Friday, February 23, 2007

What was the Ancient Name of the City?

The site we are working on is usually called “Calixtlahuaca” today, after the modern town whose land it occupies (San Francisco Calixtlahuaca). Although this name is found in a few documents (such as the Codex Mendoza), the city was known throughout central Mexico as Matlatzinco in ancient times. We have now located a number of examples of an image of a bird that was some kind of emblem at the ancient city, perhaps signaling a different indigenous name.

The glyph for the toponym (place name) Calixtlahuaca from the Codex Mendoza is a house. The name means something like “plain full of houses.” There are problems with this toponym as a name for the ancient city, however. First, nearly all of the houses and occupation were on the hill, not on the plain. Second, this name is only found in documents describing the final pre-Spanish period. Third, it is a Nahuatl term, yet it is very likely that the people of the city spoke one or more non-Nahuatl languages in ancient times (the most likely candidates are the Otomi, Mazahua, and Matlatzinca languages).

The term Matlatzinco (which means something like place of nets in Nahuatl) was used extensively in the central Mexican native historical sources. Its two primary usages were: (1) the Valley of Toluca; and (2) the Postclassic capital city of the Valley (which we are now excavating). Witnesses interviewed in a colonial-period lawsuit made it clear that Matlatzinco was the capital of the area, and that its ruins were located in the town of San Francisco Calixtlahuaca.

Much confusion was introduced when colonial friars named one of the indigenous languages of the Toluca Valley “Matlatzinca.” This language belongs to the Oto-Pamean language group, which also includes the local languages Otomi and Mazahua. Following Nahuatl language rules, “Matlatzinca” means “the people of Matlatzinco.” So when indigenous sources talk of the Matlatzinca people, they were probably referring to speakers of any or all of the four main languages of the Toluca Valley (Matlatzinca, Otomi, Mazahua, and Nahuatl). As a name for the ancient city, Matlatzinco has the advantage of its widespread use in indigenous historical sources. But like “Calixtlahuaca,” Matlatzinco is a Nahuatl term.

While studying stone reliefs from the site in 2006, Emily Umberger and Maelle Sergheraert identified several examples of an image of a bird. This occurs as the sole image on at least one relief, and as an element on shields held by warriors on other carvings. This bird most closely resembles a flying turkey (thanks to my father-in-law, biologist James Heath, for this observation). Could this be a toponym for the ancient city? Or perhaps it was the symbol of the ruling dynasty. I have tried to find the words that would mean turkey place, or flying-turkey place in the four relevant languages. In Nahuatl, “Totoltepec” means place of the turkey. It turns out that several towns just north of Calixtlahuaca are called Totoltepec. Could this be a connection? Perhaps additional linguistic and iconographic research, and some fortunate finds in the ground, will help us figure out what the ancient inhabitants (whose garbage we are excavating) called their city.

1 comment:

Olin Tezcatlipoca said...

I know this is a dated article but I just found out about this article and this blog.

Almost all of the Zapotec cities and towns have Nahuatl names even though Zapotec is spoken there. This was the same situation with all places that were controlled by Nahuatl speakers before 1519. Mayan cities for the most part retain their Mayan names because they were not dominated by Nahuatl speakers.

This explains the situation here for Calixtlahuaca that was not Nahuatl speaking. As to Totoltepec, tototl means bird. Huexolotl means turkey, guajolote in Spanish. I know some of the dictionaries refer to Tototl as turkey but in context it referred to fowl. Right now we think fowl and we get chicken as a first thought. Not all fowl are chickens. Same was true with turkeys, first choice of fowl.