How Was Daily Life Shaped by Religious Beliefs?

Households engaged in many different types of rituals, some that took place on a daily basis and others that occurred once in a lifetime.

New Fire Ceremony

For the Aztecs, time was cyclical and every 52 years the 365-day solar calendar and the 260-day divinatory calendar overlapped and the New Fire ceremony celebrated the start of the new cycle.  As part of the ceremony, fires were extinguished everywhere and houses were cleaned.  According to Sahagun (Book 7:25), homes were swept, garbage and hearthstones were thrown away, and “statues…regarded as gods, were all cast into water.”   Household items such as cooking pots were also broken and thrown away during the New Fire ceremony.   Following the New Fire ceremony, household items including pots, utensils, idols, clothes, and hearthstones were replaced with new ones, just as all of the fires throughout the land were replaced with a new fire.

The New Fire Ceremony deposit as it looked during the excavation of Structure 1.

A New Fire deposit from Structure 1 is one of the earliest archaeological examples of the New Fire Ceremony tradition in the Valley of Mexico.  A radiocarbon date taken from the ritual deposit provided a calibrated date of A.D. 1170-1274.  New Fire dates known from historic sources that overlap with this date range include ceremonies celebrated in A.D. 1194 and A.D. 1246.  This New Fire ceremony clearly predates the Aztec Empire and was associated with commoner domestic ritual long before the rise of the Aztec Empire.   Many ritual objects, such as those displayed here, were recovered from this New Fire Ceremony deposit.

Disposal of household goods during the New Fire Ceremony, Florentine Codex, Figure 19, Book 7.


Buried Offerings and Household Dedication Rituals

In ancient Mesoamerican households, offerings were often made during household dedication ceremonies.  Household ritual offerings served to compensate the earth for the use of materials taken during the construction process to protect houses from evil spirits or demons.  Ancient Aztecs saw themselves as forming part of a universal continuum that linked their fortunes to the cosmic whole.  Thus, offerings to the earth served as a way to restore order when materials were taken from the earth.   Historical sources tell us that during the colonial period house dedication ceremonies involved the sprinkling of pulque in all four corners of the structure.   Rituals were also conducted when a house was abandoned and involved the removal of corner posts and destruction of household objects.

Offering #1 as it was found during excavation.

Two offerings, displayed here, were discovered during the excavation of Structure 1.  These offerings were both associated with the post-abandonment phase.  Offering #1 was associated with a Historic period wall foundation and Offering #2 was associated with the Middle Postclassic (A.D. 1150-1350) period.   The continued practice of burying offerings into the historic period suggests that buried offerings were a long lasting and enduring tradition in Xaltocan.



De Lucia, Kristin  (In Press).  Everyday Practice and Ritual Space: The Organization of Central Mexican Domestic Ritual before the Aztecs. Cambridge Archaeological Journal.