The Urban Economy of Aztec-Period Calixtlahuaca Mexico

Project: Research project

Project Details


The Urban Economy of Aztec-Period Calixtlahuaca Mexico The Urban Economy of Aztec-Period Calixtlahuaca, Mexico This archaeological project addresses two research questions: How was the economy of the ancient city of Calixtlahuaca organized? and, How did larger processes such as conquest by the Aztec empire affect life, society, and economy at Calixtlahuaca? These will be answered through a variety of analytical studies of the artifacts and deposits from two seasons of NSF-supported fieldwork at Calixtlahuaca in central Mexico. Calixtlahuaca was a powerful capital in the Toluca Valley whose development was cut off by Aztec conquest in A.D. 1475. Surface survey in 2006 and excavation in 2007 produced a large quantity of archaeological data that, when properly analyzed, can answer the questions posed above. The current project will fund the following analyses of field data: 1. Classification and description of artifacts: with an emphasis on function and technology. 2. Chronological analysis: radiocarbon dating, stratigraphic analysis, and ceramic seriation. 3. Sedimentological analysis: to reconstruct terracing, land use, and geomorphology at the site. 4. Provenience analysis: trace element analyses of ceramics, obsidian, and metal; petrographic analyses of ceramics and sculptural stone. 5. Technological analysis: ceramic petrography and metallurgical analysis of bronze objects. 6. Ethnobotany: flotation and phytolith studies, and analysis of wood impressions on daub. 7. Other methods: technical analysis of burned daub; iconographic studies of sculptural reliefs; spatial-statistical analyses of artifact and feature distributions across the urban center. Calixtlahuaca presents a number of unique opportunities within central Mexican archaeology, including: the most extensively documented group of ancient stone terraces in central Mexico; the only excavated Postclassic houses from the Toluca Valley; the largest collection of burned daub; the only Late Postclassic obsidian assemblage NOT dominated by green obsidian; and excellent potential for chronological control from ceramic seriation and radiocarbon dating. The proposed methods will allow the analysis of urban economy and its social, political, and religious context. Without this research, the results of the fieldwork will remain incomplete and of limited usefulness to the discipline. Intellectual Merit This research extends the PIs program of archaeological research into the effects of Aztec imperial expansion on provincial peoples to a new region. As a frontier zone between the Aztec and Tarascan empires, the Toluca Valley presented the former empire with benefits and challenges very different from Morelos, where the PI worked previously. By comparing the results with the earlier fieldwork in terms of key research questions, the processes of Aztec imperial expansion will be illuminated. This research will also produce a detailed model of an ancient urban economy. It contributes to the revitalized field of household archaeology by investigating variability among domestic settings within the social context of the urban built environment. Soil and sediment analyses will contribute to the expansion of geoarchaeological methods in central Mexican archaeology. Results on Aztec urbanization and imperialism will contribute to a growing body of comparative data on these processes in ancient states worldwide. Broader Impacts The Postclassic ceramic chronology being developed by this project can be applied to other sites in future research in the Toluca Valley. Numerous students from the Toluca area and residents of San Francisco Calixtlahuaca have received training in both fieldwork and analytical research on the project. Public outreach is a major component of the project; for example, the ceramic classification will be carried out largely by local residents who are reconstructing the history of their town. We have established numerous avenues of collaboration and interaction with local scholars and institutions, including our archaeological laborator
Effective start/end date9/1/099/30/15


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $198,630.00


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