Did the Ancient Aztecs originate in modern-day Utah?

The Aztec people of Mexico developed one of the greatest ancient empires in the American Continent.

Despite the fact that much is known about the Aztec empire found in present-day Mexico City, little is known about the origins of Aztec culture. Where did they come from? How old are they? And why did they migrate?

Many consider that the disappearing island of Aztlán is the ancient homeland where the Aztec people formed as a civilization prior to their migration into the Valley of Mexico.

Aztlan comes from an ancient Nahuatl legend which suggests that there were seven tribes that once inhabited Chicomoztoc – “the place of the seven caves”.

These tribes allegedly represented the seven Nahua cultures: Acolhua, Chalca, Mexica, Tepaneca, Tlahuica, Tlaxcalteca, and Xochimilca. Eventually, they left their caves and settled down as a single culture near Aztlán.

According to some accounts, the arrival of the seven groups in Aztlán was preceded by the arrival of a group known as the Chichimecas, considered less civilized than the seven Nahua groups.

The search for Aztlan

Chicomoztoc — the place of the seven caves. The mythical origin of the “nahuatlaca” tribes. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Many authors agree that word Aztlán is interpreted as “the land to the north; the land of the Aztecs.” In their language (Nahuatl), the roots of Aztlan are the two words: aztatl tlan(tli) meaning “heron” and “place of,” respectively.  The connotative meaning of Aztlan, due to the plumage of herons, is “Place of Whiteness.”

It is believed that, over time, the people who inhabited Aztlán became known as the Aztecs, who then emigrated from Aztlán to the Valley of Mexico where they settled down.

In some legends, Aztlán is seen as a paradisiacal land for all inhabitants.

If we take a look at the Codex Aubin, the Aztlán was a place where the Aztecs were subject to the Aztec Chicomoztoca – the tyrannical elite. In order to escape the Chicomoztoca, the Aztecs fled Aztlán, led by a priest.

In this legend, the god Huitzilopochtli told them that they could not use the name “Aztec” and that they would be known from here on as the Mexica.

The Aztec migration from Aztlán to Tenochtitlán is a very important piece in Aztec history and can be traced back to May 24, 1064, which was the first Aztec solar year.

When speaking about Aztlan, many authors believe it is a mythical place, eerily similar to legends about Atlantis, or Lemuria. Some scholars are convinced that Aztlan only lives in legend, and that its physical location will never be found.

The searches for the land of Aztlán has spread from western Mexico, to the deserts of Utah, in the hope of finding the legendary island.

However, these searches have been unsuccessful, since the location – and the existence – of Aztlán remains a profound mystery according to mainstream scholars.

A great mystery that surrounds Aztlán is exactly how far north was Aztlan located. Some searches extended to Utah, where some scholars have argued that the Aztecs did not originate in modern-day Mexico, but that their culture was formed in an area that is now the United States.

Cecilio Orosco of California State University and Alfonso Rivas-Salmon, a respected Mexican anthropologist at the Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara suggest that the Aztecs originated in Northern America, more precisely modern-day Utah.

According to their theory, the Aztecs originated from Utah’s maze of canyonlands, where experts have found ancient paintings on canyon walls which they believe are eerily similar to symbols depicted on the legendary Aztec calendar.

A depiction of the departure from Aztlán in the 16th-century Codex Boturini. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Utah, the home of Quetzalcoatl?

According to Orosco and Rivas-Salmon, the origin of the Aztecs is written down on Utah’s canyon walls, the home of Quetzalcoatl, pointing towards ancient rock art depicting snakes with four rattles, knotted rope symbols and other figures dividing time according to the four-year and eight-year cycles of Venus.

Furthermore, the researchers suggest how pictographs in Utah showing blue-eyed figured may represent the duality of Venus as the morning and evening star.

The ancient Aztecs held Venus in high regard.

Escaping Aztlan

If we take a look at the Aubin Codex and the Durán Codex, the god of war Huitzilopochtli told the Aztec they should leave Aztlán, and call themselves Mexica instead of Aztecs, and that they should create their capital wherever they found “an eagle standing atop a cactus devouring a snake”.

The Aztecs—Mexica—left Aztlan in 1065 and started a century-long journey settling in different places until they eventually found an eagle and a snake on a cactus on a rock in the middle of Lake Texcoco, the lace where the Mexica created their capital Tenochtitlan. The year of foundation of Tenochtitlan is usually given as 1325. The ethnonym Aztec (Nahuatl ‘‘Aztecah’’) means “people from Aztlan.”

Featured image: Shutterstock

Reference and source:

Deseret News

“The Aztlan Migrations of Nahuatl Chronicles: Myth or History?

What is the meaning of the word Aztlan?

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