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.

nature.com
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.

Olmec mask.


The first known civilisation in Mexico started the long running tradition of carving life size masks carved from jadeite, nephrite and other similar stones. The famous mask of Lord Pakal from Palenque attests to the long life of this artistic tradition. The Aztecs some two thousand years later ritually buried a mask like this in the ruins of Tenochtitlan. The Olmecs flourished between 1,500 and 400 BCE, and were the product of a thousand years of cultural evolution in the region. They also invented the ritual ballgame that was to play such a central part in subsequent meso-American cultures.

Loz

Item in Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Brussels
Image credit: Michel Wal.

Quetzalcoátl. A print of this painting can be found on my Etsy store at this link

This is a devotional image of Quetzalcoátl, the Plumed Serpent, Lord of Creation, the West, the verdant summer, fertility, and life. He is is the holy man who transcended the limitations of the flesh and transformed into the Morning Star. He is the priest who guides the souls of men. He is the Lord who gave the breath of life to the first men, who discovered corn, who stole the bones of the ancestors from the underworld in order to give us life, and who sacrificed himself in order give movement to the sun and establish order on the earth. Here, Quetzalcoátl appears at the dawn of time. There was neither earth nor sky, but only a terrible goddess who writhed and moved at all times, so that nothing could exist upon her surface. Quetzalcoátl and Tezcatlipoca descended to her and entered her through her mouth and her navel, and ripping her in half, placed the upper half in the heavens where it became the sky, and the lower half below where it became the earth. Here, his leg transforms into the Feathered Serpent, ripping the body of Tlatecuhtli, the Earth Lord, goddess of the earth, in twain, to bring stability to the cosmos. Beside him, the first man and woman, Oxomoco and Cipactonal, stand in a jade bowl, having just been created, while he breathes air into their lungs and gives them life. He dances, in a symbol of artistic creativity, and is wreathed in flame, as a reminder of his final sacrifice when he purified himself and was transformed into the morning star. 

bbc.com
Aztec tower of human skulls uncovered in Mexico City - BBC News
The skulls found in Mexico City are only a fraction of those Spanish soldiers encountered in 1521.

Tales of the tower of skulls which struck fear into the hearts of Spanish conquistadors have been passed down through the generations in Mexico.

Said to be the heads of defeated warriors, contemporary accounts describe tens of thousands of skulls looming over the soldiers - a reminder of what would happen if they did not conquer territory.

For the next 500 years, the skulls lay undisturbed underneath what was once the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, but is now Mexico City.

Until, that is, a group of archaeologists began the painstaking work of uncovering their secrets two years ago.

What they found has shocked them, because in among the skulls of the young men are those of women and children - bringing into question everything historians thought they knew.

“We were expecting just men, obviously young men, as warriors would be, and the thing about the women and children is that you’d think they wouldn’t be going to war,” Rodrigo Bolanos, a biological anthropologist investigating the find, told news agency Reuters.

“Something is happening that we have no record of, and this is really new, a first.”

So far, archaeologists have found 676 skulls in a site next to Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral, which was built over the Templo Mayor, one of the most important Aztec temples.

Its base has yet to be uncovered, and it is thought many more skulls will be found.

They are believed to form part of the Huey Tzompantli, a skull rack some 60 metres (200ft) in diameter which stood on the corner of the chapel of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of the sun, war and human sacrifice.

Archaeologists have no doubt it is one of the racks, or tzompantli, described by soldier Andres de Tapia, who accompanied Hernan Cortes in the 1521 conquest of Mexico.

Cortes landed at Veracruz, on Mexico’s east coast, in 1519. Two years later, allied with other native forces, Cortes’ men captured the Aztec capital.

5

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).