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the Toltecs, artisans, scholars, priests and fearsome warriors

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Kara Sundstrom
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« on: April 24, 2010, 08:51:35 pm »

The Mesoamerican connection: the Toltecs, artisans, scholars, priests and fearsome warriors
April 22, 8:44 PMArchitecture & Design Examiner
Richard Thornton



In the Examiner article on April 12, 2010, I discussed an initial meeting with the late Dr. Roman Piña-Chan, the internationally famous Maya archaeologist and Director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Mexico City.  He and Dr. Ignacio Bernal, Director of the INAH (Institutio de Anthropologia y Historia) in Mexico, had given me a tour of all seven floors of the museum. Each was given a book on the Southeastern Indians. The word, “Native American” didn’t exist back then!  Dr. Bernal immediately left for his next appointment. However, as I was walking down the hall to my next appointment, a visit with Mexican architecture students, who were building models of early Maya cities, Dr. Piña-Chan called to me and waved his hand fore me to return.  He had thumbed through the book I gave him, and become intrigued. He invited me back into his private office, and told his beautiful graduate assistant, Alejandra, to cancel the next appointment.

Dr. Piña-Chan was surprised that the Indians in Georgia created realistic marble and ceramic statues a 1000 years ago of people, who were dressed like Maya slaves and laborers. The turban was the badge of low social status among the Mayas, yet Creek leaders to this day wear turbans, not feathered head dresses.  He then was impressed by the copper art produced at Ocmulgee and Etowah Mounds.  He said it was superior to anything found in Mexico, but he was puzzled why the Southeastern Indians rarely worked with gold, since it was so much more malleable than copper.

The final surprise for the famous archaeologist was that while many aspects of the ancestral culture of the Creek Indians of the Southeast seemed directly tied to the Mayas, their architecture and two dimensional art was far more similar to that of the cultures east of Mexico City.  He pulled several books off his library shelf on the Totonacs and Toltecs.  Every glyph on the frieze of one temple at the Toltec Capital of Tollan, could be found on the pottery and copper art discovered at Etowah Mounds, GA. He then pulled down a book on the Anasazi Culture of the Southwest.  Most of their two dimensional art also was similar to that of Central Mexico.  At that point, I decided to spend more time than planned, studying the culture of the Toltecs and Totonacs!
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2010, 08:52:16 pm »

The Toltecs, what is known and not known

Despite the fact that the word “Toltec” is almost as well recognized as “Aztec” and “Maya” among laymen in the United States, much of their culture seems now to more of an enigma than ever.  Many “facts” found in books published during the past fifty years, now have turned out to be questionable, or clearly not true.  Anthropologists today are not even sure what ethnic group the Toltecs were . . . or if they were composed of several ethnic groups?  The word “Toltec” roughly means “artists or scholars” in Aztec-Nahuatl. Anthropologists do not know if this is the name that the Toltecs called themselves.

After the decline and ultimate abandonment of Teotihuacan around 750 AD,  nomadic Nahuatl-speaking peoples from northern Mexico migrated into the Central Highlands. The indigenous Otomi and Totonac Peoples were pushed eastward and southward.  The ancestors of the Aztecs were among several Chichimeka tribes that occupied the Valley of Mexico.

Around 900 AD a major city was begun north of Mexico City in the State of Hidalgo that is now known as Tollan, or by its Spanish name of Tula.  However, Tollan might not have even been its real name, because Tollan means “Place of Reeds” – the same name that the Mayas gave in their language to Teotihuacan. (See article on Teotihuacan.)  “Place of Reeds” may have come to mean “major city or capital” in Mesoamerica. 

The architecture of Tollan was much more geometric and symmetrical than typical Maya cities. It had a definite, masculine, martial feeling to it.  Architectural styles were  similar to those of Teotihuacan, but not at such a grand scale. There are several earthen pyramids in the United States which are larger than any of the pyramids built by the Toltecs. However, their temples were truncated rectangular pyramids that were similar in form to the earthen pyramids being built simultaneously in the Mississippi River Basin and Southeast.  The central core of Tollan included rectangular plazas defined by both vertical landmarks and horizontal public structures. See the drawing above.
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2010, 08:52:31 pm »

One of the most vexing questions that archaeologists and architects have failed to resolve is the similarity between some principal structures at Chichen Itza and the major landmarks of Tollan. There are Temples of the Warriors in both Tollan and Chichen Itza. Both contain large temples on their tops, which were supported by massive stone statues of warriors.  Yet, Chichen Itza also has many structures which were traditional Maya architecture, both in detail and form.

The Toltecs introduced several cultural practices, which later came to be associated with the Aztecs. The most notorious of these was the bloody ceremony in which priests held a victim on a stone alter and then cut out his or her heart.  The hearts were then burned on a special alter dedicated to the god of war. This alter was called the Chac Mool by the Itza Mayas.  Its Toltec name is not known.  The Toltecs practiced several forms of human sacrifice that were associated with the worship of a pantheon of gods and goddesses.

The city of Tollan only lasted about 250 years.  A combination of drought and constant assaults by less advanced Nahuatl tribes from the north, eventually triggered its collapse.  Aztec histories state that Tollan’s first and last kings were named Quetzalcoatl (Quetzal bird – snake).  The kings of the Toltecs were supposedly fair skinned and wore beards.  The last Quetzalcoatl supposedly led his followers to the Gulf of Mexico from where they sailed to an eastern land.  Hernando Cortes heard of this legend and initially fooled the Aztecs by pretending to be the god Quetzalcoatl, who had finally returned from the east.
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2010, 08:53:06 pm »

Tamaulipas

Tamaulipas State is located in the northeastern corner of Mexico and shares the Rio Grande border with Texas.  Its aboriginal inhabitants, known as Tamauli, were few in number when the Spanish conquered the region, and soon became extinct. Virtually nothing is known of their ethnicity, language or history. Recent archaeological excavations of caves in Tamaulipas suggest that the indigenous people there began cultivating maize and squash as early as 1300 BC, but they continued to live in caves for another 1000 years.  Caves were very practical habitats in the hot, dry climate of the region.

Records of the Aztecs, plus some archaeological evidence suggest that the Tamauli came under increasing influence and military pressure from the Toltecs during the period when Tollan was occupied.  Subsequently, Huastecs from the south pushed into the coastal areas while Nahuatl speakers pressed from the west.  Where the displaced Tamauli people went is unknown and subject to speculation. The Nahuatl form of Tamauli was Tamautli. Both ethnic names were used in both regions.

That the aboriginal people of Tamaulipas and the inhabitants of southeastern Georgia during the era of Spanish colonization had the same name is obvious.  The question of whether they were one and the same ethnic group has never been researched.
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« Reply #4 on: April 24, 2010, 08:53:31 pm »

Possible evidence of contacts between the Toltec culture and the native peoples of North America

The Toltecs were confirmed land-lubbers.  It is unlikely that Toltec trading or military expeditions reached the Southeastern United States, but possibly, some expeditions may have followed the shores of the Gulf of Mexico into the Mississippi River Basin, or penetrated far enough into what is now the Southwestern United States to reach the Anasazi in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.  However, as mentioned in the article on the Putan Maya, the Yokat’an towns and merchants in what is now southern Vera Cruz State, were greatly influenced by the Toltecs, to the point that their language essentially became a dialect which mixed Nahuatl, Zoque and Maya.  Vera Cruz Putun ships were quite capable of reaching the mouth of the Mississippi River, and are documented to have regularly traded with the Huastec occupants of Tamaulipas on the southern side of the Rio Grande River.

It is quite common for text books to describe a vast no-man’s land in southern Texas, where no maize, beans or squash were grown.  However, this was no real barrier to the Chontal merchants, since they typically traveled by boat when possible. With good winds, a Putun sea craft with oarsmen and a sail could have traveled from the Huastec towns in Tamaulipas to the southern boundary of “Mississippian Culture” in about two days.

An archaeological conference at Harvard University in 1947 decided that advanced indigenous cultures in the Southeast was an offshoot of the first advanced cultures in the Mississippi River Basin, just north of the Mason-Dixon Line. All advanced indigenous cultures in both regions were then labeled “Mississippian Cultures.”  However, as earlier articles in this series pointed out, the earliest societies to show “all Mississippian cultural traits” were in southern Florida near Lake Okeechobee – and about 300 years earlier than when they appeared near the conjuncture of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #5 on: April 24, 2010, 08:53:33 pm »

Possible evidence of contacts between the Toltec culture and the native peoples of North America

The Toltecs were confirmed land-lubbers.  It is unlikely that Toltec trading or military expeditions reached the Southeastern United States, but possibly, some expeditions may have followed the shores of the Gulf of Mexico into the Mississippi River Basin, or penetrated far enough into what is now the Southwestern United States to reach the Anasazi in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.  However, as mentioned in the article on the Putan Maya, the Yokat’an towns and merchants in what is now southern Vera Cruz State, were greatly influenced by the Toltecs, to the point that their language essentially became a dialect which mixed Nahuatl, Zoque and Maya.  Vera Cruz Putun ships were quite capable of reaching the mouth of the Mississippi River, and are documented to have regularly traded with the Huastec occupants of Tamaulipas on the southern side of the Rio Grande River.

It is quite common for text books to describe a vast no-man’s land in southern Texas, where no maize, beans or squash were grown.  However, this was no real barrier to the Chontal merchants, since they typically traveled by boat when possible. With good winds, a Putun sea craft with oarsmen and a sail could have traveled from the Huastec towns in Tamaulipas to the southern boundary of “Mississippian Culture” in about two days.

An archaeological conference at Harvard University in 1947 decided that advanced indigenous cultures in the Southeast was an offshoot of the first advanced cultures in the Mississippi River Basin, just north of the Mason-Dixon Line. All advanced indigenous cultures in both regions were then labeled “Mississippian Cultures.”  However, as earlier articles in this series pointed out, the earliest societies to show “all Mississippian cultural traits” were in southern Florida near Lake Okeechobee – and about 300 years earlier than when they appeared near the conjuncture of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
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« Reply #6 on: April 24, 2010, 08:54:30 pm »

There were distinct differences in the advanced indigenous societies of the Mississippi Basin and Lower Southeast.  They shared many religious symbols, but their architectural and cultural traditions were quite different.  There is considerable evidence of human sacrifice in the Mississippi Basin.  The Natchez and Pawnee Indians still practiced human sacrifice in the 1700s.  There is no evidence or cultural memory of human sacrifice among the ancestors of the Muskogean tribes of the Southeast.  The Timucua of northeastern Florida and the southeastern tip of Georgia DID regularly practice human sacrifice, but their cultural heritage was Arawak – from the Caribbean Basin.

The architecture and town plans of towns along the Mississippi River are very similar to those of the Toltecs.  These towns were planned to ridged orthogonal geometry.  Almost all platform mounds were rectangular truncated pyramids. All plazas were rectangular.

In the lower Southeast, however, there was a much greater diversity of architectural traditions. The very first platform mound of the “Mississippian Period,” Mound A at Ocmulgee National Monument (c. 900) was a Toltec style truncated, rectangular pyramid.  After 925 AD, however, the vast majority of mounds in Georgia and the Carolinas were NOT this shape. During the Middle Mississippian Period, all of the principal mounds in Georgia and North Carolina towns were pentagonal pyramids. After 1250 AD,  most mounds in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama were oval-shaped.  During the Early Mississippian Period Lower Southeastern plazas were linear like Teotihuacan. In the Middle Mississippian Period, they were rectangular, but in the Late Mississippian Period, most plazas were either oval or circular.

The cultural differences between the regions in the United States closest to the Toltecs, and those closest to the Mayas suggest that the external contacts that stimulated their fluorescence came from different regions. Perhaps alternatively, the stimuli came from varying combinations of several regions.

http://www.examiner.com/x-40598-Architecture--Design-Examiner~y2010m4d22-The-Mesoamerican-connection-the-Toltecs-artisans-scholars-priests-and-fearsome-warriors
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