mexico tenochtitlan

Fun fact: Tenochtitlan fell in 1521. From 1603 onwards, large numbers of honest-to-god fricking Japanese Samurai came to Mexico from Japan to work as guardsmen and mercenaries. 

Ergo, it would be 100% historically accurate to write a story starring a quartet consisting of the child or grandchild of Aztec Noblemen, an escaped African slave, a Spanish Jew fleeing the Inquisition (which was relaxed in Mexico in 1606, for a time) and a Katana-wielding Samurai in Colonial Mexico.
Collapse of Aztec society linked to catastrophic salmonella outbreak
DNA of 500-year-old bacteria is first direct evidence of an epidemic — one of humanity's deadliest — that occurred after Spanish conquest.

One of the worst epidemics in human history, a sixteenth-century pestilence that devastated Mexico’s native population, may have been caused by a deadly form of salmonella from Europe, a pair of studies suggest.

In one study, researchers say they have recovered DNA of the stomach bacterium from burials in Mexico linked to a 1540s epidemic that killed up to 80% of the country’s native inhabitants. The team reports its findings in a preprint posted on the bioRxiv server on 8 February1.

This is potentially the first genetic evidence of the pathogen that caused the massive decline in native populations after European colonization, says Hannes Schroeder, an ancient-DNA researcher at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen who was not involved in the work. “It’s a super-cool study.”

Dead bodies and ditches

In 1519, when forces led by Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés arrived in Mexico, the native population was estimated at about 25 million. A century later, after a Spanish victory and a series of epidemics, numbers had plunged to around 1 million.

The largest of these disease outbreaks were known as cocoliztli (from the word for ‘pestilence’ in Nahuatl, the Aztec language). Two major cocoliztli, beginning in 1545 and 1576, killed an estimated 7 million to 18 million people living in Mexico’s highland regions.

“In the cities and large towns, big ditches were dug, and from morning to sunset the priests did nothing else but carry the dead bodies and throw them into the ditches,” noted a Franciscan historian who witnessed the 1576 outbreak.

There has been little consensus on the cause of cocoliztli — although measles, smallpox and typhus have all been mooted. In 2002, researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City proposed that a viral haemorrhagic fever, exacerbated by a catastrophic drought, was behind the carnage2. They compared the magnitude of the 1545 outbreak to that of the Black Death in fourteenth-century Europe.

Bacterial genomics

In an attempt to settle the question, a team led by evolutionary geneticist Johannes Krause at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, extracted and sequenced DNA from the teeth of 29 people buried in the Oaxacan highlands of southern Mexico. All but five were linked to a cocoliztli that researchers think ran from 1545 to 1550.

Ancient bacterial DNA recovered from several of the people matched that of Salmonella, based on comparisons with a database of more than 2,700 modern bacterial genomes.

Further sequencing of short, damaged DNA fragments from the remains allowed the team to reconstruct two genomes of a Salmonella enterica strain known as Paratyphi C. Today, this bacterium causes enteric fever, a typhus-like illness, that occurs mostly in developing countries. If left untreated, it kills 10–15% of infected people.

It’s perfectly reasonable that the bacterium could have caused this epidemic, says Schroeder. “They make a really good case.” But María Ávila-Arcos, an evolutionary geneticist at UNAM, isn’t convinced. She notes that some people suggest that a virus caused the cocoliztli, and that wouldn’t have been picked up by the team’s method.

The question of origin

Krause and his colleagues’ proposal is helped by another study posted on bioRxiv last week, which raises the possibility that Salmonella Paratyphi C arrived in Mexico from Europe3.

A team led by Mark Achtman, a microbiologist at the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK, collected and sequenced the genome of the bacterial strain from the remains of a young woman buried around 1200 in a cemetery in Trondheim, Norway. It is the earliest evidence for the now-rare Salmonella strain, and proof that it was circulating in Europe, according to the study. (Both teams declined to comment on their research because their papers have been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.)

“Really, what we’d like to do is look at both strains together,” says Hendrik Poinar, an evolutionary biologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. And if more ancient genomes can be collected from Europe and the Americas, it should be possible to find out more conclusively whether deadly pathogens such as Salmonella arrived in the New World from Europe.

The existence of Salmonella Paratyphi C in Norway 300 years before it appeared in Mexico doesn’t prove that Europeans spread enteric fever to native Mexicans, says Schroeder, but that hypothesis is reasonable. A small percentage of people infected with Salmonella Paratyphi C carry the bacterium without falling ill, so apparently healthy Spaniards could have infected Mexicans who lacked natural resistance.

Paratyphi C is transmitted through faecal material, and a collapse of social order during the Spanish conquest might have led to the poor sanitary conditions that are ripe for Salmonella spread, Krause and his team note in the paper.

Krause’s study offers a blueprint for identifying the pathogens behind ancient outbreaks, says Schroeder. His own team plans to look for ancient pathogens in Caribbean burial sites that seem to be linked to catastrophic outbreaks, and that were established after the Europeans arrived. “The idea that some of them might have been caused by Salmonella is now a distinct possibility,” he says.


Xiuhcoátl, the Turquoise Serpent, or Fire Serpent.

Xiuhcoátl is the Nagual, the Spirit Animal of Xiuhtecuhtli, the Turquoise Lord, Teótl of Fire, Time, the Center, the Hearth, and Wisdom, Father to the Teótl and embodiment of wisdom. The Xiuhcoátl is also an atlatl wielded by Huitzilopochtli, the Sun at the Zenith, who personifies the victory of wisdom over ignorance.

The Turquoise Serpent is the dry season, as opposed to Quetzalcoátl, the Plumed Serpent, who is the wet season. Metaphorically, in the wet Mexican summer, Quetzalcoátl descends to the earth and covers it with his skin and plumage; all the earth is covered with his green feathers, and life blooms. In the dry Winter, Xiuhcoátl descends, and with his fiery skin covers the earth, and all the vegetation dries out and dies.

The serpent also represents the movement of time; its very body is shaped like the year-glyph, its body forming trapezoidal, year-glyph shapes, and its tail is the glyph itself. Thus, the serpent Xiuhcoátl is symbolic of day, fire, turquoise, the dry season, and wisdom.

In the photos, he appears at the top as the Spirit Animal of Xiuhtecuhtli; he circles the body of the Turquoise Lord, and from his flaming skin emerges calendar glyphs, representing time. In the detail, can be seen his curling snout and his year-glyph tail. The following two pictures are ancient Mexica stone carvings of Xiuhcoátl, and at the bottom, one of my paintings in which Huitzilopochtli, the Hummingbird on the Left, the Sun at its Zenith, holds Xiuhcoátl in his hand as a weapon with which to defeat his sister the moon, and, metaphorically, the triumph of wisdom over ignorance.

My paintings are available as limited edition prints in my Etsy store at this link.

Aztec Giants

In Aztec legends, during the first age or world, called Four Jaguar or Jaguar Sun, the world was populated by a race of giants called Quinametzin. The gods created them from ash and the giants fed on acorns. Some accounts say that they refused to worship the gods and were ultimately destroyed by raining fire. Other accounts say that Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca began to fight, the sun was knocked out and in his anger Tezcatlipoca sent jaguars to devour the  Quinametzin. Some of the Quinametzin are credited for building Tenochtitlan, the pyramid of Cholula, and other places throughout Mexico. It is said that their are four giants that hold up the sky in the age the Fifth Sun.

(pic - Codex Rios)

When the Spanish came they encountered giants. One was named Tzilacatzin who helped keep the Spanish at bay when they first landed in Mexico. The Dominican friar Fray Diego Duran said this: It cannot be denied that there have been giants in this country. I can affirm this as an eyewitness, for I have met men of monstrous stature here. I believe that there are many in Mexico who will remember, as I do, a giant Indian who appeared in a procession of the feast of Corpus Christi. He appeared dressed in yellow silk and a halberd at his shoulder and a helmet on his head. And he was all of three feet taller than the others, (Fray Diego Duran - The Aztecs).


Elle México - April 2017

Model: Julie for @GH Management

            Ovo for @New Icon Models

            Stella for @Wanted Model Management

Photographer: Alberto Newton, Ashley Frangie, Dorian Ulises López, Fabiola Zamora, Karla Lisker, Khristio, Ricardo Ramos, Santiago Ruiseñor. 

Styling: Jocelyn Corona, Laura Carrillo, Martín Michaelis, Nayeli de Alba, Pablo Villalpando, Paola Quintero, Raúl Álvarez.

MUA: Ana G de V

Hair Stylist: Manuel Oliva

Mx Fashion: Alexia Ulibarri, Carlos Víctimo, Children of our town, East of lost, Julia y Renata, Mancandy, Raúl Orozco, Salo Shayo, Sánchez Kane.

Los tlatoque mexicas vivían en medio de un lujo imperial, cada vez mayor en la medida que se engrandecían y consolidaban sus dominios. A la par de esos privilegios, en su papel como cabeza de la sociedad los tlatoque tenían obligaciones que abarcaban prácticamente todos los ámbitos. Eran los encargados últimos de las campañas militares que daban el sustento al grupo gobernante y a la gente común de la gran Tenochtitlan. (…) 

Eran, además, los responsables de la buena conducción de los asuntos públicos y de la impartición de justicia; debían velar por el bienestar de su pueblo y procurar las obras públicas que fuesen necesarias para tal fin. No menos importantes eran sus funciones en el ámbito religioso, que incluían preparar los elementos necesarios para la realización de la multitud de ritos que daban coherencia a la vida en Tenochtitlan, entre ellos la captura de víctimas para el sacrificio humano. Asimismo, conducían personalmente algunos de esos ritos, en virtud de que una vez electos eran en algún modo vistos como representantes de las divinidades y vínculo idóneo con ellas.

Enrique Vela, “Los tlatoanis mexicas”, Arqueología Mexicana, edición especial 40.

En la imagen:
Humberto Limón, Grandiosos escultores, 1975, óleo sobre lienzo. Colección Museo Soumaya / Fundación Carlos Slim. Ciudad de México.
Foto: Javier Hinojosa.