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Pre-Colombian Mexican Civilization and Colonial times

The term Pre-Columbian is often used to describe the ethnic population of the Americas such as those of Mesoamerica. The term speaks of an era before the advent of European influences on the region. The following essay will attempt to show a glimpse of the ancestry of the Chicano also known as Anahuac which literally means “The Land between the Waters” in the original Nahuatl dialect of the Aztecs. The civilizations of the Tolecs and the Aztecs will be discussed which include the legend of one of their greatest leaders Quetzalcoatl giving an insight into their rich culture and heritage.

Nearly 4000 years ago the lands of the Olmec, the earliest known Mesoamerican civilization, encompassed an area now commonly referred to the Gulf of Mexico. They existed around the era of 1300 B. C – 400 B. C. All the subsequent Mesoamerican civilizations (Toltec, Teotihuacano, Zapotec, Mixtec, Aztec, Maya and Andes (Inca, Moche, Chibcha, Canaris) which followed were based around the original culture and influences left by the Olmecs (Coe, 1994).

“There is now little doubt that all later civilizations in Mesoamerica, whether Mexican or Maya, ultimately rest on an Olmec base. ” (Coe, 1994 pg. 62) The Olmec civilization is best known for their giant bedrock head sculptures which are considered some of the most beautiful masterpieces in our time. Evidence has also been found that the Olmecs’ participated in human sacrifices, ritualistic sports known today as Ulama, created their own solar calendar based on 365 days and were excellent agriculturists.

They were also highly influential on the Mayas who were renowned for their sophisticated system of writing and astronomy (History World, 2002). The Toltecs preceded the Aztecs and according to evidence of their architectural designs were even more advanced than their successors. Their skill is so renowned that the word Toltec is known as a synonym of architect. They also had a simple Justice System and religious structure based around the belief of a supreme being surrounded by hundreds of minor deities. The Aztecs were nomads who had come from the north in the 13th century.

Evidence suggests that the true successors of the Toltecs did not receive them well and they wandered around until, according a legend they received a sign to build their capital city of Tenochtitlan (History World, 2002). They adopted the religion of the Toltecs which though relatively benign during their time became more barbaric and fundamental under Aztec society in 14th Century. They sacrificed around twenty thousand human beings on their altars. Aztec priests performed these ceremonies on the summit of their temples surrounded by several worshippers.

The priests would bind a person to the sacrificial stone and use a knife to tear open the victims’ breast and take out his heart. The organ would then be cut into smaller pieces and mixed into maize for their followers to eat. Such cannibalistic tendencies were not known to exist at the time of the Toltecs (Pendelton, 1989). One of the most well known and enduring legends of the Aztecs is the story of the 10th Century ruler of the Toltecs known as Quetzalcoatl. Often mistaken for the deity of the same name Quetzalcoatl name literally means Our Prince One-Reed Feathered Serpent.

Although there are varying accounts of his life it is thought that Quetzalcoatl was born in what is now known as the town of Tepoztlan in the 10th century. He was known to have four possible fathers known as The Cloud serpent (also known as Mixcoatl), the god of war, the god of fire and the god of the hunt. Toltec kings and priests would sometimes take the name of their deities who were their patrons. According to accounts he was known as a warrior and a priest and was much revered by the Toltecs and the Aztecs. According to legend Quetzalcoatl was known as a God to his followers.

His love for his people was so great that he demanded that they only sacrifice those lives which the gods deemed worthy. The lives of animals such as birds and snakes were taken in the place of humans. He also created the cult of the serpent whose blood was used to satiate the netherworld and to appease their gods so that they may forgive the sins of his people. He was so loved as a king and worshipped by so many that many subsequent priests claimed to be descendants of Quetzalcoatl saying it was their birthright to lead the people until he returned (Florescano, 1999).

During the time of the Toltecs a priest of the God Quetzalcoatl, described as fair-skinned and bearded by his enemies he was exiled, but vowed to return in the year of the one reed of the 52 Calendar cycle. In 1519 which was calculated to be one reed year from his exile the Spaniards lead by Hernan Cortes landed on the Gulf coast. He allied himself with the enemy of the Aztecs known as the Confederacy of Tlaxcala and caused the downfall of the Aztec capital effectively ending their civilization (History World, 2002).

Works Cited Coe, M. D. (1994). From the Olmecs To the Aztecs. Mexico: Thames and Hudson . Florescano, E. (1999). The Myth of Quetzalcoatl. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. History World. (2002). History of MesoAmerican Civilization. Retrieved April 11, 2009, from History World: http://www. historyworld. net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories. asp? groupid=1836&HistoryID=ab58 Pendelton, W. C. (1989). History of Tazewell County and southwest Virginia, 1748-1920. Tennessee : Overmountain Press .

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