teotihuacan began to arrive, including pottery, ceramics, and obsidian tools and jewelry. In return, the local people sent corn, lime, wood, and the products of the lakes and forests to Teotihuacan. The earliest phases of the Calixtlahuaca's Palace, the Tlaloc Complex, and the Temple of Ehecatl were built on the slopes of Cerro Tenismo in the Teotihuacan fashion.
Approximately 650 AD, the Teotihuacan Empire suddenly collapsed, possibly due to an internal revolt related to crop failures triggered by droughts which were, in turn, caused by deforestation. The period that followed, called the Epi-Classic Era (650 AD - 900 AD), is roughly equivalent to Dark Age Europe after the Roman Empire collapsed in the face of internal strife and external invasions. One effect of Teotihuacan's collapse was the dispersal of the huge city's population throughout the Valley of Mexico and beyond. A substantial number of these refugees settled on the slopes of Cerro Tenismo. Archaeologists digging on Cerro Tenismo have found double the number of Teotihuacan artifacts during the Epi-Classic compared to the Classic Era. Another effect of the collapse was a power vacuum into which tribes of fierce nomadic warriors from the north--the so-called Chichimecs--surged into the fallen empire's territory. The Matlazinca were one of these tribes and they took over the central part of the Toluca Valley, including the Teotihuacan town located on Cerro Tenismo. It eventually became their capital. The newcomers utilized the structures already there, sometimes building new temples over the old Teotihuacan versions. The Matlazinca town came to be known as Matlazinco, a name that it kept until the Aztecs destroyed it in the 15th century and built Calixtlahuaca atop of its ruins.
During the Epi-Classic Era, after a period of consolidation, Matlazinco and other up-and-coming city-states began to compete, both in trade and war. Existing Mesoamerican communities, along with others established by new arrivals, began to fortify themselves against further waves of barbarians. They also began to expand their economic spheres of influence by dominating key trade routes. Cacaxtla, in Tlaxcala State, north of modern Puebla, was a contemporary of Matlazinco. A mural at Cacaxtla shows a ferocious battle typical of the conflicts of the time. When the rising city-states weren't warring with one another, they were actively trading. Another Cacaxtla mural, painted in the Maya style, portrays a trader with his pack of goods propped up behind him. Archaeologist Michael Coe* believes this figure may be the Maya god L (Ek Chuah), the patron of merchant-traders. Along with other murals at Cacaxtla showing Maya influence, Coe believes the trader image indicates that group of Puuc Maya from Yucatan and the southern Gulf Coast were penetrating the former Teotihuacan Empire's territory from the south, even as the Chichimecs moved down from the north.
By the end of the Epi-Classic period (900 AD), the invasions had tapered off and strong, militarized city-states like Matlazinco and Cacaxtla dotted the map of Mesoamerica. Perhaps the most important was Tollan, (Tula, in modern Hidalgo State). Tollan was the capital of the Toltecs, an amalagam of Chichimecs and refugees from Teotihuacan who had settled in the area north of modern Mexico City around 700 AD. In an era when war and human sacrifice were glorified, the Toltecs stood out. They were the Spartans of their time, extremely militarized and aggressive. The Toltecs may have been among the earliest to employ the tzompantli, a skull rack used to display the heads of decapitated war prisoners. By 900 AD, they were strong enough to begin the conquest of surrounding areas. Within 200 years,, the Toltecs had become the strongest kingdom to emerge out of the old Teotihuacan Empire. They dominated a widespread trade network and Toltec artifacts and architecture began to appear in Matlazinco.
The Mexica were despised as uncouth barbarians by the settled and civilized people. At first, they drifted around the Lake Texcoco area, hiring themselves out as mercenaries in the incessant wars between the lakeside city-states. Eventually, the tribe settled on a swampy island off the southwestern shore of the lake, where they founded their capital, Tenochtitlán. The traditional date for this is 1325 AD. Desperate to shed their image of low-life country bumpkins, they adopted the culture, symbols, and art of the now-semi-mythical Toltecs. Most importantly, the Mexica imitated the Toltec's militarized social structure, which fitted nicely with their own fierce warrior culture. Over the next 150 years, their rise to power was meteoric.
In 1428, the Mexicas joined with the kingdoms of Texcoco and Tacuba to form the Triple Alliance. This powerful federation began a campaign of conquest which ultimately brought much of Mesoamerica under its control, with the exception of the Chichimecs to the north, the Maya kingdoms of the south, and the Tarascan Empire to the west. For almost 50 years after the Triple Alliance began its program of conquest, Matlazinco maintained its independence and flourished. The city carried on a lively trade with surrounding areas, including both the kingdoms of the Triple Alliance and their bitter rival, the Tarascan Empire. The Tarascans dominated the territory of modern Michoacan State, plus portions of Guerrero, Colima, Querétaro, and Jalisco. The politics of pre-hispanic Mesoamerica were complex, but it appears that the Matlazincas may have staved off both of the empires by playing them off against each other.
The Matlazinca, as previously noted, acquired most of their obsidian for tools, weapons, and jewelry from the volcanic glass deposits around Ucareo, in Tarascan territory. Other Tarascan imports included copper objects, such as bells and small tools. In turn, the Matlazincas provided the Tarascans with corn from their famously rich farm lands. It was the desire to acquire the food from these lands, as well as jealously over the Matlazinca-Tarascan relationship, that led Axayacatl, the Mexica Tlatoani (ruler), to provoke a war against the Matlazinca. The pretext was a failure to provide materials for a temple the Mexica wanted to build. At first the Matlazinca were able to stave off the invasion. One of their generals, Cuextapalin, managed to wound the Mexica ruler with a stone from a sling and almost captured him. Axayacatl withdrew, but the Mexica never gave up easily and he soon returned with an even larger army.
Axacayatl came back in 1474, intent on completing the conquest and avenging his previous loss. He may have had personal motives as well, since the wound he had received from the Matlazinca general crippled him for life. This time he was successful, and took 11,070 prisoners when he seized the city of Matlazinco. These unfortunates were marched to Tenochtitlán to be sacrificed in a grand celebration of his victory. Executing all those Matlazinca warriors also prevented further uprisings for the moment and opened up their lands for resettlement by people from the Triple Alliance. While the Matlazinca chafed under Mexica rule, they also prospered because trade with the far-flung Triple Alliance Empire (which had become the Mexica Empire by now) radically increased. Mexica demands for tribute, as well as their general arrogance, led to two great uprisings by the Matlazinca. The first lasted from 1482 to 1484 and was finally crushed by the Mexica ruler Tizoc. He marked his victory on a great stone disk used for human sacrifice. In retaliation for the revolt, Tizoc ordered the temples in Matlazinco destroyed, as well as the usual sacrifice of war prisoners. Another influx of Mexica settlers arrived, further changing the character of the city.
Hasta luego, Jim