How Did Xaltocamecas Make a Living?

Detail of Uppsala map attributed to Alonso de Santa Cruz, A.D. 1550 showing fishing and fowling techniques in the Basin of Mexico.

During the Early Postclassic Period (A.D. 900-1150) Xaltocan’s households each specialized in different types of production activities, most likely during the dry season when people had free time.   My research found that households also engaged in multiple types of production activities.  For example, one household made reed mats and sold fish, while another household made bone tools and produced plain ceramic vessels.  All households also grew crops in nearby agricultural fields and wove cloth for clothing.  Xaltocan’s island location made it easy for people exploit the lake’s resources: they could catch fish, hunt birds, and gather reeds without going far from home!  Xaltocamecas could also transport their goods to various markets easily by canoe.  This ability of Xaltocan’s households to multi-task, largely facilitated by its island location, is likely one of the main reasons why Xaltocan became so economically and politically powerful at the end of the Early Postclassic period.

Xaltocamecas have been selling fish for over 1000 years!   

Using the chemical analysis of earthen floors in conjunction with the analysis of micro-artifacts (tiny remnants from daily activities embedded in dirt floors), I identified two locations of fish processing.  Tiny fish scales preserved in floors overlapped with concentrations of salt (used for the preservation of fish).  This suggests that people were scaling and salting fish to take them to market as far back as the Early Postclassic!

Microartifacts recovered from the dirt floors of Structure 1. By studying the distribution of microartifacts across room floors in conjunction with the analysis of chemical residues, archaeologists can reconstruct prehistoric household activity patterns.


De Lucia, Kristin, 2013. Domestic Economies and Regional Transition: Household Multicrafting and Lake Exploitation in Pre-Aztec Central Mexico. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Vol. 32, pp. 353-367.