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Ancient Mexico

Beautiful Savior Academy Home School


Giving you all the information to get started, study ancient Mexico and the history and unique daily lives of the Aztec people. Find out about their religion, their science, their lives and cities and gods. This is a wide angle look at the Aztec people. Further digging deeper excercises are provided.


From resources and studies and internet research.

Turquoise Mask of Xiuhtecuhtli the god of fire; Aztec, 14th Century

The Aztec Society

The term, Aztec, is a startlingly imprecise term to describe the culture that dominated the Valley of Mexico in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Properly speaking, all the Nahua-speaking peoples in the Valley of Mexico were Aztecs, while the culture that dominated the area was a tribe of the Mexica (pronounced "me-shee-ka") called the Tenochca ("te-noch-ka"). At the time of the European conquest, they called themselves either "Tenochca" or "Toltec," which was the name assumed by the bearers of the Classic Mesoamerican culture. The earliest we know about the Mexica is that they migrated from the north into the Valley of Mexico as early as the twelfth century AD, well after the close of the Classic Period in Mesoamerica. They were a subject and abject people, forced to live on the worst lands in the valley. They adopted the cultural patterns (called Mixteca-Pueblo) that originated in the culture of Teotihuacán, so the urban culture they built in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is essentially a continuation of Teotihuacán culture.

The peoples of Mesoamerica distinguished between two types of people: the Toltec (which means "craftsman"), who continued Classic urban culture, and the Chichimec, or wild people, who settled Mesoamerica from the north. The Mexica were, then, originally Chichimec when they migrated into Mexico, but eventually became Toltecs proper.

The history of the Tenochca is among the best preserved of the Mesoamericans. They date the beginning of their history to 1168 and their origins to an island in the middle of a lake north of the Valley of Mexico. Their god, Huitzilopochtli, commanded them on a journey to the south and they arrived in the Valley of Mexico in 1248. According to their history, the Tenochca were originally peaceful, but their Chichimec ways, especially their practice of human sacrifice, revolted other peoples who banded together and crushed their tribe. In 1300, the Tenochcas became vassals of the town of Culhuacan; some escaped to settle on an island in the middle of the lake. The town they founded was Tenochtitlan, or "place of the Tenochcas."

A life size eagle warrior ceramic effigy

Relations between the Tenochcas and Culhuacan became bitter after the Tenochcas sacrificed a daughter of the king of Culhuacan; so enraged were the Culhuacans that they drove all the Tenochcas from the mainland to the island. There, the Tenochcas who had lived in Culhuacan taught urban culture and architecture to the peoples on the island and the Tenochcas began to build a city. The city of Tenochtitlan is founded, then, sometime between 1300 and 1375.

The Tenochcas slowly became more powerful and militarily more skilled, so much so that they became allies of choice in the constant conflicts between the various peoples of the area. The Tenochcas finally won their freedom under Itzacoatl (1428-1440), and they began to build their city, Tenochtitlan, with great fervor. Under Itzacoatl, they built temples, roads, a causeway linking the city to the mainland, and they established their government and religious hierarchy. Itzacoatl and the chief who followed him Mocteuzma I (1440-1469) undertook wars of conquest throughout the Valley of Mexico and the southern regions of Vera Cruz, Guerrero, and Puebla. As a result, Tenochtitlan grew dramatically: not only did the city increase in size, precipitating the need for an aqueduct system to bring water from the mainland, it grew culturally as well as the Tenochcas assimilated the gods of the region into their religion.

Eagle and jaguar warriors from a colonial era manuscript

A succession of kings followed Mocteuzma I until the accession of Mocteuzma II in 1502; despite a half century of successful growth and conquest, Tenochca culture and society began to suffer disasters under Mocteuzma II. First, tribute peoples began to revolt all over the conquered territories and it is highly likely that Tenochca influence would eventually have declined by the middle of the sixteenth century. Most importantly, the reign of Mocteuzma II was interrupted by the invasion of the Spaniards under Cortez in 1519-1522.

A giant Olmec head of a warrior at La Venta

The Olmecs

The earliest civilization in Central America—and possibly the earliest civilization in the Americas—was the Olmec civilization which arose sometime between 1200 and 1000 BC. They originally lived in the Gulf Coast region of southern Mexico, but soon expanded into Guatemala. Olmec society was very simple. It was essentially divided into two groups: the elite group lived in the small urban centers (towns, really) and the common people lived in the rural areas. The Olmecs were overwhelmingly an agricultural people. The elite lived off of the agriculture of the common people, but they probably didn't rule over the agricultural populations. Instead, they carried out religious ceremonies centered in the towns and carried out commercial trade in luxury and artistic items.

The most dramatic achievement of the Olmecs were the building of massive stone heads. We aren't sure who is represented by these heads, but archaeologists believe that they may be Olmec kings. Around 300 BC, the Olmec vanished for reasons that vanished with them. We do know, however, that much of their culture and social structure was absorbed by other peoples. The Olmecs, as far as we can tell, are the first chain in the development of Mesoamerican culture.


The Temple of the Sun at Teotihuacan, the largest pyramid in the world

Teotihuacan is an enormous archaeological site in the Basin of Mexico, containing some of the largest pyramidal structures built in the pre-Columbian Americas. Apart from the pyramidal structures, the archaeological site of Teotihuacan is also known for its large residential complexes, the so-called "street of the dead", and its colorful well-preserved murals.

Teotihuacan was, at its apogee in the first half of the 1st millennium CE, the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas. During its zenith it may have had more than 100,000 inhabitants placing it among the largest cities of the world in this period. The civilization and cultural complex associated with the site is also referred to as Teotihuacan or Teotihuacano. Although it is a subject of debate whether Teotihuacan was the center of an empire, its influence throughout Mesoamerica is well documented; evidence of Teotihuacano presence, if not outright political and economic control, can be seen at numerous sites in Veracruz and the Maya region. The ethnicity of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan is also a subject of debate and possible candidates are the Nahua, Otomi or Totonac ethnic groups. Often it has been suggested that Teotihuacan was in fact a multiethnic state.

The early history of Teotihuacan is quite mysterious, and the origin of its founders is debated. For many years, archaeologists believed it was built by the Toltec. This belief was based on colonial period texts such as the Florentine Codex which attributed the site to the Toltecs. However, the Nahuatl word "Toltec" generally means "craftsman of the highest level" and may not always refer to the archaeological Toltec civilization centered at Tula, Hidalgo. Since Toltec civilization flourished centuries after Teotihuacan, they cannot be understood as the city's founders.

In the Late Formative period, a number of urban centers arose in central Mexico. The most prominent of these appears to have been Cuicuilco, on the southern shore of Lake Texcoco. Scholars have speculated that the eruption of the Xitle volcano may have prompted a mass emigration out of the central valley and into the Teotihuacan valley. These settlers may have founded and/or accelerated the growth of Teotihuacan.

Other scholars have put forth the Totonac people as the founders of Teotihuacan, and the debate continues to this day. There is evidence that at least some of the people living in Teotihuacan came from areas influenced by the Teotihuacano civilization, including the Zapotec, Mixtec and Maya peoples. The culture and architecture of Teotihuacan was influenced by the Olmec people, who are considered to be the "mother civilization" of Mesoamerica. The earliest buildings at Teotihuacan date to about 200 BCE, and the largest pyramid, the Pyramid of the Sun, was completed by 100 CE.

The Toltecs

The standing warrior lintels at Tula, the capitol of the Toltecs

Teotihuacán was conquered by northern tribes in 700 AD and began to rapidly decline in its influence over the Mexican peoples. For two hundred years following the decline of Teotihuacán, the region had no centralized culture or political control. Beginning around 950, a culture based in northern Mexico at Tula began to dominate Central America. These people were known as the Toltecs. They were a war-like people and expanded rapidly throughout Mexico, Guatemala, and the Yucatán peninsula. At the top of their society was a warrior aristocracy which attained mythical proportions in the eyes of Central Americans long after the demise of their power. Around 1200, their dominance over the region faded.

They were important as transmitters of the culture of Teotihuacán, including religion, architecture, and social structure. Their name, in fact, is not a tribal name (the original Toltec tribal names have been lost to us); the word, toltecatl , simply means "craftsman" in the Nahua languages. Toltec was simply the word used to distinguish the Mexican peoples which retained the culture and much of the urban characteristics of the culture of Teotihuacán from other peoples; even the Aztecs primarily referred to themselves by either their tribal name (Tenochca) or as "Toltecs."

The Toltecs expanded the cult of Quetzalcoatl, the "Sovereign Plumed Serpent," and created a mythology around the figure. In Toltec legend, Quetzalcoatl was the creator of humanity and a warrior-god that had been driven from Tula, but would return some day. The Toltecs also originated the Central American ball-game, which was played on a large stone court with a rubber ball. The game was primarily a religious ritual celebrating the victory of god-heroes over the gods of death; as a religious ritual, it involved the human sacrifice of the loser.

The Toltecs conquered large areas controlled by the Maya and settled in these areas; they migrated as far south as the Yucatán peninsula. The culture borne out of this fusion is called the Toltec-Maya, and its greatest center was Chichén Itzá— on the very tip of the Yucatan peninsula. Chichén Itzá was the last great center of Mayan civilization. The Toltec-Maya cultures greatly expanded the cultural diffusion of Mayan thought, religion, and art north into the Valley of Mexico.

Mexican Religion

An Aztec warrior sacrifice from a colonial manuscript

The Mexica made reference to at least two manifestations of the supernatural: teotl and teixiptla. Teotl, which the Spaniards and European scholars routinely mistranslated as god or demon, referred rather to an impersonal force that permeated the world. Teixiptla, by contrast, denoted the physical representations (idols, statues and figurines) of the teotl as well as the human cultic activity surrounding this physical representation. The Mexica gods themselves had no existence as distinct entities apart from these Teixiptla representations of teotl (Boone 1989).

Veneration of Huitzilopochtli, the personification of the sun and of war, was central to the religious, social and political practices of the Mexicas. Huitzilopochtli attained this central position after the founding of Tenochtitlan and the formation of the Mexica city-state society in the 14th century. Prior to this, Huitzilopochtli was associated primarily with hunting, presumably one of the important subsistence activities of the itinerant bands that would eventually become the Mexica.

The Coatlicue Statue that was uncovered in the Plaza of Mexico

According to myth, Huitzilopochtli directed the wanderers to found a city on the site where they would see an eagle devouring a snake perched on a fruit-bearing nopal cactus. (It was said that Huitzilopochtli killed his nephew, Copil, and threw his heart on the lake. Huitzilopochtli honoured Copil by causing a cactus to grow over Copil's heart.) Legend has it that this is the site on which the Mexicas built their capital city of Tenochtitlan. This legendary vision is pictured on the Coat of Arms of Mexico.

According to their own history, when the Mexicas arrived in the Anahuac valley (Valley of Mexico) around Lake Texcoco, the groups living there considered them uncivilized. The Mexicas borrowed much of their culture from the ancient Toltec whom they seem to have at least partially confused with the more ancient civilization of Teotihuacan. To the Mexicas, the Toltecs were the originators of all culture; "Toltecayatl" was a synonym for culture. Mexica legends identify the Toltecs and the cult of Quetzalcoatl with the mythical city of Tollan, which they also identified with the more ancient Teotihuacan.

The Aztec god of death, a rather frightful image to the Spanish

For most people today, and for the European Catholics who first met the Aztecs, human sacrifice was the most striking feature of Aztec civilization. While human sacrifice was practiced throughout Mesoamerica, the Aztecs, if their own accounts are to be believed, brought this practice to an unprecedented level. For example, for the reconsecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed 84,400 prisoners over the course of four days, reportedly by Ahuitzotl, the Great Speaker himself.

However, most experts consider these numbers to be overstated. For example, the sheer logistics associated with sacrificing 84,000 victims would be overwhelming, 2,000 being a more likely figure. A similar consensus has developed on reports of cannibalism among the Aztecs.

An accurate reconstruction of ancient Aztec jaguar warrior armor

In the writings of Bernardino de Sahagún, Aztec "anonymous informants" defended the practice of human sacrifice by asserting that it was not very different from the European way of waging warfare: Europeans killed the warriors in battle, Aztecs killed the warriors after the battle.

Accounts by the Tlaxcaltecas, the primary enemy of the Aztecs at the time of the Spanish Conquest, show that at least some of them considered it an honor to be sacrificed. In one legend, the warrior Tlahuicole was freed by the Aztecs but eventually returned of his own volition to die in ritual sacrifice. Tlaxcala also practiced the human sacrifice of captured Aztec warriors.

The Maya

Unlike the cultures of the Valley of Mexico, the only period in which the urban centers were important to the Mayas was during the Classic period from 300 to 900 AD. The culture of the Mayas, however, has little changed from the classic period to the modern period, for Maya culture was largely tribal and rural all throughout the Classic period. What distinguishes Classic from post-Classic Maya culture was the importance of urban centers and their structures in the religious life of the Mayas and the extent of literate culture.

The Castillo at Chichen Itza

The Mayas were never a "true" urban culture; the urban centers were almost entirely used as religious centers for the rural population surrounding them. Therfore, the decline of the urban centers after 900 AD did not involve titanic social change so much as religious change; it is believed by some scholars that the abandonment of the cities was primarily due to religious proselytizing from the north. Nevertheless, the Classic period saw an explosion of cultural creativity all throughout the region populated by the tribes we call "Mayan." They derived many cultural forms from the north, but also devised many cultural innovations that profoundly influenced all subsequent cultures throughout Mesoamerica. Much of Maya culture, particularly the religious reckoning of time, is still a vital aspect of Native American life in Guatemala and Honduras.

Classic Maya culture developed in three regions in Mesoamerica. By far the most important and most complete urban developments occurred in the lowlands in the "central region" of southern Guatemala. This region is a drainage basin about sixty miles long and twenty miles wide and is covered by tropical rain forest; the Mayas, in fact, are only one of two peoples to develop an urban culture in a tropical rainforest. The principal city in this region was Tikal, but the spread of urbanization extended south to Honduras; the southernmost Mayan city was Copan in northern Honduras. In the Guatemalan highlands to the north, Mayan culture developed less fully. The highlands are more temperate and seem to have been the main suppliers of raw materials to the central urban centers. The largest and most complete urban center was Palenque. The other major region of Mayan development was the Yucatan peninsula making up the southern and eastern portions of modern-day Mexico. This is a dry region and, although urban centers were built in this region, including Chichen Itza and Uxmal (pronounced "Oosh-mal"), most scholars believe that this was a culturally marginal area. After the abandonment of the Classic Mayan cities, the Yucatán peninsula became the principal region of a new, synthetic culture called Toltec-Mayan which was formed when Toltecs migrating from the north integrated with indigenous Maya peoples.

The Maya civilization shares many features with other Mesoamerican civilizations due to the high degree of interaction and cultural diffusion that characterized the region. Advances such as writing, epigraphy, and the calendar did not originate with the Maya; however, their civilization fully developed them. Maya influence can be detected as far as central Mexico, more than 1000 km (625 miles) from the Maya area. Many outside influences are found in Maya art and architecture, which are thought to result from trade and cultural exchange rather than direct external conquest. The Maya peoples never disappeared, neither at the time of the Classic period decline nor with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores and the subsequent Spanish colonization of the Americas. Today, the Maya and their descendants form sizable populations throughout the Maya area and maintain a distinctive set of traditions and beliefs that are the result of the merger of pre-Columbian and post-Conquest ideologies.

Mayan Codices

A detail of the Dresden Codex, one of only 6 Mayan codices , or painted books, to survive the Conquest

Maya codices (singular codex) are folding books stemming from the pre-Columbian Maya civilization, written in Maya hieroglyphic script on Mesoamerican paper, made from the inner bark of certain trees, the main being the wild fig tree or Amate (Ficus glabrata).

Paper, generally known by the Nahuatl word amatl, was named by the Mayas huun. The folding books are the products of professional scribes working under the patronage of the Howler Monkey Gods. The Maya developed their huun-paper around the 5th century, the same era that the Romans did, but their paper was more durable and a better writing surface than papyrus. The codices have been named for the cities in which they eventually settled. The Dresden codex is generally considered the most important of the few that survive.

Mayan Art

A Mayan vase

One aspect of Mayan art is often overlooked, and that is the tremendous variety of excellence in style and design that it contains. Ancient Greek vase paintings are equally excellent but in comparison to the Mayan are monostylistic. Mayan art gave almost free reign to the artist, who was not required to produce a product that fit "the canon of the culture" in every way. In its encouragement of individual genius and its variations from one workshop to another, the products of which were intended in good part to be given or sold to the royalty of other cities, Mayan vase paintings are more akin to the art of the modern period than the art of any other pre-modern people. The principal valuation seems to have been on artistic quality rather than adherence to standardized forms. Furthermore, like Greek and Chinese artists, Mayan painters and sculptors sometimes signed their work. Accordingly, their work was not a "cultural product" or a "city's product" but a person's product. It appears that literacy was confined to the elite (as in all pre-modern cultures) and artists and the literate were of the same class; indeed, it is probable that Mayan artists were often the younger sons and daughters of the ahaus, the rulers, of Mayan cities.

The Maya had specific techniques to create, inscribe, paint, and design pottery. To begin creating a ceramic vessel the Maya had to locate the proper resources for clay and temper. The present-day indigenous Maya, who currently live in Guatemala, Belize and southern Mexico still create wonderful ceramics. Prudence M. Rice provides a look at what the current Guatemalan Maya use today for clay. Highland Guatemala has a rich geological history comprised mainly from a volcanic past. The metamorphic and igneous rock, as well as the sand and ash from the pumice areas provide many types of tempering. In the area, there are a range of clays that create varied colors and strengths when fired. Today's Maya locate their clays in the exposed river systems of the highland valleys. It is hypothesized that the ancient people obtained their clay by the same method as today's Maya. The clays are located in exposed river systems of the highland valleys. Most likely, due to the climatic similarities over the last millennia it is likely that these same deposits or similar ones could have been used in early times.

Once the clay and temper were collected, pottery creation began. The maker would take the clay and mix it with the temper (the rock pieces, ash, or sand). Temper served as a strengthening device for the pottery. Once worked into a proper consistency, the shape of the piece was created.

A potter's wheel was not used in creating this pottery. Instead, they used coil and slab techniques. The coil method most likely involved the formation of clay into long coiled pieces that were wound into a vessel. The coils were then smoothed together to create walls. The slab method used square slabs of clay to create boxes or types of additions like feet or lids for vessels. Once the pot was formed into the shape, then it would have been set to dry until it was leather hard, then it was painted, inscribed, or slipped. The last step was the firing of the vessel.

Like the Ancient Greeks, the Maya created clay slips from a mixture of clays and minerals. The clay slips were then used to decorate the pottery. By the fourth century, a broad range of colors including yellow, purple, red, and orange were being made. However, some Mayan painters refrained from using many colors and used only black, red, and occasionally cream. This series of ceramics is termed the "Codex-style", it being similar to the style of the Pre-Columbian books.

A Mayan Jade pendant

From the 5th century AD onwards, post-firing stucco was adopted from Teotihuacan. By preparing a thin quicklime, the Maya added mineral pigments that would dissolve and create rich blues and greens that added to their artistic culture. Many times this post-fire stucco technique was mixed with painting and incising. Incising is carving deeply or lightly into partially dried clay to create fine detailed designs. This technique was mostly popular during the Early Classic Period.


This is the story of a wandering tribe from Northern Mexico who through bravery, trickery, cruelty, genius became a great civilization.

There are stories to read, explanations to understand, pictures to think about, ancient writings to decode, pictures of artefacts and temples ... even a giant sunstone.

You will be an historian, archaeologist, and an anthropologist as you untangle the world of the Aztecs.
The Early Aztecs

Where did the Aztecs come from?

Who was their chief?

Why did they build their city in the middle of a swamp?

Who was the first Emperor of the Aztecs?

How did the Aztecs thank their god for helping them to find a place to settle?

i am a warrior

Extra .. extra .. extra

Can you find out what was happening back in Europe at this time? You could find out who were the Kings & Queens for instance.

bw2.gif (10618 bytes)

The Aztec Gods

What was the name of the main god of the Aztecs?


What does his name mean?

What kind of people did Tezcatlipoca look after?


What does his name mean?

Who was Quetzalcoatl's friend?

Why didn't Quetzalcoatl like temples with edges?


What does Tlaloc's name mean?

What did the Aztecs think about Tlaloc and why?


Why did the gods get upset with Chalchiuhtlicue?

Which other ancient story that you have heard is very much like this one?


What does his name mean?

Why did Aztec warriors like hummingbirds?

Extra .. extra .. extra ..

Other fascinating things about the Aztec gods and goddesses
a noblewoman

The Templo Mayor

When did the Aztecs begin to build their temple?

How many years did it take to build the temple?

Describe the people who might come out of the House of the Priests?

the priest house

What would find at the top of the steps of the Great Temple?

Would they have let YOU learn at the School of Priests?

What might happen to your head if you were sent to the House of the Sun?

In what ways was the BALLGAME different to Soccer?

Why was the temple of Quetzacoatl round?

Did the Pipiltin sleep upstairs?

Extra .. extra .. extra ..

Other fascinating things about the Templo Mayor.

an aztec indian

Everyday life.

What were Chinampas?

What might you see on a Chinampa?

How would you go about cooking tlaxcallis?

How did the Aztecs make their clothes?

Do you think the Aztec's fishing nets would last long?

How would you get rid of a spot on your nose?

Extra .. extra .. extra ..

Other fascinating things about everyday life in Tenochtitlan.a musician

The Sunstone
What do you think these are? (parent should take the manual and make flash cards and talk about each item first with your child, then allow them to proceed with this part of the study)

first note?


needs cutting

has it a green tail?

picks over the bones


see you later

he\'s not at all well

the answer is blowing

sharp eyed

they grow in the garden

eats grass

stays mainly on the plain

grows tall by side of water




you little ....

i live in here

a british car beginning with j

Who was in the center of the sunstone?
What is shown in the claws?

Aztec Numbers and Writing.

What do four fingers a flag and a feather show?

How would the Emperor ask for 8000 bee hives?

an aztec musician

Extra .. extra .. extra

Draw your own tribute list here.

what is he playing?

The Story of the Fifth Sun

Before the Sun that now shines brightly over Mexico came into being, there had been other suns; four in all. Each sun died away in turn before our present Sun appeared.

The fourth Sun, Chalchuitlicu, had been a water goddess, copper-coloured and dressed in emerald green. For hundreds of years she provided light and warmth; and in that time the first men and women appeared on Earth. But other gods grew jealous of the Sun God; some reproached her for giving fire to humans -- for they did not always use it wisely.

Tezcatlipoca upsets Chalchuitlicu and causes a flood.

One night, the black God of Darkness, Tezcatlipoca, began to torment the gentle copper Sun while she was resting in the gloom. He said she'd grown too vain and selfish. In her hurt at these false words, Chalchuitlicu burst into tears. The tears put out her light and then the sky rained down upon the Earth in torrents. The land vanished into darkness beneath a mighty flood which drowned all human life: every man and woman turned into fish; all, that is, save one lone family which survived to start the human race again.

The gods make dry land appear ...

When the sky thus fell on Earth, the gods opened up four roads beneath the land, where they created four giants and some sturdy trees. And then, together -- the gods, the trees, the giants -- all tried to lift the Earth from under the vales of tears.

They heaved and pushed until the land rose upwards and the waters fell away. At last they managed to fasten the land securely to the sky.

Now there was only darkness ...

But the Earth was still plunged into utter gloom; it had no dawn, no dusk, no sunlit days. The valleys of tears were salty; there was thus no fresh water, for no Sun appeared to draw the tears back up to heaven and change them into rain. It was then that the gods resolved to give the world a fifth and final Sun. They assembled at Tectihuacan, Place-of-the-Gods, and argued loud and long. Eventually, it was decreed: There had to be a Sun.

And there must be moonlight while the Sun was at its rest. But who would do the job? After all, the first four suns had died away.

So they issued a challenge

The gods ordained a sacrifice: whoever volunteered would not live to see themselves as Sun or Moon, but would have to change their form so that the Sun and Moon could last forever.

Only one god came forward: Tecuciztecatl, God of Snails and Worms. He was rich and strong and vain. He thought by sacrificing himself he would gain immortal glory. He wished therefore to be the Sun. No one else was willing. Uneasily the gods looked about them; there had to be a second sacrifice to make the Sun and the Moon. Their gaze fell at last upon a humble goddess in their midst; Little Nana, the ugly one. If she agreed, the gods declared, they would transform her body.

Poor Nana did not want to die. Yet she smiled gently when they told her she might light up and warm the Earth; for she might help little children not yet born.

So the gods had two volunteers ... for the SACRIFICE!

The gods began their preparations. Two tall stone alters were erected: one for the Sun, one for the Moon -- though which was which had yet to be agreed. Both sacrifices were bathed and dressed in their own way. The God of Snails and Worms put on a fire plumage and brightly-coloured robes, ear-rings of turquoise and jade, and a collar of shining gold.

Little Nana had no such finery, so she painted her red-raw body white and put on a thin, torn paper dress through which her thin body showed. Meanwhile, beneath the altars, the gods had built a sacrificial fire. So many logs of wood were heaped upon it that the heavens seemed to light up in the roaring blaze.

Tecuciztecatl has second thoughts ...

At this sight, the God of Snails trembled in fear and bit his lip; yet Little Nana sat quietly by, her hands folded in her lap. Tecuciztecatl was chosen to be first to leap into the flames.

At the gods' command, he drew near the fire and stood tall and grand upon his pillar of white stone, his plume of red and green and yellow streaming in the breeze. But his courage failed him and he drew back abruptly, pale and trembling. Three times he was summoned, and three times he nervously stepped back.

The gods finally lost patience and turned to Little Nana, crying, "Jump!" She stepped forward instantly and stood unflinching on the pillar's edge. Then she closed her eyes, smiled bravely as she thought of her sacrifice for the people, and leapt into the read heart of the flames.

Angry and ashamed - but more afraid the noble power of the Sun would not be his - the God of Snails and Worms shut tight his eyes and jumped. But his leap was to one side, where the fire was weakest and the ash was thick.

Now the thrilling ending ...

Just then an eagle swooped from nowhere into the flames, then out again so quickly only his wingtips were singed. He flew upwards swiftly with a bright ball of fire held in his beak - like a fiery arrow through the sky - until he reached the eastern gates of Tectihuacan.

There he left the ball of fire - that was once Little Nana - and she took her seat upon a throne of billowing clouds. She had golden shining tresses strung with pearls and precious shell, shimmering in the mists of dawn; her lips were brightest scarlet.

Never was the dawn so beautiful. A great roar of pleasure issued from the gods and rumbled through the morning sky. And then a hawk swooped into the burning embers of the fire and was scorched a charcoal black; it emerged at once with a glowing, ash-coloured ball of fire held in its beak. And this it carried to the sky and placed beside the Sun. Thus the cowardly God of Snails became the Moon.

But that's not all ...

The gods were angry with the feeble Moon and one flung a rabbit at him - the nearest thing at hand. The rabbit flew straight and true, striking the Moon full in the face. Ever since, when the Moon is full, you may see the scars left by the rabbit's long ears and flying feet.

You thought it was the Man in the Moon!

As the Sun makes her journey around the world, bringing warmth and light, the Moon sets off in vain pursuit. But he is always slow to start; and when cold and weary, he reaches the west, the Sun has long since set; by now his once-fine robes have turned to tatters.

That is the story of the fifth and final Sun.

a canoe between the chinampas

Many 'ordinary' people lived on Chinampas. These were islands, made by piling up plants and black sticky mud from the lake.

The edges of the chinampa were held in place by wooden posts. Trees were planted to help

hold the soil together.

People moved about between their chinampas and the causeway to the city in canoes which they hollowed out from trees.

Eventually most of the lake surrounding Tenochtitlan was filled with chinampas.

a farm on the chinampa

The chinampa was a very busy place. Turkeys were kept in small 'gardens' with a hut to go in at night. Dogs ran around freely. When the dogs were fully grown they were often killed and EATEN ... the Aztecs found their meat to be rich and good.

The women grew flowers on the chinampa to sell in the market. The men grew the corn. They dug the soil with a 'digging stick' .. a wooden spade!

When the corn was ripe, it was put into corn 'bins' until taken to market or eaten later in the year.


Aztec people were real craftspeople. The women were expert weavers. They bartered in the market for COTTON which was brought into Mexico by traders. They spun this, then wove it on looms in their own homes.

Many of the clothes that they made had intricate patterns and often pictures birds, fish and flowers.


Each Aztec home had a hearth where the fire burned. It had three stones around it. On top of these stones rested the COMAL.

The comal was a flat disc of hard clay. It was heated by the fire beneath. When the comal was hot it was ready to use for cooking. Here the woman is making tlaxcallis on it.

They had several different kinds of pots - small ones to eat their meals from and big ones for storing water and soaking the corn. Some of the pots were black because they had been used for cooking.

Notice the baby's crib in the background.


Fishermen managed to find space to fish despite the fact that the lake was becoming full of chinampas.

The fishermen used dug out canoes and their nets were

made of strands of grass woven together.

They also speared the fish.

The spears were made of shafts of wood, with three sharp points of

The fishermen waited until a fish was beneath their canoe, then

quickly threw the point of the spear at it.

a sick child

The Aztecs had no doctors or hospitals, so being ill was always very serious. Medicines could be bought in the market from APOTHECARIES. The apothecaries sold many different herbs. There was tobacco and copal which was burned to purify the house of a sick person: yellow chillies, which were good for stomach upsets; cuiapatli, which helped women who were having babies; peyotl, which made you sleep.

Ointments were rubbed on the skin. If they had a sore spot, it was rubbed with squashed black beetles; for sore throats, there was rubber and honey to rub on. Rubber was also good for painful ears and mouths.

As a farming people, the Aztec knew the forces of nature and worshiped them as gods. Most important was their sun god, Huitzilopochtli. The Aztecs also used him as their god of war.

They believed that their 'good' gods should be kept strong to keep away the 'bad' gods. They kept them strong by making human sacrifices.

They had many stories about their gods. Read some of them.tezcatlipoca


the god of the Great Bear constellation and of the night sky. Tezcatlipoca's animal disguise, was the jaguar, the spotted skin of which was compared to the starry sky.

Tezcatlipoca was usually drawn with a stripe of black paint across his face and an obsidian (black glass ) mirror in place of one of his feet (his name means Smoking Mirror).

Sometimes drawings show Tezcatlipoca with his mirror on his chest. In it he saw everything, he knew all the deeds and thoughts of men. He was said to appear at crossroads at night to challenge warriors. He presided over the telpochcalli ("young men's houses"), district schools in which the sons of the common people received an education and military training.

He was the protector of slaves, he severely punished masters who ill-treated "Tezcatlipoca's beloved children." He rewarded goodness by giving riches and fame, and he punished wrongdoers by sending them sickness (e.g. leprosy) or by giving them poverty and slavery.

Every year, during the fifth month, the priest selected a young and handsome war prisoner. For one year he lived in princely luxury, pretending to be the god. Four beautiful girls dressed as goddesses were chosen as his companions. On the appointed feast day he climbed the steps of a small temple while breaking flutes that he had played. At the top he was sacrificed by the removal of his heart! What a price to pay!


(from quetzalli, "precious feather," and coatl, "snake"), the Feathered Serpent, was one of the major gods of the Aztecs.quetzalcoatl

Quetzalcoatl was the god of morning and the evening star. As the morning and evening star, Quetzalcoatl was the symbol of death and resurrection.

With his friend, Xolotl, a dog-headed god, he was said to have descended to the underground hell of Mictlan to gather the bones of the ancient dead. Those bones he smeared with his own blood, giving birth to the men who inhabit the present universe.

Quetzalcoatl was often shown as a man with a beard named Ehecatl, the wind god. Sometimes he was shown wearing a mask with two protruding tubes (through which the wind blew) and a conical hat.

The temple Quetzalcoatl at Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, was a round building, a shape that fitted Ehecatl. Circular temples were believed to please Ehecatl because they offered no sharp obstacles to the wind.

For more research, try to uncover other Aztec Gods by doing a research at the public library. At this age, limit how much research is done on the computer / internet - there is a lot of questionable material out there that can lead to unsettling questions.

More studies can be done about Mexico’s Past and the Aztec Civilization. For older (Upper Elementary and Intermediate) try having them create a BIOME based on Aztec design. For the young (Primary and Lower Elementary) have them work on a large piece of paper and draw a city based on what they read.

Try having the child (children) creating artwork of Aztec sunstones. Perhaps take some time to allow them to do more reading on the subject. This can be spread over the next 4-6 weeks (3 days per week) with Biomes and small story narrations, dictations, vocabulary and some science research. Check out amazing facts about the science of the times of Aztec Empire. What did they know, what did they do for medicine, for sickness, for agriculture. How did they have light at night. How did they get water during long drought conditions? These questions will and should be included in some type of science journal.

Have Fun.

FOR $30.00 we pair this study up with Geography / English / Reading / Math / Spelling and Writing Lesson Plans that you can edit. Books suggested are at your expense and are not included I the Lesson Plan Pack.


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