1st Edition

At Home with the Aztecs An Archaeologist Uncovers Their Daily Life

By Michael Smith Copyright 2016
    158 Pages
    by Routledge

    158 Pages
    by Routledge

    At Home with the Aztecs provides a fresh view of Aztec society, focusing on households and communities instead of kings, pyramids, and human sacrifice. This new approach offers an opportunity to humanize the Aztecs, moving past the popular stereotype of sacrificial maniacs to demonstrate that these were successful and prosperous communities. Michael Smith also engagingly describes the scientific, logistic and personal dimensions of archaeological fieldwork, drawing on decades of excavating experience and considering how his research was affected by his interaction with contemporary Mexican communities. Through first-hand accounts of the ways archaeologists interpret sites and artifacts, the book illuminates how the archaeological process can provide information about ancient families. Facilitating a richer understanding of the Aztec world, Smith’s research also redefines success, prosperity and resilience in ancient societies, making this book suitable not only for those interested in the Aztecs but in the examination of complex societies in general.

    Chapter 1. Rusty Nails, Stone Walls and a Drum

    The Aztecs: Bloodthirsty Savages or Just Regular Folks?

    Who Were the Aztecs, Anyway?

    Aztec Families and Households

    Aztec Communities

    My Journey to Aztec Households and Communities

    Chapter 2. The Discovery of Aztec Peasants

    The Invisible Aztec Peasant

    Background to the Fieldwork

    Getting into the Field

    Digging Houses at Capilco

    More Houses at Cuexcomate

    "Any Idiot Knows These Walls were Foundations for Adobe Bricks!"

    The Village of Tetlama

    Where are all the Bodies?

    Celebrating the End of the World

    Farming the Hillsides

    The Rainy Season Begins and the Excavation Ends

    Chapter 3. Reconstructing Daily Life

    Our Lab in the Emperor Maximilian’s Stable

    Hand-Made Tortillas

    The Artifacts of Daily Life

    Access to Markets

    The Hidden Realm of Domestic Ritual

    Rich and Poor

    Changes in Rural Society

    Chapter 4. A High Quality of Life

    Wealthy Households

    Household Choice and the Diversity of Goods

    External Social Networks

    Aztec Summer Camp

    The Mexica Imperial Protection Racket

    The One Percent and the Ninety-Nine Percent

    Successful Rural Households

    Chapter 5. Excavations in an Urban Community

    Urban Survey: Knocking on Doors and Being Chased by Dogs

    The Site is Invaded by a Squatters Settlement

    We Excavate Anyway

    An Elite Residence

    Burial of the Dead

    Irrigation and Urban Agriculture

    Excavation in the Churchyard

    Chapter 6. Urban Life

    Daily Life

    Our Laboratory in Yautepec

    Flutes, Whistles, and Rattles

    Obsidian Workshops

    Scientific Studies of Trade

    Life in the Big City

    Cortés and the Spanish Conquest

    Chapter 7. Resilient Communities

    What is a Community?

    The Calpolli: Key to Community Success

    Responsive Local Government: The City-State

    Chapter 8. Lessons From the Dirt

    A New View of Aztec Society

    Why were these Households and Communities Successful?

    Sustainable Smallholder Agriculture

    A New Archaeology of Households and Communities

    The Aztecs and the Urban Revolution

    Lessons for Communities Today


    Michael E. Smith is one of the leading international authorities on the Aztecs, with extensive experience excavating at Aztec sites. He is currently a Professor of Archaeology in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University.

    *** Winner of the Society of American Archaeology 2017 Book Award - Popular ***

    "Resisting the trappings of ‘monumental archaeology’– a fixation on kings, priests, pyramids, and bloody ceremonies that has for so long dominated scholarly discourse – Michael E Smith instead focuses on the life of the ‘ordinary’ Aztec, diving into trash heaps and exploring households in order to investigate the humble communities that actually made up the largest part of Aztec society... Through his remarkably engaging narrative, Smith often weaves personal anecdotes and methodological insights, drawing the reader into the hot Mexican dirt right alongside him."— Current World Archaeology

    "Smith is one of the preeminent authorities and archaeologists of the Aztec, and his compassionate rendition in this instance is a welcome contribution. In this eminently readable, engaging account, he weaves a wondrous archaeological tapestry of the unsung heroes and prosperous peasant communities whose resilience, determination, and cultural knowledge stand in stark contrast to the myths and misgivings that today cloud the interpretation of thousands of years of Mesoamerican civilization and civility. Summing up: Essential"— R. G. Mendoza, CHOICE Reviews