Collection Description

Tradition Name

Central Mexico Postclassic

Tradition Description

The Central Mexico Postclassic tradition extends from 1300 to 479 BP (AD 700 to 1521) in the central highlands of Mexico. Throughout the time period regional centers/states with monumental architecture formed and collapsed. Military expansion was encouraged by a religious ideology that linked human sacrifice with warfare. Multiple migrations created a society was ethnically and linguistically diverse. Society was stratified from noble to commoner to slave with some opportunities for advancement. The Late Postclassic had the highest population of any prehispanic period in Central Mexico requiring nearly all arable land to be in production.


Select the Tradition Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Middle America and the Caribbean --Central Mexico



OWC Code


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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF Archaeology collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The Central Mexican Postclassic collection consists of 49 documents, all in English. The documents discuss the Central Mexican Postclassic tradition in the highlands of Central Mexico from around 1300 BP to 479 BP, the time of the Spanish conquest.

No one document provides an overview of the entire Postclassic tradition although several provide descriptions of various subtraditions. Berdan (1982, no. 1) reconstructs Aztec culture in the period immediately preceding the Conquest (1519-1520). Smith (1996, no. 25) was also interested in the Aztec civilization, examining the lives of commoners between the formation of the Triple Alliance in 1428 and the arrival of the Spaniards in 1519. Diehl (1983, no. 2) writes about the Toltecs and their capital of Tula. Healan (1989, no.9) summarizes some of the more commonly agreed-upon aspects of Toltec civilization, using the accounts of Sahagún.

Several documents report on the rural Aztec village of Cihuatecpan in the Teotihuacan valley (Evans 1988, nos. 3, 4, and 7; Abrams 1988, no. 5; and McCoy and Evans 1988, no. 6). These are the results of the 1984 field season and include discussions of the houses and features excavated, the archaeological methods used, how the village fits within its environmental and historical setting, the lithic artifacts, and the preliminary results of flotation analysis.

Many documents discuss various aspects of the site of Tula. Richard A. Diehl (1989, nos. 10-12) describes the environmental setting of the Tula region, previous archaeological research at the site, and the goals of the archaeological research program by the University of Missouri for their field work. The field work is described by Healan and Benfer (1989, no. 14) and a chronology for the Tula region is presented by Cobean and Mastache de Escobar (1989, no. 13).

The results of the archaeological work and its analysis are presented in the remainder of the edited volume. Healan (1989, nos. 15-17) presents a detailed synopsis of the house remains, stratigraphy, and an analysis of the Central and West house group compounds found at the Canal Locality, northeast of Tula Grande. Stocker and Healan (1989, no. 18) describe the two structures found in the East Group of buildings at the Canal Locality. A possible ceramic tube kiln is described by Healan (1989, no. 23). A synthesis of the occupation of the Canal Locality is presented by Healan (1989, no. 19). Mandeville and Healan (1989, no. 20) discuss the architectural remains found at the El Corral Locality. Healan and Stoutamire (1989, no. 21) describe the surface survey of the Tula urban zone. The development of urbanism at Tula is studied by Healan, Cobean, and Diehl (1989, no. 22). And finally, Healan (1989, no. 28) presents two maps of the stratigraphy of the north and west profiles of the excavations at Tula.

Two articles by Calnek explore life at Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco. The first (Calnek 1972, no. 26) examines chinampa agricultural use and the second (Calnek 1976, no. 27) examines settlement patterns and urbanization there. Excavations at Yautepec, an Aztec city in Morelos, were conducted by Smith, Heath-Smith, and Montiel (1999, no. 30). Norr (1987, no. 47) discusses excavations of a house at Chalcatzingo while Bugé (1987, no. 48) lists the plant remains recovered from nearby Caves 2 and 8. The artifacts from the excavations and from a survey are described and illustrated in a separate source (Norr 1987, no. 49).

The remainder of the documents discuss the site of the Epiclassic period city-state of Xochicalco in western Morelos. Hirth (2000, no. 29) presents the results of his field work and presents an overview of the site's urban development and evolution. The other documents on Xochicalco are from an edited volume. Hirth (2000, no. 32) introduces this series of papers. Ceramics are compared and analyzed in Cyphers (2000, no. 33), Cyphers and Hirth (2000, no. 37), and Smith (2000, no. 40). The numerous stone carvings are described, interpreted, and their possible social and political themes described by Smith and Hirth (2000, no. 34) and Smith (2000, nos. 35, 36, and 45). Hirth et al. (2000, no. 38) conducted a lithic analysis of the material from the slopes of Cerro Xochicalco. Ground stone artifacts are described and how they can be used to study status is explored by Hirth and Robinson (2000, no. 39). Diet at Xochicalco and western Morelos is explored by Heath-Smith (2000, no. 41), who reconstructed the faunal portion of the diet, and by Lentz (2000, no. 42), who analyzed the carbonized plant remains from nine different sites in western Morelos. All the architectural features found within the mapped area are briefly described in Hirth et al. (2000, no. 43).

The last two documents about Xochicalco are appendices. Hirth (2000, no. 44) presents the topographic base maps in sectional format of the area mapped by the Xochicalco mapping project. These maps do not contain most of the architectural features. And Hirth and Rossum (2000, no. 46) present the raw data used in the analyses of several of the documents on the Xochicalco mapping project.

The last three documents are bibliographic references: Evans (1988, no. 8) for eHRAF documents nos. 3 to 7 on Cihuatecpan, Healan (1989, no. 24) for documents 9 to 23 on Tula, and

Hirth (2000, no. 31) for documents 32 – 46 on Xochicalco.

For further information on individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Sarah Berry

Almenas – carved stone ornaments placed around the tops of house walls - use "BUILDING INTERIORS AND ARRANGEMENT (353)"

Altepetl - city-states or kingdoms  - use "TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY (631)"

Autosacrifice – personal bloodletting as a form of worship - use "PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES (782)", and/or "ASCETICISM (785)"

Aztec treasure hunting or looting - use "POST DEPOSITIONAL PROCESSES IN ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES (138)"

Ball courts - use "RECREATIONAL STRUCTURES (345)"

Cabecera – main town of a region - use "TOWNS (632)"

Calmecac – school for nobles or promising commoners - use "EDUCATION SYSTEM (871)," with "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)", and "CLASSES (565)"

Calmil –house lot gardens - use "VEGETABLE PRODUCTION (244)", sometimes with "DWELLINGS (342)," and/or "GROUNDS (351)"

Calpixcalli – the place where headmen assembled each day to await their orders from the higher ranking noblemen - use "MISCELLANEOUS FACILITIES (368)"

Calpolli, also spelled calpulli – a group of families who lived near one another and were subject to a single lord. Most calpolli had between 100 and 200 families. In cities [n[calpolli[/n] formed neighborhoods, whereas rural calpolli were either towns or collections of villages. The term calpolli is sometimes used in documents to designate a smaller residential unit, the ward. As landing-holding units - use "REAL PROPERTY (423)," with "CITIES (633)," and/or "TOWNS (632);" as a kind of corporate, localized social group – use "SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND GROUPS (571);" as a ward of a town or city - use "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621);" as a military unit of 200-400 men - use "GROUND COMBAT FORCES (704)"

Cantera – an easily worked volcanic stone - use "LITHIC INDUSTRIES (324)"

Caves – naturally occurring - use "TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)"; for storage of goods - use "BUILDING INTERIORS AND ARRANGEMENT (353)"; for use as dwellings - use "DWELLINGS (342)"

Cespedes – masses of decaying vegetation, used to fertilize chinampas - use "TILLAGE (241)"

Chalchihuites – round stone cylinders symbolizing water and the god Tlaloc - use "SPIRITS AND GODS (776)"

Chinampa – a Spanish word derived from Nahuatl, meaning an agricultural plot built on land reclaimed from a shallow lake or marshy area by alternating layers of vegetation and mud to form a raised bed. It was a form of intensive agriculture. A chinampa is between 15-30 feet wide and 300 feet long with canals between the plots. Use "TILLAGE (241)" with "LAND USE (311)"

Choza – huts - use "DWELLINGS (342)"

Cihuacoatl – vice ruler called "women serpent", but despite the title, the role is almost always a man - use "CHIEF EXECUTIVE (643)"

Coas – wooden digging sticks - use "GENERAL TOOLS (412)"

Comal – a griddle - use "UTENSILS (415)"

Cones – as decorative tenons - use "VISUAL ARTS (5311)"

Council of Four, at state level - use "CABINET (645)"

[n[Cuicacalli[/n] – school devoted to the teaching of song, dance, and the playing of musical instruments - use "VOCATIONAL EDUCATION (874)"

Earth fill, in construction - use "EARTH MOVING (332)"

Eccentrics – E-shaped or U-shaped obsidian artifacts that symbolized sacred water and might have been attached to ceremonial costumes or ritual objects - use "ORNAMENT (301)"


Encomienda system – land grants by the Spanish crown to individual Spaniards - use "REAL PROPERTY (423)," with "LABOR RELATIONS (466)," "SERFDOM AND PEONAGE (566)," and "TAXATION AND PUBLIC INCOME (651)," depending on context

Flaying, of a sacrificial victim - use "PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES (782)"

Heuheucallis – structures occupied by officials known as absolute lords – use "PUBLIC STRUCTURES (344)"

Hueialtepetl – use "CITIES (633)"

Incensario – censers - use "PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES (782)"

Ixiptla – a god impersonator. Priests or planned sacrificial victims dressed in the regalia of a god that were venerated as that god during key ceremonies - use "ORGANIZED CEREMONIAL (796)," and/or "PRIESTHOOD (793)," with "PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES (782)" and sometimes with "SPIRITS AND GODS (776)"

Jaguey – a man-made pond - use "WATER SUPPLY (312)"

Land reclamation - use "LAND USE (311)"

Macehualli (Macehualtin) – "free" commoners - use "CLASSES (565)"

Maguey – an agave plant used for its fibers and as a food - use "FLORA (137)"

Maqueta stone – a carved boulder - use "VISUAL ARTS (5311)"

Mayeques – displaced and conquered people who worked as rural tenants - use "RENTING AND LEASING (427)," sometimes with "SERFDOM AND PEONAGE (566)"

Moats – as defensive features against attack - use "MILITARY INSTALLATIONS (712)"

Molcajetes – tripod dishes with scored bottoms - use "UTENSILS (415)"

Patolli – a game of chance - use "GAMBLING (525)," and/or "GAMES (524)," depending on context

Pipiltin – the children of rulers and chiefs - use "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)" with "CLASSES (565)"

Pochteca – merchants – use "RETAIL MARKETING (443)"

Pulque – a fermented beverage made from the agave, maguey – use "RECREATIONAL AND NON - THERAPEUTIC DRUGS (276)"

Quachtli – cotton cloaks, as wearing apparel - use "NORMAL GARB (291);" as a medium of exchange - use "MEDIUM OF EXCHANGE (436);" as used for tribute payments - use "TAXATION AND PUBLIC INCOME (651)"

Ramps – as access within a site - use "STREETS AND TRAFFIC (363)"

Skull rack – also known as Tzompantlis - use "APPARATUS (417)" for descriptions of the rack itself; use "PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES (782)" for the displayed skulls

Standard bearer – a stone carving that held a standard - use "APPARATUS (417)"

Stella - use "MNEMONIC DEVICES (211)"

Tapia – a construction technique whereby wet clay and earth were poured into a construction form to form a solid and continuous wall. It was similar to adobe. Use - "MASONRY (333)"

Tecali – travertine, a white sedimentary stone, used to make ornaments, bowls, and luxury goods - use "LITHIC INDUSTRIES (324)"

Teccalli – chiefly house; the household of a Tecutli or high ranking chief - use "HOUSEHOLD (592)"

Tecpan – the headman's residence and/or palace - use "DWELLINGS (342)" and/or "PUBLIC STRUCTURES (344)", as the administrative palace/section of a city - use "MISCELLANEOUS FACILITIES (368)"

Tecutli – a chief, magistrate, or judge - use "COMMUNITY HEADS (622)" and/or "LEGAL AND JUDICIAL PERSONNEL (693)," according to context

Telpochcalli – school for commoners, - use "EDUCATION SYSTEM (871)" with

"CLASSES (565)"

Temascales, also spelled temescales – the sweat bath - use "OUTBUILDINGS (343)," with "RELIGIOUS AND EDUCATIONAL STRUCTURES (346)," and/or "PURIFICATION AND ATONEMENT (783)," "PERSONAL HYGIENE (515)," or "MAGICAL AND MENTAL THERAPY (755)" depending on context

Tepetate – a type of soil, often called "caliche" or a local type of limestone - use "SOIL (134)"

Tequitl – payment of tribute in the forms of goods or labor - use "TAXATION AND PUBLIC INCOME (651)"

Tequiua – seasoned warriors with superior status in the society - use "MILITARY ORGANIZATION (701)," with "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)"

Terraces – use SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)

Tetecutin – a high-ranking lord or noble who controlled a major estate and usually served in an important administrative or military position - use "ADMINISTRATIVE AGENCIES (647)," and/or "MILITARY ORGANIZATION (701)"

Teuctle – headman - use "COMMUNITY HEADS (622)"

Tezontle – volcanic rock - use "TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)"

Tianquiztli – the marketplace - use "RETAIL MARKETING (443)," and/or "COMMERCIAL FACILITIES (366)"

Ticitl – a physician - use "MEDICAL PERSONNEL (759)"

Tlachtli – the Aztec ballgame, an event that combined ritual, sport , and entertainment - use "ATHLETIC SPORTS (526)"

Tlacolol – the fallowing system used in agriculture - use "TILLAGE (241)"

Tlacotin (Tlacotli) - slaves - use "SLAVERY (567)"

Tlacuiloque – manuscript painters - use "WRITING (212)"

Tlamama - professional carriers or load-bearers - use "BURDEN CARRYING (482)"

Tlatoani (pl. tlatoque)– king of a city-state, always of the noble class - use "CHIEF EXECUTIVE (643)," and/or "CLASSES (565)," "TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY (631)," "TOWNS (632)," or "CITIES (633)" depending on context

Tlatocan – the supreme council - use "CABINET (645)," sometimes with "CITIES (633)" depending on context

Tlaxillacalli – barrios or neighborhoods, where calpulli resided – "…individuals were member of a named calpulli and resided in a tlaxillacalli of the same name…" (Calnek 1976, no. 27, p296) - use "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)"

Tlequil – rectangular hearth of cut stones - use "HEATING AND LIGHTING EQUIPMENT (354)"

Tonalpohualli – "count of days"; a day-to-day guide or astrological handbook - use "ORDERING OF TIME (805)" with "LUCK AND CHANCE (777)"

Transportation features – such as ramps, pavements, restricted access - use "STREETS AND TRAFFIC (363)"

Triple Alliance – the Aztec empire consisting of the polities of Tlacopan, Tenochtitlan, and Tezcoco - use "CONSTITUTION (642)," sometimes with "TRIBE AND NATION (619)"

Tzompantlis – a wooden rack for displaying skulls, usually human - use "APPARATUS (417)" for descriptions of the rack itself; use "PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES (782)" for the displayed skulls

War council – military advisers to the ruler regarding warfare - use "CABINET (645," with "MILITARY ORGANIZATION (701)"

Yaoxochitl - "war of flowers"; ritualized warfare to obtain sacrificial victims and train warriors - use "INSTIGATION OF WAR (721)"

Indexing Notes by

Sarah Berry

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