Skip to comments.Bits Of History Suggest Utah Is Location Of Mythic Aztlan
Posted on 11/17/2002 4:41:56 PM PST by blam
Bits of History Suggest Utah Is Location of Mythic Aztlan
Sunday, November 17, 2002
University of Utah professor Armando Sol-rzano holds a replica of an official map of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo from 1847 that identifies Utah as the homeland of the Aztecs. The Aztecs left the mythic Aztlan, which some scholars say is present-day Utah, to build a civilization in the Valley of Mexico. (Steve Griffin/The Salt Lake Tribune)
BY TIM SULLIVAN, BY TIM SULLIVAN
(c) 2002, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
It was a map drawn in 1768 by a Spaniard in Paris that sent Roberto Rodriguez running toward Aztlan. As a Mexican American, Rodriguez long had pondered the historical location of Aztlan, the mythic homeland of the Aztecs. Six years ago, he and his wife, Patrisia Gonzales, found tantalizing directions in Don Joseph Antonio Alzate y Ramirez's map of North America. Where present-day Utah would be, and next to a large body of water called "Laguna de Teguyo," are the words: "From these desert contours, the Mexican Indians were said to have left to found their empire." That cryptic message is one clue among many -- a petroglyph etched on a sandstone wall in eastern Utah's Sego Canyon, an 1847 United States map highlighting the confluences of the Colorado, Green and San Juan rivers in southern Utah, a mound and more petroglyphs just outside Vernal -- that have researchers considering a new angle on the history of the southwestern United States.
"Some don't believe [Aztlan] was true, like Atlantis or the Garden of Eden," says Roger Blomquist, a doctoral student at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. "But I'm convinced it's in Utah. The evidence is very compelling. It's building a mosaic that supports that thesis."
Since the 1960s and '70s civil rights movement, Chicano activists have used the name Aztlan to describe the American Southwest as a northern homeland for Americans of Mexican heritage. But for much longer, people all over the world have been trying to pinpoint the historical location of the legendary place the Aztecs left to build their civilization in the Valley of Mexico.
Rodriguez says Aztlan's literal and figurative meanings are both relevant to his search.
"People would always tell us to 'go back to where we came from,' " Rodriguez says. "Then we came up with this map. Our work is about whether we belong or not."
Western scholars, Catholic clergy, Chicano activists and even the Aztecs themselves have been seeking Aztlan for more than 500 years. They have put much of their energy into gleaning facts from the story that tells of a people emerging from the bowels of the earth through seven caves and settling on an island called Aztlan, translated as "place of the egrets," or "place of whiteness."
Acting upon a command from a spirit, these people left Aztlan and went south until they came upon an eagle devouring a serpent in the present-day location of Mexico City, where historical records suggest they founded the city Tenochtitlan in the 14th century. But in 1433, Aztec leaders burned the picture books that recounted the migration to the Valley of Mexico, leaving only oral tradition and the name Aztlan.
The Aztec king Motecuhzoma I was probably the first to investigate seriously the location of Aztlan. In the 1440s, he sent 60 magicians north for a journey that itself became a legend -- according to chronicler Diego Duran, these pilgrims encountered a supernatural being who transformed them into birds, and they flew to Aztlan.
After the Spanish conquered the Aztecs in the early 16th century, they began studying the Aztecs' origins. Francisco Clavijero, a Jesuit priest, in 1789 deduced that Aztlan lay north of the Colorado River. Other Mexican, European and American historians put Aztlan in the Mexican state of Michoacan, Florida, California, even Wisconsin. Many others deny it ever existed. But perhaps the most widely accepted historical location of Aztlan is that proposed by historian Alfredo Chavero in 1887. Retracing Nu-o de Guzman's 1530 expedition north from the Valley of Mexico, Chavero deduced that Aztlan was an island off the coast of the Mexican state of Nayarit called Mexcaltitlan.
Modern-day scholars who favor Utah as an Aztec homeland use some of these studies and chronicles to advance their theories, which range geographically from Salt Lake Valley to the Uinta Mountains to the Colorado Plateau. But each of these researchers also seems to have his or her own trump card.
Rodriguez's curiosity originally was spurred by a copy of an 1847 map of the boundaries drawn by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo, but quickly expanded to "a hundred others," including the chart Alzate y Ramirez created for the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris. The maps touched off "Aztlanahuac," a project by Rodriguez and Gonzales, newspaper columnists whose work appears in The Tribune, that has spawned one book with two more on the way.
Aztlanahuac led them to gather oral histories on migration from Native Americans throughout the Southwest. Believing that the "Laguna de Teguyo" had to be the Great Salt Lake, the San Antonio couple also traveled to Antelope Island four years ago. There, Rodriguez asked a state park ranger how many caves the island had. The ranger's reply was, of course, seven.
Blomquist, a doctoral candidate in American Frontier History whose dissertation explores Aztec origins in Utah, focuses on the Uinta Mountains. He believes that Aztecs, who would have heard ancestral stories, advised 17th-century Spanish prospectors to look for gold in northeastern Utah.
Blomquist also cites a "natural temple site" in the Uintas near Vernal. He says there is a 200-foot-high mound with footsteps carved into it and an altar-sized boulder at its base that mirrors temples he has seen in Mexico, such as Monte Alban outside of Oaxaca.
On a rock at the site are petroglyphs of a warrior and his family that Blomquist says don't resemble rock art of the Fremont people known to have inhabited Utah. And the warrior is carrying a long sword-like object that broadens to a blunt end, like a cleaver, which Blomquist likens to a Mesoamerican weapon called a macana.
Then there is Cecilio Orozco, a retired California State University at Fresno education professor who has observed that petroglyphs in Sego Canyon, about 30 miles east of Green River, correspond to the Aztec calendar's mathematical formula of five orbits of Venus for every eight Earth years. On one of the canyon's sandstone walls are two petroglyphs of knotted string, one with five strings hanging down, the other eight.
In conjunction with his mentor, Alfonso Rivas-Salmon, Orozco theorizes that southern Utah is not Aztlan but the earlier homeland of "Nahuatl," the land of "four waters," where the Colorado, Green and San Juan rivers meet to pour through the Grand Canyon (Nahuatl is also the name of the Aztecs' language.). The 1847 treaty map also points to southern Utah as the "Ancient Homeland of the Aztecs."
Along those lines, Belgian scholar Antoon Leon Vollemaere believes he has pinpointed the location of Aztlan on either Wilson or Grey Mesa, where the Colorado and San Juan meet under Lake Powell.
Researchers also cite the close connection between the languages of the Aztecs and the Ute Indians in the "Uto-Aztecan" linguistic group, as well as the coincidence that the Anasazi culture began to decline at about the same time the Aztecs' ancestors were supposed to have left Aztlan.
While the pile of evidence that the Aztecs came from somewhere in Utah may seem high, more skeptical scholars like Northern Arizona University archaeologist Kelley Hays-Gilpin put things into perspective.
Hays-Gilpin acknowledges the linguistic connection between the Aztecs and Utes as well as economic interaction between Mesoamerican and North American peoples. But she offers a twist on the overall migration scheme -- the Aztecs' ancestors may have moved north before moving south.
Hays-Gilpin believes that people speaking a proto-Uto-Aztecan language domesticated maize in central Mexico more than 5,000 years ago, and consequently spread north to an area of the American West that could have included Utah. Out of that multitude of cultures, some groups could have migrated south to northern Mexico, and some of those could have, as she says, "moved to the Valley of Mexico and subjugated some of the confused and bedraggled remnants of the latest 'regime change.' "
This concept resonates with Utah Division of Indian Affairs Director Forrest Cuch, a member of the Northern Ute Tribe, who remembers his grandmother telling him his people came from the south. Could the Utes and the Aztecs' ancestors also have lived in close contact in modern-day Utah?
"I'm open to it," Cuch says, "because so little is known about the past."
As such, it would be almost impossible to prove the historical location of Aztlan, but Roberto Rodriguez says clearing the mist surrounding the myth may not be so important anyway.
While treading the path of his Aztlanahuac project, Rodriguez began to uncover a history of mass migration akin to the one Hays-Gilpin suggests. For him and Gonzales, understanding the larger scheme of historical movement throughout North America became more vital than deconstructing one elusive origin story.
"[Finding a location] has almost become irrelevant," he says. "Now, we have a bigger understanding, that the whole continent is connected. You have all these stories of people going back and forth."
Rodriguez says all that migration is most significant for Mexican Americans, and for the thousands of people now moving from Mexico to the United States, because it affords them and subsequent generations an answer when someone says, "go back where you came from."
"I just hope kids at school some day will at least be shown these maps," he says.
University of Utah ethnic studies professor Armando Sol-rzano has tailored the Aztlan concept to fit Utah, which is experiencing its own influx of Mexican immigrants.
Sol-rzano, a native Guadalajaran, has his own reasoning as to why Utah was a point of departure for the Aztecs -- that the geographical characteristics of Salt Lake Valley resemble those of Mexico City -- but his interpretation of Aztlan is, like Rodriguez's, a broader one.
Sol-rzano tells of arriving in Utah 12 years ago and seeing the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake. "I said, 'My God, this is Aztlan.' I felt a spiritual unity with the land, something I had never felt before outside Mexico."
He compares the concept of Aztlan as a sacred land of harmony with that of Zion in the Mormon tradition. The similarities, he says, show that both cultures are searching for a common goal. Sol-rzano calls his Utah adaptation of Aztlan "Utaztlan."
Had Sol-rzano's own migration path taken him to a different part of the United States, his concept of Aztlan likely would be different. Still, he shares his sense of the myth's importance with people of Mexican heritage all over the country.
"What is happening now is we are returning," Sol-rzano says. "This is an opportunity to rewrite history and make justice."
Let's spread the word that Aztlan was in Guatemala.
No axe to grind here! < /sarcasm>
What the h--- was a Mexican American in the 1700s?
Interesting notion - claiming that property was abandoned to prove ownership.
Nancy Yaw Davis
The Zuni Enigma
A Native American People's Possible Japanese Connection Did a group of thirteenth-century Japanese merge with the people, language, and religion of the Zuni tribe?
For many years, anthropologists have understood the Zuni in the American Southwest to occupy a special place in Native American culture and ethnography. Their language, religion, and blood type are startlingly different from all other tribes. Most puzzling, the Zuni appear to have much in common with the people of Japan.
In a book with groundbreaking implications, Dr. Nancy Yaw Davis examines the evidence underscoring the Zuni enigma and suggests the circumstances that may have led Japanese on a religious questsearching for the legendary "middle world" of Buddhismacross the Pacific to the American Southwest more than seven hundred years ago. 72 b/w illustrations, 17 maps.
"A stunning and carefully supported argument that should stir useful discussion.... [An] exciting, groundbreaking work."Booklist
Nancy Yaw Davis holds an M.A. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Washington. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska.
Seems like the history books when I was in school talked about a land bridge over the Bering Strait and that the American continent was originally settled by nomadic tribes from Asia. Seems like the theory said the tribes were pushed further south as subsequent waves came in and displaced them. I can't see all the hoopla, but I guess folks will rationalize their claims with anything handy.
Me too but, that has changed a lot and gotten a lot more complicated....and I mean real complicated.