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Chicomoztoc. The Mythical Place of Origins of the Aztecs

The Myth of Chicomoztoc in Mesoamerica


Depiction of Chicomoztoc from the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca

Depiction of Chicomoztoc from the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca


Chicomoztoc (“The Place of the Seven Caves” or “The Cave of the Seven Niches”) is the mythological cave of emergence for the Aztec/Mexica, the Toltecs, and other groups of Central Mexico and northern Mesoamerica. It is frequently depicted in Central Mexican codices, maps, and lienzos, as a subterranean hall surrounded by seven chambers. Each chamber is labeled with a pictograph naming the Nahua lineage that emerged from that particular place in the cave. As with other caves in Mesoamerica, it has some animate qualities that appear in the renderings of it, such as teeth or fangs and eyes. More intricate renderings show it as a lion-like monster out of whose mouth the original people emerge.

Emergence from a cave is a common thread found throughout ancient Mesoamerica and among groups living in the area today. This belief can be found as far north as the US Southwest among people such as the Hopi, though the cave here has been replaced with the kiva, where the entrance to the sipapu, the Puebloan place of origin, is located.

One famous example of a pre-Aztec emergence place is the human-made cave under the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. This cave differs from the Aztec account of emergence because it has only four chambers. Another constructed Chicomoztoc-like emergence place is found at the site of Acatzingo Viejo, in the State of Puebla, Central Mexico. This place more closely parallels the Aztec account by having seven chambers carved into the walls of a circular rock outcropping. Unfortunately a modern road was cut directly through this feature, destroying one of the caves.

Many other places have been proposed as possible Chicomoztoc, among which is the site of La Quemada, in Northwest Mexico. However, many experts believe that Chicomoztoc was not necessarily a specific, physical place, but like Aztalan, a widespread idea among many Mesoamerican people of a mythical cave as place of emergence for both humans and gods, from which each group materialized and identified itself within their own sacred landscape.

Sources and Further Readings

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Aztec Empire, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Aguilar, Manuel, Miguel Medina Jaen, Tim M. Tucker, and James E. Brady, 2005, Constructing Mythic Space: The Significance of a Chicomoztoc Complex at Acatzingo Viejo. In the Maw of the Earth Monster: Mesoamerican Ritual Cave Use:69-87.

Boone, Elizabeth Hill, 1991, Migration Histories As Ritual Performance. In To Change Place: Aztec Ceremonial Landscapes, edited by David Carrasco, pp. 121-151. University of Colorado Press, Boulder

Boone, Elizabeth Hill, 1997, Prominent Scenes and Pivotal Events in the Mexican Pictorial Histories. In Códices y Documentos sobre México: Segundo Simposio, edited by Salvador Rueda Smithers, Constanza Vega Sosa, and Rodrigo Martínez Baracs, pp. 407-424. vol. I. Instituto Nacional de Antropología E Historia, Mexico, D.F.

Boone, Elizabeth Hill, 2000, Stories in Red and Black: Pictorial Histories of the Aztecs and Mixtecs. University of Texas, Austin.

Carrasco, David, and Scott Sessions, 2007, Cave, City, and Eagle's Next: An Interpretative Journey Through the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Durán, Fray Diego, 1994, The Histories of The Indies of New Spain. Translated by Doris Heyden. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Hers, Marie-Areti, 2002, Chicomoztoc. A Myth Reviewed, in Arqueología Mexicana, vol 10, Num.56, pp: 88-89.

Heyden, Doris, 1975, An Interpretation of the Cave Underneath the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan, Mexico. American Antiquity 40:131-147.

Heyden, Doris, 1981, The Eagle, The Cactus, The Rock: The Roots of Mexico-Tenochtitlan's Foundation Myth and Symbol. BAR International Series No. 484. B.A.R., Oxford.

Monaghan, John, 1994, The Covenants with Earth and Rain: Exchange, Sacrifice, and Revelation In Mixtec Sociality. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Taube, Karl A., 1986, The Teotihuacan Cave of Origin: The Iconography and Architecture of Emergence Mythology in Mesoamerica and the American Southwest. RES 12:51-82.

Taube, Karl A., 1993, Aztec and Maya Myths. The Legendary Past. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Weigland, Phil C., 2002, Creation Northern Style, in Arqueología Mexicana, vol 10, Num.56, pp: 86-87.

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