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Colección: La Educación
Número: (115) II
Año: 1993


3. David CARRASCO and Eduardo MATOS MOCTEZUMA. Moctezuma’s México. Visions of the Aztec World. Niwot, Colorado: University Press of Colorado, 1992, xiv, 188 p., illustrations, notes, bibliography, glossary, index. Cloth: $45.00.

Almost five hundred years have passed since Hernán Cortés and his Spanish conquistadores landed at Mexico and began the conquest of an Aztec empire that astonished them with its architectural wonders. Today the cultural achievements of the Aztecs remain obscured by a historical fascination with the human sacrifices and warlike behavior that characterized the Aztec society observed by Cortés and recorded by his army sergeant and chronicler, Bernal Díaz del Castillo. Human offerings to the gods, including the tearing of beating hearts from the victims’ breasts, were common to the rituals of religious life of the empire. Perhaps, not surprisingly, these rituals shocked the Spanish and have, until recently, dominated the attention of subsequent generations of Mesoamerican scholars.

Underappreciated are the pictorial writings, poetry, and myths, along with the ceramics, sculpture, and architecture that seem all the more impressive in the apparent absence of metal tools. Beginning with their migration from Aztlan, the mythical “placet of reeds and herons” and site of origin, the Aztecs went on to found the great capital city of Tenochtitlan, and then to expand their imperial hegemony over the greater part of Mesoamerica.

The island city of Tenochtitlan, which lay at the spiritual center of an empire the Aztecs considered as being without geographical limit, was the architectural crown of a great urban society. Along with its gemstone, the Templo Mayor, or the Great Temple, the city was a center of activities that included crafts, trade, and agriculture. Roads radiated into the empire, and an aqueduct system imported potable water to the citizens of a thriving commercial, political, and religious community of around 150,000 inhabitants. Recent investigations of the Great Temple, and of Tenochtitlan’s neighboring commercial city and temple of Tlatelolco, have uncovered a wealth of archaeological material. Many of these artifacts were brought together in a major exhibit at the Denver Museum of Natural History. The exhibit was made possible by the collaborative efforts of the Denver Museum of Natural History, the Museum of the Great Temple in Mexico City, and the University of Colorado, and represented a milestone in a continuing interdisciplinary endeavor of scientific archaelolgical and cultural inquiry into Mesoamerican civilization; an endeavor designed to shed new light on the religious, artistic, political, and commercial achievements of the Aztecs. This book has been written by four distinguished Mesoamerican scholars, each of whom has made major contributions to that inquiry: Anthony Aveni of Colgate University, Elizabeth Hill Boone of Dumbarton Oaks, David Carrasco of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, distinguished archaeologist and director of the Museum of the Great Temple.

The collaboration between the University of Colorado and the Proyecto Templo Mayor in Mexico has further stimulated Aztec studies over the past fifteen years. The relationship between the two institutions began with the excavation of the Great Temple, coordinated by Dr. Matos, following the discovery by electrical workers of the Coyolxauhqui Stone under the streets of Mexico City in 1978. In addition to the sponsorship of several important scholarly conferences, university support was provided for archaeological excavations at the temple of the marketplace center at Tlatelolco (Proyecto Tlatelolco). This in turn led to exhibits at both El Museo del Templo Mayor and at the Denver Museum of Natural History (“Lord of the Wind: Aztec Offerings at Tlatelolco”), which laid the foundations for the powerful “Aztec: The World of Moctezuma” exhibit. As this book indicates, large gaps characterize our knowledge of the Aztec world. The murals of Tlatelolco need further study, as does the meaning of the Aztec rites and the identification of their astronomical constellation. What was the role of the tradesmen (pochteca) in the expansion of the empire? What is the meaning of the mythical return of Quetzalcoatl? These and many other scholarly puzzles remain unsolved. The interdisciplinary approach represented in the exhibit, “Aztec: The World of Moctezuma,” and in this book may hold the key to unlocking the secrets of the Aztecs.

James N. Corbridge, Jr.