Household Archaeology Project, Xaltocan, Mexico

Everyday Life in Early Postclassic (A.D. 900-A.D. 1150) Xaltocan

Location of archaeological sites in the Early Postclassic Valley of Mexico, (from Arqueología Mexicana, Vol. 15:86).

Xaltocan was first settled at the beginning of the Early Postclassic Period (A.D. 900-1150). Research by Dr. Elizabeth Brumfiel revealed that Xaltocan was an artificial island constructed in the middle of Lake Xaltocan during the time of the Toltecs.  The island was small when it was first settled, possibly composed of several individual house mounds, and grew over time as more and more people began to settle in Xaltocan.  Lake Xaltocan’s water levels fell by the late 16th and early 17th centuries, although remnants of the lake remained until the 1950s.

Following the collapse of Tula in A.D. 1150, Xaltocan rose to become an important city and by A.D. 1220 it was the capital of the Otomí nation.  The chronicler Ixtlilxochitl called Xaltocan’s king “Rey y señor de la nación otomita.” In the pre-Aztec period, the Valley of Mexico was dominated by Xaltocan, Culhuacan, and Tenayuca. In 1395, however, Xaltocan was conquered by the Tepaneca Empire led by Azcapotzalco and assisted by Cuauhtitlan and Tenochtitlan.  According to historical sources, the Otomí people fled Xaltocan and the city remained uninhabited until 1435, when the Acolmantlaca, Colhua, Tenochca, and Otomies resettled Xaltocan as a city subject to the Aztecs.

Household Archaeology Project 2008

The Household Archaeology Project 2008*, directed by Dr. Kristin De Lucia, investigated the everyday lives of ordinary people during the period when Xaltocan was first settled, the Early Postclassic (A.D. 900-1150), to understand how and why Xaltocan rose to become such a powerful and important nation in the pre-Aztec Valley of Mexico.  The goal of the project was to answer the following questions:  How did people make a living?  Did all households do the same types of activities or did households specialize in different activities?   How did people organize their houses?  How was daily life shaped by religious beliefs?   To answer these questions De Lucia excavated a multi-household building, called Structure 1, near the center of modern-day Xaltocan.  The following pages, focusing on household production, organization, and ritual, reveal some of the results of De Lucia’s research.

How Did People in Xaltocan Make a Living?

How Did People in Xaltocan Organize Their Homes?

What Was the Role of Children in Aztec society?

How Was Daily Life Shaped by Religious Beliefs?

*This research was conducted by Kristin De Lucia with the permission of INAH. Kristin De Lucia gratefully thanks Señora Juana Arenas and the town of Xaltocan for allowing her to conduct excavations. De Lucia’s research was supported by a Wenner-Gren Foundation Dissertation Fieldwork Grant (#7706), a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (#0742249), a Graduate Research Grant from Northwestern University, a LeCron Foster and Friends of Anthropology at Northwestern Research Grant, a Feminist Anthropology Dissertation Award, and a National Science Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (SMA-1103522).