Three of the most important concepts for the founding of the Mexican people are Teotihuacan, Chicomoztoc, and Aztlan. In the case of Teotihuacan it is not just a concept but also a site with structures. What the first two have in common is a cave motif. At Teotihuacan there is a human-made cave under the Pyramid of the Sun. The Chicomoztoc theoretical cave is a place of origin for most of the peoples of central and northern Mexico. Aztlan is the almost mythical homeland of the Aztec (Mexica).
The Pyramid of the Sun cave at Teotihuacan has four chambers while in the legend the Chicomoztoc cave has seven. The Teotihuacan cave probably came first and is an attempt to hark back to the four founding families of the Mesoamerica who arrived on four boats from South America in about 8680 BCE. On the other hand, the Chicomoztoc cave speaks to the seven specific ethnic groups who eventually populated Teotihuacan and who created a language new to them all, called Nahuat or Nahuatl.
The four lineages represented as founders at the Pyramid of the Sun are Ak'bar, Ik', K'inche (Kitze), and Maix (Majukutaj). The name Teotihuacan also speaks to this same mix of founding lineages, with Teo representing the three Maya-related lineages, and Tihuacan representing the Ik' (Zapotec) lineage, named after their first sacred site in El Salvador, Tehuacan, meaning "island of learning."
The seven cave chambers of Chicomoztoc represent the seven ethnic groups who came to populate Teotihuacan, rather than the founders, and who came to form central Mexican culture, including the Nahuat language. These ethnic groups were Totonac and Huasteca from the Ak'bar (Chol-Ch'orti') lineage, the Zapotec and Otomi from the Ik' lineage, the Quiche (including the Cakchiquel, etc.) from the K'inche lineage, and the Olmeka (Mexica) and Purepecha from the Maix lineage.
The Totonac were among the closest to Mexico's central valley, coming from directly east, and probably one of the strongest groups at Teotihuacan. The Huasteca came from much further north up the Gulf Coast and were likely a minor group in the central valley. The Zapotec came from Oaxaca, quite a distance, yet there is strong Zapotec influence at Teotihuacan. It could be that those that went to the central valley became the Mixteca. Mixteca means "beginning of the expansion of the cats" in Ch'orti'. The Otomi-Pame are cousins of the Zapotec and didn't have much pre-Classic presence but they were located in the Puebla area, near to the central valley.
The Quiche included the Cakchiquel and other sub-lineages and may have been the largest contingent at Teotihuacan. They would have come from the northwest coast of Mexico where they lived due to their pellagra banishment. The Olmeka sent a migration group the Valley of Mexico soon after their arrival to the Veracruz Coast. This migration group became the Mexica and they joined the Teotihuacan formation. The Purepecha were cousins of the Olmeka and lived relatively close to the central valley in northern Michoacan and southern Guanajuato. The lead four lineages would likely have been the Totonac, the Zapotec, the Quiche, and the Olmeka/Mexica, one from each of the four founding Mesoamerican lineages.
The Chicomoztoc cave shows seven chambers with a group of people in each who smoke a peace pipe and then join together to populate Teotihuacan. Whether speaking of the four founding lineages of Teotihuacan or the seven Central Mexican ethnicities, they had to find a common cultural icon to form their union. This means they had to go back before 7000 BCE when the Zapotec and Otomi moved from El Salvador to Mexico. The main choices would have been the Corinto cave and the sight of the rising triple planets of 8208 BCE on Isla Tigre. The earliest symbols of Teotihuacan contain both of these cultural touch points.
None of the Mesoamerican people were cave dwellers - they lived out in the open. Using a cave as their founding symbol can only mean the Corinto cave in northeast El Salvador. This cave figured most prominently when, only days into Mesoamerica, the four founding families were captured by hunters they later called Xibalba, and taken to Corinto cave. Soon they escaped and ran toward the Lempa River. Later the cave was the scene of astronomical contests and battles. Eventually, by way of cunning, the Xibalba were defeated. Corinto cave was a place of bondage, a place of contest, a place of triumph, and the ultimate bonding between the four founding families. The caves of the Pyramid of the Sun and Chicomoztoc carry this symbolism.
All seven ethnic groups at Teotihuacan left or were forced out of El Salvador by the lead Ch'orti' lineage. For the Huasteca, Totonac, Quiche, Olmeka-Mexica, and Purepecha the reason was the pellagra crisis from 2400 to 1600 BCE. For the Zapotec-Otomi it is less clear but one explanation is Zapotec-Otomi unhappiness over the location of their home island of Teokan/Tehuacan at the mouth of the Lempa River while the ocean was rising following the end of the Ice Age. They went to Mexico in about 7000 BCE.
It is clear that the seven ethnic groups in central Mexico also identified with the rising planets of 8208 BCE, the beginning of the Third Age. In fact, there were seven rising luminaries on November 1, 8208 BCE, with Saturn rising first, then the triple star of Venus-Mars-Jupiter, then the Moon, then Mercury, and finally the sun at dawn. The symbolism of seven - the seven rising luminaries and the seven ethnicities - was surely not lost in the Valley of Mexico.
One place associated with Chicomoztoc is Culhuacan, a village/city in the Valley of Mexico. While it has a meaning in Nahuat, Nahuat likely did not exist yet when it was named. Instead its original meaning derives from Ch'orti', the language that several of the seven ethnicities would have spoken, at least as a second language, when Culhuacan was founded. In Ch'orti' it is kur wa' k'an or "being yellow points" or "yellow point beings." Yellow points is one way of describing the planets. Culhuacan associates the village's identity with the triple star event of 8208 BCE that was the defining moment of the Mesoamerican people.
Another place associated with Chicomoztoc is the Cerro de Culiacan, a high point in southern Guanajuato state. Culiacan references the triple star of 8208 BCE, rising over the Gulf of Fonseca, more clearly than Culhuacan. In Ch'orti' it is kur li ha' k'an and means "yellow points beside the water." The Cerro de Culiacan was likely a meeting place of the various ethnic groups before they chose the Valley of Mexico as their settlement area and before their founding of Teotihuacan.
While all seven ethnic groups no doubt thought about returning to El Salvador, their unity and construction of something fabulous like Teotihuacan, allowed them to forget about El Salvador. This is clear from the name of their common language Nahuat. In Ch'orti' it would be nab wat or "forget about returning home."
The Chicomoztoc cave symbolism does not represent humans emerging out of the earth. Rather, it symbolizes the escape of the four founding families out of the cave, Corinto, and into freedom in a land, El Salvador, which became the founding ground of all the Mesoamerican peoples. The founders of Teotihuacan used the same symbolism of escape and freedom as they created a new city.
The Mexica and Aztec of Aztlan
The Chichimeca and Mexica are two of the most important founding people of Mexico. The Chichimeca are a catch-all term for the semi-nomadic people living in the north of Mexico and the present-day southwest U.S. The Mexica are equivalent to Aztec and were the major power at the time of the arrival of the Spanish.
The term Chichimec or Chichimeca is a name in Ch’orti’ and is a play on the important site of Chinameca, El Salvador. Chinameca means “wrestle giant over disappearance of water” and was the site of a wrestling match between the Maya ancestors and the Xibalba hunters just a few days into the Maya ancestors living in Mesoamerica, circa 8680 BCE. The “chi” in Chinameca means “giant” but in Ch’orti’ a different vowel tone also gives “small” for chi. In Chichimec it is ch’i (small) ch’i’ih (giant) mek or “small ones wrestle giants.”
The Xibalba “giants” were long gone but their cousins were still around in the New Mexico area, the Zuni. Both the Xibalba (Manik) and the Zuni are distant relatives of the Ainu in Japan, lighter skinned and taller people. What may have happened is that each lineage was asked to send a contingent of warriors and their families to the north to protect the new populations in the north (i.e. Quiche, Otomi, Huasteca) from the Zuni. While at once protecting the populations in northern and central Mexico, the Chichimec warriors became a threat to peace in the Valley of Mexico.
The name Mexica has a similar meaning as Chichimec but they have a different path. Where the Chichimec were warriors of common descent, the Mexica are the elite of one of the original four founding Mesoamerican lineages. The names tells us which one. Mexica is mek ch’i’ih kah and means “wrestle giant at beginning.” It was the young Olmeca/Lenca lineage founder, Maix, who fought the Xibalba hunter at Chinameca at the beginning of Maya Mesoamerican history. Olmeca has a similar meaning: “wrestle leader over water."
One group of the Olmeca became the Mexica (Aztec). Two of the closest relatives of the Mexica are the Lenca and the Purepecha. In fact, the close relationship between the Mexica and Purepecha could explain why the Mexica never defeated the Purepecha – they didn’t really try since they were family (until a fierce 1479 war).
The Gemelli Aztec Migration Map
The Aztec provide us with an additional historical source to the Popol Vuh, a view from the Olmeca Maya lineage rather than the Ch’orti’ or Quiche Maya lineage. One of the best abbreviated Aztec views of history is provided in the Gemelli Aztec migration map.
By ... [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Following an extensive visit in Mexico, Italian Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri drew a map in 1704 of the Aztec migration from Aztlan to Chapultepec Hill. The map was a rendering copied from indigenous sources, maintained by D. Carlos Siguenza. The stops along the way of the map include a Nahuatl (or what was thought to be Nahuatl) element, a loose English translation, and a drawing. According to legend, on May 24, 1065 CE the Mexica (Aztec) began this journey. The original drawing was 12 by 16 inches and full size is available.
The first part of this map corresponds to the history of the Popol Vuh and the names in the first third of the migration map are in Ch'orti', the language the Aztec ancestors spoke when those events occurred, rather than Nahuatl. In the middle the names are likely close to the Olmeca language of Veracruz rather than Nahuatl. I have numbered various stations to help explain what is happening.
1 - The first station is a hill and tree with a stand-off involving the ancestors of the Aztec (and Maya, Zapotec, etc.) on the left and the Xibalba hunters on the right with the horns. (Click on map to enlarge.) This does not seem to symbolize any particular event as much as the 1000-plus year conflict between the two sides, starting a few days after the Aztec ancestors, et al, arrived in El Salvador in about 8680 BCE. The droplets coming out of the mouth of the bird on top of the tree likely represent blood spilled and lives lost due to the Xibalba.
2 - Station 2 is also in the shaded square, the time prior to the cultural formation of the Aztec ancestors, et al. This depicts the god Auilix or Ahwilix, one of the three gifts the Aztec ancestors received in eastern El Salvador before they had a permament home. Ahwilix means "the wing movement" and was a raft for babies and small children which the women would secure under their arm, like a wing. With the ahwilix raft, families were able to enter the water to escape the Xibalba hunters, who were not too keen on water. Ahwilix was probably first used at the junction of the Torola and Lempa Rivers.
3 - The group of people walking likely symbolizing the wandering of the Aztec ancestors, et al, for several dozen years in eastern El Salvador. Places they likely lived at during this time include San Juán de Edén, Laguna Alegría (Tecapa volcano), and Laguna Jocotal. Their heads are bare, indicating that they did not yet have special abilities or knowledge.
4 - The five people walking represent the migration from the mainland to Isla Tigre, Honduras. Each of the five walkers have an item above their head. My best guess of what these represent, from left to right: red ochre paint (most likely a re-connection with Taltal, Chile); an edible bird; skins for clothing; honey from bees; and turtles (for food).
5 - Aztlan. First, translating Aztlan: as tal lah ahn or "arrive to practice at the fatigued current." The fatigued current or lan is a quick way to say the Gulf of Fonseca where tidal action is limited (fatigued). Isla Tigre is where the ancestors went to and began to practice. They were practicing the beginning of Mesoamerican culture - the calendars, astronomy, animal husbandry, and cultivation.
The text says, "A place of Magpies where the Mexicans were called Aztlanechi." Aztlanechi would be Aztlan nechi. Neh ch'i' in Ch'orti' is "grow bushy ferns" and would refer to the tobacco that the Aztec ancestors, et al, learned to grow on Isla Tigre. To the right of the tree is an image of a parrot. It was at Aztlan (Isla Tigre) that the Aztec et al ancestors first learned to tame animals, beginning with the macaw parrot. To the left of the tree is a pyramid structure. While no pyramid structures have been found on Isla Tigre, there was a possible ceremonial structure on top of the volcano. In addition, the volcano of the island may have been an inspiration for later pyramid structures. The pyramid also may represent the formation of an elite.
6 - The next station is the migration off the island to the four islands on the mainland of El Salvador, represented by ten men. Each of the ten has a special ability or significance symbolized above their head. Some of these abilities were acquired soon after they left Aztlan, but they are all from the Maya formation period before 7600 BCE. The first, from the right, might be ability to navigate the oceans. The second might be cacao, first grown in Nicaragua. The third appears to be an underwater fuse to ignite gunpowder charges in plugged up lakes and waterways. The underwater fuse was first used at Lago Guija after a landslide blocked the egress. The fourth appears similar to the glyph in the first station and may represent the defeat of the Xibalba. The seventh one appears to be Ahchuk (One Hunapuh), the leader who was beheaded by the Xibalba but who made major advancements in astronomy. The eighth one is tobacco and is similar to the atl glyph. The ninth one is corn, first hybridized at Teotipa.
7 - The station in the top right corner has a near-naked man in an odd position and a cave-like structure with a door. The man has the words "Tocolco, Humiliation" by him. Tocolco in Ch'orti' is toh kol kot or "kneeling naked sacrifice." The Xibalba stripped their enemies naked before killing them. The cave structure has the words "Oztotlan, A Place of Grotts." Oztotlan is os t'ot' lan or "fit inside, knocking, near fatigued current." It appears the method of death was to lock the subject in the grotto with no food or water. There is one grotto-like hole at Corinto Cave that might have been used.
This refers to the story in the Popol Vuh of Xibalba warriors hearing loud noises from the Maya ancestors, capturing the ancestors and placing them in the Dark House. The place names in northern La Union department make it clear that the Aztec ancestors - the Olmeka - were practicing with gunpowder to make better water flow on the rivers. (The Olmeka were based in eastern El Salvador, next to the Xibalba, while the Maya were based in western El Salvador.) Some of these rivers would have been within ear-shot of Corinto Cave where the Xibalba were based. For example, Lislique, no more than 10 kilometers from the cave is li is li k'er and means "beside the movement, beside the dividing."
8 - The next set of two scenes took place back on Isla Tigre, so the order is slightly off. There is a scene marker, then an image of a baby perhaps, being carried by a bird; a pyramid; and then a tree with the word "Mizquiahwala." This word in Ch'orti' is mis ki' ahwa'al ha' or "cat hearts to jaguars by water." The cats are the common people and the jaguars are the elite. This is the story of heart sacrifice that led to many orphans (image of the baby).
9 - The image here is a thistle bush, with the words "Huitzquilocan. The place of Thistleflowers." Huitzquilocan is witz ki' il lok' ahn and means "see escape by current from heart mountain." This matches the Popol Vuh story of the escape of the masses by boat to Nicaragua where the escapees became the Miskito and Chibchan people. As a result of the heart sacrifices and the escape of their own people, Aztec et al ancestor elites began the practice of bloodletting by attaching thorns to a string and running it through their tongue, to promise to never harm their own people.
The fact that the events in the 8th and 9th stations have a prominent place in this abbreviated Aztec history, are an indication that one of the fleeing groups, either the Miskito or Chibchan people, come from the same lineage as the Aztec-Olmeka.
10 - There is a stone circle with the words "Tetepanco. Wal of many stones." This event skips forward 6,000 years to the migration to Monte Alto and Izapa. Tetepanco is tet' tep ahn k'ot and means "arrival by current to hard flaps." This is not completely clear but might be a reference to the large stone carvings at Monte Alto.
11 - There is a tree with fruit and the words "Teotzapotlan. A place of Divine fruit." Teotzapotlan is te' ox ap ot lan and means "place of sheltered plants with penis-shaped fruit." This refers to the cacao and its phallic shape as well as to the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate. Much cacao was grown along the Chiapas and Guatemala coasts.
12 - An interesting symbol with the word "Ylhuicatepec". Ylhuicatepec is il wih k'at tep pek and means "cross to see source of hard knob." The Aztec ancestors (Olmeka) crossed from the Pacific coast over to the Atlantic Gulf Coast of southern Veracruz. This tells us that they crossed in order to check out vanilla, also an aphrodisiac, which can cause a hard knob. The Olmeka had heard about the vanilla from the Totonac and went to live close by them. The symbol seems to have a crested vanilla orchid on the right and a vanilla vine on the left.
13 - A symbol of the crested vanilla orchid and the word Papantla, the Totonac city associated with vanilla. The English words are "an Herb with broad leaves." Papantla would be bah ban tal or "arrive to thing valuable to the body" and refer to the vanilla. I think Papantla here is referring to the vanilla plant rather than a move to the site of Papantla.
14 - It is not totally clear but this most likely refers to Lago Tzumpango in the Central Valley of Mexico. Tzumpango is sum pahn k'o or "twisting teeth over a pit" and perhaps teeth could be a skull. Then it would match the picture. It doesn't look like a happy scene. This does seem to indicate that the Mexica were the group of Olmeka who decided to move from Veracruz to the Central Valley very early (1400-1200 BCE).
15 - Apazca is ahp as k'a or "practice happy swinging." This refers to the movement and meditation also practiced at Chalchuapa, El Salvador at this time. Tlatilco may be the oldest settlement in the Central Valley, settled no later than 1200 BCE, and is famous for its acrobat ceramics (right), dated to 1300-800 BCE. The nearby site of the same culture is Tlapacoya and is tul ahp bah kor yah in Ch'orti'. This means "sore body condition due to free swinging." Both sites were named at a time when gymnastics was common. This indicates that it was the Mexica ancestors who practiced movement at Tlatilco and made the ceramics.
16 - Atlycalaquian - "a whirlpool where the water is swallowed." Apparently they built some pools, but it's not clear where. Atlycalaquian is aht li k'al lah ki' ahn or "fatigued (relaxed) heart next to retained current baths."
From there, the names in the map vary too much from the Ch'orti' to understand. In addition, it is hard to translate without knowing the context.
The Gemelli Aztec migration map makes it clear that the Aztec have common heritage with the Olmeka and the Maya. Many of the events shown on the map have parallels in the Popol Vuh. It also helps to clarify some of the unknown questions, such as why the Olmeka moved to the Veracruz Gulf Coast from the Chiapas/Guatemala coast.
The Mexica continued to use Ch'orti' as a naming language long after the end of the Maya Classic era. The first example is the city of Tenochtitlan, which the Mejica built in the middle of Lake Texcoco in 1325. It is built on an island, just like the ancient home of the Mexica ancestors at Lake Olomega, El Salvador. In Ch'orti', Tenochtitlan is ten noh ch'i' ti' (plus Nahuatl suffic tlan) and means "important growth after opening of flatland (valley). Tenochtitlan was built after some of the water was drained out of Lake Texcoco.
At the center of present-day Mexico City is the Zócalo, one of the largest public squares anywhere in the world, at 240 meters by 240 meters. It was used by the Mexica or Aztec for a variety of public events. Most or all of Tenochtitlan's 200,000 to 300,000 population in 1519 would have been able to fit in the Zócalo. In Ch'orti', Zócalo is tzok k'al lo', meaning "opening up the slack retention." This signifies that in order to build the city of Tenochtitlan, including the Zócalo, Lake Texcoco, and likely all five lakes in the Valley of Mexico, had to be partially drained. The trick was to drain it sufficiently to keep Tenochtitlan above lake level, but not so much that it lost its island condition, an important cultural attribute. Either the Mexica used the Ch'orti' language to name Zócalo because of the spiritual-political significance of the Ch'orti' language or the Ch'orti' (Putun) themselves assisted the Mexica to drain the lake and were given the right of naming the newly partially reclaimed lake bed.
A second method of reclaiming the lake bed along the shore of the island was the chinampa. A chinampa is a lake-recovered field, formed by creating a rectangular fence and piling neighboring lake bottom material into the fenced area. These were right next to the city of Tenochtitlan. Canals separate the chinampas. Like Zócalo, Chinampa is a Ch'orti' word, which may point to Ch'orti' assistance in creating the chinampa: chinam is town or city and pa' is food. Chinampa is "city food" or we would say "urban agriculture." Chinampa has a clever second meaning that makes it likely that the Ch'orti' picked this name. Chinam itself is ch'i' nam or "lack of growith (cultivation)." A city was a place where there was no space for cultivation. Chinampa broken down would be ch'i' nam pa' or the contradictory "cultivation of food where there is a lack of cultivation."
The Mexica at Tenochtitlan continued to gain strength and power in central Mexico. In 1428 they formed the Aztec triple alliance with two other city-states Texcoco and Tlacopan. Texcoco was Acolhua, who were likely linked to the Otomi. Tlacopan was Tepaneca and were possibly linked to the Quiche, i.e. Quiche who decided not to migrate to Guatemala. Tlacopan was also called Tacuba, a name of a town in western El Salvador that is associated with the return of a group of Quiche in the post-Classic period.
The Mexica, Acolhua, and Tepaneca created a new term for the leaders of the Aztec triple alliance: Huetlatoani. Using Nahuatl this is translated as “Elder Speaker," but Huetlatoani is a Ch'orti' phrase constructed to also appear Nahuatl, for local people. Using a Ch'orti' phrase would add legitimacy for populations outside the Valley of Mexico, especially for non-Nahuatl speakers. Every city or ethnic group would have had Ch'orti' translators. Huetlatoani is wet lat toh ahn ni' and it means “pointed tips supported by neighbors with sacrifices and currency.” Pointed tips refers to the weapons of the triple alliance. Neighbors near and far would have then known that they would be expected to provide human sacrifices and tribute to the triple alliance. And they would be taken by force if not given freely. Not so neighborly.
What's especially curious about this name is the ni' at the end. It seems that the Ch'orti' may have gotten the last laugh with the name. The -ni' suffix could have been changed to ni by some neighboring groups. The -ni suffix negates the statement so that it means “not supported by neighbors with sacrifices and currency.” This may mean that the Aztec triple alliance asked the Ch'orti' to support them by creating a name for their new leadership and the Ch'orti' obliged by slyly creating a name that suggested to neighboring peoples not to support the triple alliance.
Examining the history of the Aztecs and their ancestors has been useful for four reasons:
- Bringing to light previously unknown details that are helpful in better understanding Aztec history
- Understanding the extensive use of the Ch'orti' language, as protocol or naming language, even up to the point of European contact. It was the old, sacred language that was used to legitimate.
- The Ch'orti' assisted with the public works projects of neighboring people, such as draining the Valley of Mexico lakes and helping construct the chinampa, including in the late post-Classic period.
- The Aztec history is consistent with details of Maya history presented here for the first time. In other words, the Aztec history is consistent with the Popol Vuh, as translated herein.