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Evidence of Aztecs using Quetzal feathers as commodity money?

Evidence of Aztecs using Quetzal feathers as commodity money?


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I found some webpages on the internet stating that on Aztecs barter-based economy, the remainder of value between two goods (if any) was settled with, among others, Quetzal feathers.

Is there any evidence/documentation to support such statements? I do not have access to published books at the moment.

The webpage is: http://www7.uc.cl/sw_educ/historia/conquista/parte1/html/h53.html (in spanish)


I find the claim dubious, or at least incomplete. Google reveals multiple citations to Aztec use of cocoa beans (I think the Bank of Belgium is among the best) as commodity currency, and none to feathers in the same role. I would have expected at least one mention of the alternative commodity currencies.


Thread: Pictures of Aztec Money

I don't think they had "money" , per se. They were a Theocracy, with a fairly rigid social system with the priest class on top.

I think these were more a 'status' item.

"A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything." — Friedrich Nietzsche

"You ask where I live. I cannot tell you. I am a Voyageur, a Chicot, sir. I live everywhere. My grandfather was a voyageur he died while on a voyage. My father was a voyageur he died while on a voyage. I will also die while en route, and another Chicot will take my place. Such is our course of life."

You are probably correct. The Aztec did not have money "per se". It was more of a barter/trade system. The principle items that served for what we would call money were cacao beans and cotton (quachtli), which was a woven cotton cape or blanket and was used as currency as well as for payments of tribute.

Very cool Richard, I had no idea what Aztec money was until this thread. It must have really been something locating the caches. Was it all money?

Originally Posted by cactusjumper

You are probably correct. The Aztec did not have money "per se". It was more of a barter/trade system. The principle items that served for what we would call money were cacao beans and cotton (quachtli), which was a woven cotton cape or blanket and was used as currency as well as for payments of tribute.

Worth 8,000 cacao beans. sounds like money to me.

From the Smithsonian National Museum of American History website:

" this standardized, unstamped currency had a fixed worth of 8,000 cacao seeds—the other common unit of exchange in Mesoamerica."

Probably used because they were easier to carry around,and count.
For someone who had a lot of cacao beans.
And something else to trade with,if they had no blankets (also bulky in quantity).

Wonder how many for a gallon of gas ?

I looked at that site some time ago. The Aztec did not start making tools with copper until the time of the conquistadors, as far as I know. What do you suppose someone would buy with 8,000 cacao beans? One good turkey hen was worth 100 full cacao beans? How easy do you suppose it was to go down to the street market to buy a few things for dinner. using "hoe money"?

Perhaps the Internet is not the best place to learn about Aztec money, or how they lived day to day.

Not saying the copper did not have value, just don't believe it was used as "Aztec money". The Aztec had a lot of copper.

Maybe I just don't have enough imagination.

I didn't know you held the Smithsonian in such low regard.
Personally,I'm glad they have such a website,and more can be found by clicking on the "home" button.
The description dates the artifact at about 1500,prior to the arrival of the Spanish.
Similar finds,in caches of from 120-500 pieces,have not been rare,and seem not to have been used as tools.
One author though,states that he can "imagine" them being used as such.

From one of the other sources I've linked:
"The earliest reference to these is in a document dated Oct. 31, 1548, in which a Spanish resident of Antiquera de Oaxaca, Francisco Lopez Tenorio, not only described the piece but also attached a drawing with the notation: "This is the form of copper coins that were in use in New Spain. The value placed and at which these were commonly accepted was of four such pieces, if new, for five Spanish reales. If worn, many refused to accept them, and they were sold to be melted at ten pieces for one Spanish Real.""
This document is also cited here.
Axe-monies and their relatives - Google Books Result

Too bad the authors did not have the benefit of your expertise.

Originally Posted by somehiker

I didn't know you held the Smithsonian in such low regard.
Personally,I'm glad they have such a website,and more can be found by clicking on the "home" button.
The description dates the artifact at about 1500,prior to the arrival of the Spanish.
Similar finds,in caches of from 120-500 pieces,have not been rare,and seem not to have been used as tools.
One author though,states that he can "imagine" them being used as such.

From one of the other sources I've linked:
"The earliest reference to these is in a document dated Oct. 31, 1548, in which a Spanish resident of Antiquera de Oaxaca, Francisco Lopez Tenorio, not only described the piece but also attached a drawing with the notation: "This is the form of copper coins that were in use in New Spain. The value placed and at which these were commonly accepted was of four such pieces, if new, for five Spanish reales. If worn, many refused to accept them, and they were sold to be melted at ten pieces for one Spanish Real.""
This document is also cited here.
Axe-monies and their relatives - Google Books Result

Too bad the authors did not have the benefit of your expertise.

"Not saying the copper did not have value, just don't believe it was used as "Aztec money". The Aztec had a lot of copper."

That was an opinion base on the research I have done into the history of the Aztec people. Many other people have a different opinion, and they are probably correct. to a point, just as I may be.

All things in a primitive culture have some value. Because of that, they may use, just about anything, for money/barter/trade.

"Too bad the authors did not have the benefit of your expertise."

I'm no expert but I do have an interest in Aztec history. Your comment hints that you believe you have more expertise than I. That's not saying much, so you will forgive me if I don't relinquish my opinion too easily.

In "Aztecs of Mexico", George C. Vaillant writes this on page128: "Quills of gold dust sometimes were used as an exchange medium, as were crescent-shaped knives of thin-beaten copper. These last had not the common acceptance or the utility of cacao beans, although they represented easily portable value."

In that respect, I suppose you could call Beaver pelts, shells, blue rocks and obsidian. money. In each case, its worth would depend on the desire of the person receiving it. Do those things meet the definition of "money"? I suppose it depends on who is doing the defining.

As far as I know, there remains some debate over "Aztec hoe money". I looked into "Axe Money" some time ago, and have "Axe-Monies and Their Relatives".

I am not trying to claim that Cacao was not considered the highest valued trade item by the Aztec.
Only that the existence of this "Hoe Money",and it's use in trade,may have been a late step in evolution of the monetary system of the Aztec.


I have also looked into the subject of Aztec copper artifacts,some time ago.While I as well,may be skeptical of some of the opinions/conclusions I read during my research,I do not consider either of us to be experts on the subject.Certainly not more than those at the Smithsonian.Currency can be many things,and trade goods are anything which two parties may exchange,be it cacao beans,fabrics used as "money",precious metals,etc.etc.
The fact that gold dust,in transparent quills,was used as trade currency,does seem to be at odds with claims that the Aztec placed no value on gold,other than for religious purposes,doesn't it?

The use of the term "money" seems to apply mainly to currency for which there is a set value,unlike many of the other items you mentioned,where the value was determined by the "barter" system.
Both Cacao Beans and copper Hoe Money apparently had set value in the Aztec market.
That value may diminish however,for hoe money,as mentioned by Tenorio,with age and condition being a factor.
I suspect this would have applied to Cacao Beans as well.

Originally Posted by somehiker

I am not trying to claim that Cacao was not considered the highest valued trade item by the Aztec.
Only that the existence of this "Hoe Money",and it's use in trade,may have been a late step in evolution of the monetary system of the Aztec.


I have also looked into the subject of Aztec copper artifacts,some time ago.While I as well,may be skeptical of some of the opinions/conclusions I read during my research,I do not consider either of us to be experts on the subject.Certainly not more than those at the Smithsonian.Currency can be many things,and trade goods are anything which two parties may exchange,be it cacao beans,fabrics used as "money",precious metals,etc.etc.
The fact that gold dust,in transparent quills,was used as trade currency,does seem to be at odds with claims that the Aztec placed no value on gold,other than for religious purposes,doesn't it?

The use of the term "money" seems to apply mainly to currency for which there is a set value,unlike many of the other items you mentioned,where the value was determined by the "barter" system.
Both Cacao Beans and copper Hoe Money apparently had set value in the Aztec market.
That value may diminish however,for hoe money,as mentioned by Tenorio,with age and condition being a factor.
I suspect this would have applied to Cacao Beans as well.


It seems we are both moving, slowly, to the middle on this subject. It was a late step in the Aztec monetary system. Could it have been a desperate attempt by the Aztecs to convince the Spaniards that the copper, of which they had plenty, was more valuable than the gold and precious stones which they used for religious reasons?


As I have stated before, I don't for a second consider myself any kind of expert. As for my feelings about the Smithsonian, I have had contact with them a number of times in the past and always found them to be helpful and knowledgeable. Once it was to provide myself
with the list of items in the Ales Hrdlicka Collection. They sent me what I was interested in, some of which was concerning the Adolph Ruth investigation.

Once again, what I said about the "Aztec Hoe Money" was strictly my uninformed opinion, based on the small amount of research I have done into the Aztec culture. One does not need to be an "expert" to form and express an opinion. I can assure you, my opinion on this matter is not based on a single source, and I doubt yours are either.

Cacao beans did fluctuate In value, depending on if they were "full" beans or "shrunken". If they were the smaller beans, It was possible to roast the shrunken bean to make them appear like the "full" beans. The same holds true for the quachtli. There were three common grades worth, 65, 80 and 100 cacao beans. Of course, we have left out the feathers of the Quetzal.


These kinds of conversations are always interesting for me, as well as being informative.

" Could it have been a desperate attempt by the Aztecs to convince the Spaniards that the copper, of which they had plenty, was more valuable than the gold and precious stones which they used for religious reasons? "

I don't recall any historical reference to the Aztec having "plenty" of copper.There was a copper source,I believe not far from Tenochtitlan,where Cortez obtained metal from which to cast cannon,so it was something that the Spanish were interested in.The Aztec had traded copper bells for some time as well,and as artifacts,these bells have been found far to the north in many pre-columbian digs.These "celts",as they are sometimes called,have been dated (where found during archaeological excavations) as pre-conquest as well.
Historically,I don't think the Aztec received much of anything from the Spanish for their copper. or their gold(which they did have plenty of).
Other than the point of a sword.
So it would seem unlikely that they would have made any such attempt.

What was a "quill of gold" worth,I wonder ?
In the markets,as well as for "tribute" (taxes).

From :
"Mexico, Aztec, Spanish and Republican, Volume 1 By Brantz Mayer" pub.1853


"But all this expensive machinery of state and royalty was not supported without ample revenues from the people There was a currency of different values regulated by trade which consisted of quills filled with gold dust of pieces of tin cut in the form of a T of balls of cotton and bags of cacao containing a specified number of grains The greater part of Aztec trade was nevertheless carried on by barter and thus we find that the large taxes which were derived by Montezuma from the crown lands agriculture manufactures and the labors or occupations of the people generally were paid in cotton dresses and mantles of featherwork ornamented armor vases of gold gold dust bands and bracelets crystal gilt and varnished jars and goblets bells arms and utensils of copper reams of paper grain fruits copal amber cochineal cacao wild animals birds timber lime mats and a general medley in which the luxuries and necessaries of life were strangely mixed It is not a little singular that silver which since the conquest has become the leading staple export of Mexico is not mentioned in the royal inventories which escaped destruction".

Vases of gold and gold dust are two of the commodities also mentioned in the passage quoted above,as having been used to pay tribute to Montezuma.
I find that interesting.
Other sources,including inventories of Spanish plunder, also mention "chips of gold" or tejuelo ,each worth 50 ducats (Cortez's Letters).
They would therefore have been about 5 1/2 troy oz. each.
Also interesting.


Trade lay at the heart of the great Aztec empire. The Spanish were amazed at the sheer size of the main market at Tlatelolco, beside Tenochtitlan, and reported that up to 60,000 people gathered there every major market day it was open 24/7 all through the year!

How exactly did the Aztec people buy and sell goods? Most of us know that they bartered, exchanging one item for another and most of us know that they used cacao (cocoa) beans as a simple rate of exchange. But just how much was a cocoa bean worth? Professor Frances Berdan (one of our &lsquoAsk the Experts&rsquo panel members) has kindly supplied the following information, for which we all thank her warmly!

30 cocoa beans = 1 small rabbit (Click on image to enlarge)

&lsquoAll the information on Aztec exchange rates comes from colonial sources, but the general picture probably wasn&rsquot too different before the Spaniards arrived. The sources indicate generally that cocoa beans could be exchanged for anything, including payment for labor. and also for paying fines (in Yucatan, according to J. Eric Thompson. Thompson further reports the rate of 20 cacao beans/trip for a porter.

1 cocoa bean= 5 long narrow green chiles (Click on image to enlarge)

&lsquoOne problem with trying to match like with like is that not all cacao beans were the same - they differed in origin and quality, and therefore their values went up and down. So for example the market prices listed in a 1545 document from Tlaxcala indicate that 200 full cacao beans = 230 shrunken ones. This list of prices also includes examples such as the following (all in cacao beans): one small rabbit = 30, one turkey egg = 3, one turkey cock = 300, one good turkey hen = 100 full cacao beans or 120 shrunken ones, one newly picked avocado = 3, one fully ripe avocado = 1, one large tomato = 1, one cacao bean = 20 small tomatoes, one cacao bean = 5 long narrow green chiles, a large strip of pine bark for kindling = 5. This was in 1545, but the relative idea is there.

1 cocoa bean = 20 small tomatoes (Click on image to enlarge)

&lsquoThen there is the other common means of exchange, quachtli or large white cotton cloaks. Again, these varied in quality (as did the cacao beans), and were worth 65-300 cacao beans each (Sahagún says in the Florentine Codex that the different grades of quachtli were worth 100, 80 or 65 cacao beans, while the Información de 1554 indicates 240 unspecified cacao beans for one quachtli or 300 Cihuatlan cacao beans for one quachtli . An "ordinary" person&rsquos yearly standard of living was valued at 20 quachtli .

3 cocoa beans = 1 avocado (Click on image to enlarge)

&lsquoThere isn&rsquot a lot of information, and although cacao beans continued to be used as currency in the colonial period, the quachtli rapidly fell out of use (perhaps because of their high relative value, or their closer equivalency to the Spanish tomin (a unit of mass used for precious metals).&rsquo

100 &lsquofull&rsquo cocoa beans = 1 &lsquogood&rsquo turkey hen (Click on image to enlarge)

Cocoa beans may well have been still in use as a form of currency long after the conquest. Professor Manuel Aguilar-Moreno (also on our Panel of Experts) reports that &lsquoThere is an image of Christ in the cathedral of Mexico City known popularly as the Christ of Cacao people brought offerings of cacao beans, which can still be seen at the feet of the image.&rsquo (Handbook to Life in the Aztec World&rsquo, p. 339.

65 cocoa beans = 1 plain white cotton cape (Click on image to enlarge)

Warwick Bray (another expert on our panel) points out (&lsquoEveryday Life of the Aztecs&rsquo, p. 112) that cocoa beans generally formed &lsquothe every day small change&rsquo, and that for expensive items the units of exchange were mantles (cloaks, capes), copper axe-blades, or quills full of gold dust. He adds his own list of the cost in cotton capes of relatively expensive goods:-

1 x dugout canoe = 1 x quachtli

100 sheets of paper = 1 x quachtli

1 x gold lip plug = 25 x quachtli

1 x warrior&rsquos costume and shield = about 64 x quachtli

1 x feather cloak = 100 x quachtli

1 x string of jade beads = 600 x quachtli

Up to 300 fine cocoa beans = 1 finest cotton cape (Click on image to enlarge)

Dishonest people were known sometimes to counterfeit (fake) cocoa beans in the market by making copies in wax or amaranth dough - like using a worthless foreign coin in a parking meter! The Florentine Codex includes this description of a bad cacao seller as a trickster who: &lsquocounterfeits cacao. by making the fresh cacao beans whitish. stirs them into the ashes. with amaranth seed dough, wax, avocado pits [stones] he counterfeits cacao. Indeed he casts, he throws in with them wild cacao beans to deceive the people.&rsquo (Quoted in &lsquoDaily Life of the Aztecs&rsquo by David Carrasco, p. 158). Some things never change.

Selling cloaks, Florentine Codex (Click on image to enlarge)

But we end on a more honest note. The Florentine Codex also includes (Book 10) illustrations of Aztec women selling cotton cloaks, and you can easily see the difference between a simple plain white one and far more elaborately embroidered ones - costing loads more beans.

Picture sources:-

Photos by Ian Mursell, illustrations by Phillip Mursell and Felipe Dávalos

Illustrations from the Florentine Codex scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994


The Rise of Cochineal in Europe

When the emperor Charles V became aware of cochineal, he immediately appreciated its importance as a revenue source. It first saw export from Mexico to Spain during the 1540s and then to the rest of Europe and Asia, becoming the second-most profitable trade item from the New World after silver. Five main conditions in Europe favored the increasingly enthusiastic reception of cochineal: (1) a long-established, thriving textile industry based on silk and wool, to which cochineal took most readily, in northern and southern Europe from the Middle Ages onward (2) the loss of the murex shell source of purple dye, which popes and kings favored, after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, leading to Pope Pius II’s decree in 1464 that made red the color of cardinals (3) the discovery of an alum quarry in Tolfa, Italy, just after the primary source of the mordant critical for organic red dyes in the Ottoman Empire became unavailable (4) cochineal’s exceptional saturation and colorfastness, and its cultivation in Mexico, which enabled higher production levels than the labor-intensive manual hunting and gathering required for kermes and Polish cochineal, its rivals (5) the development of lighter-weight fabrics in northern Europe during the fourteenth century to substitute for the heavier English wool that had become scarce. 4

Color became increasingly desirable, and, by the sixteenth century, increasingly available via the “transoceanic shipping that brought tropical dyestuffs to northern ports via the Atlantic coast, bypassing the Levantine bottleneck and undermining Italian monopolies in the luxury trade.” Cochineal was the most highly prized of these dyestuffs. The trade networks for cochineal, which supplanted all other red insect dyes within a few decades of its arrival in Europe, are well known. Its main routes were first from New Spain to Seville and later, after 1520, to Cadiz. By the 1540s, it had reached France, Flanders, England, Livorno, Genoa, Florence, and Venice. From Venice it went to the Levant, Persia, Syria (especially Isfahan, Aleppo, and Damascus), Cairo, and India, as well as to Constantinople and the ports on the Black Sea and the Caspian region. By the 1570s, it had gone from New Spain to East Asia via Acapulco and the Philippines. 5


This article contributes to the material turn. It shows how an inquiry into the social life of materiality, with distinctive methodologies such as reconstruction and object-led-approaches, changes our understanding of the past. It advances our thinking about the emergence and significance of cross-cultural objects in the context of cultural exchange. The article charts the spectacular rise in importance of feathers in dress during the Renaissance, its relation to collecting practices and relevance well into the seventeenth century. It argues that meanings of featherwork in Europe were influenced by encounters with the Americas, whose artistry sixteenth-century Europeans greatly admired. The dyeing of feathers in multiple colors for headwear and its crafting into intricate shapes turned into a major European fashion trend. Crafts and materials linked to embodied sensory perception and emotional responses. This revises accounts which present this age purely as one of conspicuous consumption designed to celebrate the prestige of rich patrons and instead enquires into how materials interacted with human perception and the mind. Male consumers decisively shaped taste communities. To understand this uncharted and surprising history we need to explore the first age of globalization.

T he E uropean R enaissance denotes a period of intensified engagement, among a wide range of people, with an increasing variety of mineral, animal, and vegetable matter, often through experiment. It is no longer seen as a cultural movement culminating exclusively in architecture and paintings as arts of perspective indicating the triumph of sight, ordering reason, and a mathematical mind. Rather, the Renaissance was emphatically multisensorial, marked by a love of new recipes, tastes, scents, sensations of touch, sound, speech, and sight. Whether individually or collectively, Renaissance men and women performed ideas of elegance, civility, and ingenuity through a host of decorative, fashionable objects, often expressing them in embodied ways through new practices of adornment, comportment, and spectacle. Many studies have begun to render material, object, and sensory worlds visible as “active sites of cultural production” in an age marked not only by a rediscovery of antiquity but also by globally interconnected contact, commerce, colonialism, and cross-fertilization. 1

Current research has shown particular interest in tracing the processes of cultural transmission that shaped the European Renaissance during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Helen Pfeifer and Alexander Bevilacqua, for instance, show how Ottoman ideas, artistic perceptions, and sensory regimes left a marked and long-lasting imprint on European culture through human intermediaries as well as through forms of dress and musical instruments. 2 Marcy Norton’s pioneering work highlights the ways that tastes, practices, and habits, linked to the Mesoamerican consumption of chocolate and tobacco, induced a “powerful sensory experience” that transmitted their symbolic associations to particular Iberian communities. 3 Alessandra Russo’s extensive research on featherwork demonstrates how mestizo makers acted on European visual culture and shifted ideas about the boundaries between the liberal and mechanical arts. Their skillful and highly varied creation of feather mosaics enacted human capabilities for precision and patience as well as the power of the imagination and ingenuity. Europeans’ fascination with featherwork suggests the significance of “parallel sensibilities” across the globe in relation to particular material qualities and their symbolic associations, as in the case of luminosity and life-giving energies. 4 Molly Warsh underscores ways that the harvesting of pearls in the Americas—a process devastating both to humans and to the ecology—made them far more available to European consumers, who shared indigenous approaches to the jewel by dwelling on “pearls’ luminescence and their sensual associations with fertility and the mysterious and generative power of the sea.” 5 Norton suggests that processes of cultural transmission could hinge on nearly “universal” elements, such as the high value placed on sheen or softness in many societies, or on temporary cultural convergence in the valorization of particular material properties in specific communities. In processes of cross-fertilization, intermediaries could indigenize foreign objects by strengthening their cultural associations with material properties, processes of making, or their effects. In the case of Mesoamerican chocolate in Iberia, or Ottoman percussion sounds, specific sensory qualities of a material or artifact as well as contexts of translation implied that a culture’s uses and practices migrated as well. 6

The concept of “entanglement” has proved well suited to exploring the knowledge and skill of indigenous intermediaries and the dynamics of cultural exchange. Leading historians in the field employ this concept on the assumption that exchanges frequently remained nonlinear, contested, incomplete, and deeply embedded in the asymmetrical power relations linked to early modern globalization. Indigenous people nonetheless remained “chief protagonists” in many arenas, including colonial art. Power was negotiated in colonial relations to channel the movement of intercultural exchange and its material elements. 7 Situated case studies can reveal how specific materials and objects were linked to cultural associations in particular communities and practices. At the same time, understanding the “agentive capacities” of human actors and matter in an interdependent world requires us to examine the movement of materials, skills, and practices via manifold routes across different parts of the globe that provided “nodes of convergence.” 8

This interest in the relationship between matter, practices, and affect methodologically follows from the fact that it is now widely taken as axiomatic that “the social” evolves and is reproduced in networks between humans, materials, and objects. 9 Leora Auslander has taken up the challenge of asking how historians can understand the everyday ways that people relate to things and express values through them by looking at textual representations of objects as well as at the objects themselves and how they were made. 10 The question of how materiality itself affords meanings and can animate associations is the focus of much recent research. Sylvia Houghteling, for instance, draws attention to “properties of softness and lightness” in Mughal textiles that shaped their cultural meaning by communicating pleasure, or literally carried traces of emotions by absorbing tears before being gifted between lovers. 11 A formal analysis of artistic motifs can be complemented by attending to how texture or color engages senses and affects. Historians of emotion are beginning to ask how “objects structure, prod, and develop emotional lives,” or how makers craft “objects in the expectation of being moved, and of moving others.” 12

During the past decade, many historians involved in the “making turn” have therefore begun to echo Auslander’s and Otto Sibum’s interest in “thinking technically and precisely” about objects, their materiality and making, as well as about textual sources. 13 Inspired by the 2009 AHR roundtable “Historians and the Study of Material Culture”—as well as by the work of archaeologists, anthropologists, and art historians—this “making turn” changes historical practice. Researchers typically gain familiarity with materials and objects through sessions devoted to handling or making they obtain curatorial and conservational knowledge to understand the object’s particular properties and sophisticated crafting techniques. Attempts at critical reconstruction aim not to replicate an “authentic” experience or object. Instead, they are process orientated, aiming to deepen an engagement with tacit material knowledge as well as with craft experiments, ingenuity, and the complexity of problem-solving techniques employed by historical makers. This in turn provides further clues about practitioners’ ideas, ambitions, and their clients’ interests. Reconstructions involve researchers in sensorial experiences that suggest new questions and provide a different acuity for the transformation and performance of materials than that provided by merely studying images on screens or texts. Rather than treating matter as passive, this process alerts us to the ways it “does things,” as Tim Ingold puts it practitioners correspond with matter to write history that is no longer conceived in terms of a singular human achievement, or the dominance of mind over matter. 14 At the same time, critical reconstructions afford a better sense of how the chemical structures of materials has changed over time, thereby drawing attention to gaps in the processes of historical translation. 15 Digital microscopy carried out on original artifacts can in turn help to reveal the original composition of materials as well as intricate craft methods and an intimate view of how makers might have played with material properties or skills. 16 Biochemical analysis and the analysis of contemporary recipes provide further tools to study making practices and to better understand how matter becomes a thing. 17 These methodologies increasingly complement historical skills that once concentrated solely on disembodied and dematerialized textual analyses. 18 They are methods that require working with as well as about artifacts to comprehend them more fully as sites of materialized understanding rather than as simply “symbolic,” a “representation,” or an emblem of style. Such methodologies help us to explore how people responded to a particular material at a given time what kinds of energy, money, labor, knowledge, and skill they invested why they did so and how these forms of attention might have involved the senses, affects, and the imagination.

This article explores how Europeans valued feathers in dress to show how such approaches can open new windows onto a material and object world with whose dimensions we have largely lost touch. Geographically, its focus is on Northern Europe, where responses to indigenous featherwork were bound up with feathered headwear as a new fashion trend during the sixteenth century, a development neglected in the histories of both fashion and cultural encounters. This fascination with feathers was made possible by extensive trade with Africa, and influenced by intercultural experiences of the Americas—affective worlds, new perceptions and practices connected to this animal material. Feathers and indigenous featherwork became notable objects of exchange, capable of influencing European craft traditions and forms of display through a process of material “crossing.” Like the Indian embroideries recently discussed by Beverly Lemire, featherwork forged new understandings of delicacy and ingenuity, as well as new sensory experiences of texture and color. 19

European attitudes to indigenous featherwork should not be examined solely in reference to collections of rarities in inventories, but also in the context of wider assemblages in daily life that included dress accessories. Adopting this wider lens for Northern Europe means engaging with processes of entangled knowledge making that challenge unifying narratives about the impact of the Protestant Reformation. This approach queries Carina Johnson’s work on Habsburg collecting in the Holy Roman Empire, which suggests that attitudes to indigenous featherwork were increasingly shaped by the Protestant hostility to idolatry that helped lead to its decline in Habsburg inventories and displays by 1600. 20 Yet, in this same era, some Protestant interpretative communities and the influential supra-confessional cultural movement of “art lovers” also forged ambivalent or entirely different associations and practices in which feathers retained their value as particularly vibrant matter. Increasing numbers of art lovers across Europe assembled their own collections, visited others, or read about them in print. Such collectors formed a nexus that generated its own forms of social practices hinging on the relationality between different types of materials, objects, plants, and animals. Their emotionally charged aesthetic practices intersected with new economic and political thinking that treated trade with “gallant” objects, such as feathers in dress, featherwork, and the adaptation of global craft techniques as integral to the making of civil societies. This tells us about the period’s sensibilities in surprising new ways.

T here is no doubt that the greater and more diverse use of feathers on European headwear was a markedly new phenomenon in the late Middle Ages. Medieval images typically display the headwear of elites or soldiers, to which single, bleached ostrich feathers were sometimes attached feathers began adorning jousting helmets more lavishly around 1400. 21 Goldsmiths adorned and gilded feathers, sparking a long European tradition of imitating feathers in jewelry and thereby adding to their association with preciousness. 22 As with pearls, the prominence of feathers in fashion was a phenomenon new since the Renaissance, enabled by the increased density of trade connections and a cultural movement that expressed itself through accessories. In 1480, few Europeans were depicted wearing feathers, yet within decades, these accessories became prestigious objects indispensable to achieving a military or “gallant” look. (See Figures 1–2.) They implied courage, strength, and masculine daring, but were also seen to generate sexual energy, subtlety, amorousness, the imagination, and artistry, and thus frequently characterized lovers or musicians. The dyeing of feathers in multiple colors and their crafting into intricate shapes became a major sixteenth-century European fashion trend, one decisively shaped by male taste communities until the late seventeenth century—a fact mostly forgotten in histories of fashion. While the civilian use of feathers eventually became feminized, military men continued to adorn themselves with elaborate plumes to enhance their masculinity. Some continue to do so today.

Conrad Faber von Creuznach, Portrait of Friedrich Magnus I von Solms-Laubach, 1543, 57.7 x 37.3 cm. Private Collection Photo. Christie’s Images/Bridgeman Images. This ostrich feather is an example of technical sophistication in working with delicate feathers to achieve an innovative look: boldly cut into shape, straightened, and decorated with a row of gilded metal threads onto which spangles (small, gilded metal plates) are individually attached.


Hispanic and Latino Heritage and History in the United States

Within the United States, “America” serves as shorthand for the country alone—but the national borders that separate the United States from the rest of the landmass that constitutes “the Americas,” North and South, are relatively recent creations. Even with the introduction and evolution of those borders, the histories of the United States and what we now call Latin America have remained thoroughly entwined, connected by geography, economy, imperialism, immigration, and culture.

Since 1988, the U.S. Government has set aside the period from September 15 to October 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month to honor the many contributions Hispanic Americans have made and continue to make to the United States of America. Our Teacher's Guide brings together resources created during NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes, lesson plans for K-12 classrooms, and think pieces on events and experiences across Hispanic history and heritage.

Guiding Questions

Who is included in your curriculum and who can be added when teaching Hispanic history?

What are the lasting contributions of Hispanic people and groups to the culture and history of the United States?

How is Latino history woven into the fabric of U.S. history?

What are some historical and cultural connections between Latin America and the United States?

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción (Spanish version: Misión de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, San Antonio, Texas, 1755) is one of the oldest surviving stone churches in America. In the EDSITEment lesson plan, Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción and the Spanish Mission in the New World, students are invited to use the image of the mission to explore the way Spanish missionaries and native American tribes worked together to build a community of faith in the Southwest in the mid-17th century. The NEH Summer Landmark for School teachers, The Fourteenth Colony: A California Missions Resource for Teachers produced a collection of K-12 instructional resources with multimedia spanning Native Californians, Missions, Presidios, and Pueblos of the Spanish, Mexican, and early American traditions and eras. Key resources for the study of this cultural heritage include primary sources, maps and images to document the cultural and historical geography of the California missions.

Another valuable resource is the NEH-funded PBS series Latino Americans, which chronicles the rich and varied histories of Latinos from the first European settlements to the present day. The website contains trailers from all episodes, a timeline, and an opportunity to upload your own video history. It contains a new education initiative which invites teachers and learners to explore the many ways that Latinos are woven into the fabric of the United States' story.

Accounts of ventures into uncharted territories by Hispanic explorers and missionaries of the Southeast and Southwest form a vital part of U.S. literary and historical heritage. A prime example, the journey of Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, can be found by visiting the EDSITEment-reviewed resource New Perspectives on the West. Students can then embark on The Road to Santa Fe: A Virtual Excursion to journey to one of America's oldest and most historic cities along the ancient Camino Real to discover the multilayered heritage of the peoples who call New Mexico their homeland. For another perspective on Spanish exploration and settlement, visit Web de Anza, an EDSITEment-recommended website, packed with primary source documents and multimedia resources covering Juan Bautista de Anza's two overland expeditions that led to the colonization of San Francisco in 1776.

This section provides historical context and framing for EDSITEment’s resources on Latin American and Latino history, as well as ways to integrate NEH-funded projects into the classroom. Lessons are grouped into four thematic and chronological clusters: the indigenous societies of Mesoamerica and the Andes the colonization of the Americas by Spain the Mexican Revolution and immigration and identity in the United States. By no means are these clusters exhaustive their purpose is to provide context for learning materials available through EDSITEment and NEH-funded projects, and to serve as jumping-off points for further exploration and learning. For each theme, a series of framing questions and activities provides suggestions for connecting and extending the lessons and resources listed for that topic.

Indigenous Mesoamerica and Andes

Model of Tenochtitlan as it may once have stood. Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City, Mexico.

Indigenous peoples inhabited the Americas long before their “discovery” by Europeans at the end of the fifteenth century. Major civilizations had risen and fallen here, just as they had in Eurasia. One of the most famous archaeological sites in the Americas, Teotihuacan, was home to a complex and wealthy society that collapsed nearly a millennium before Christopher Columbus set out from the Spanish port of Palos in 1492. Students can explore the history and culture of the best-known of the major Mesoamerican civilizations in the lessons The Aztecs: Mighty Warriors of Mexico and Aztecs Find a Home: The Eagle Has Landed. In the South American Andes, the Incas came to control a vast territory crisscrossed with an impressive network of roads traversed by couriers. Students can learn more about the Inca empire and its communication system in Couriers in the Inca Empire: Getting Your Message Across. The NEH-funded project, Mesoamerican Cultures and Their Histories, provides dozens of additional lesson plans about indigenous societies and cultures.

Framing questions and activities:

  • Terminology and periodization: Often, names and time periods are taken for granted. These discussion questions prompt students to think critically about the names used to refer to groups of people and to the ways they think about the division of time around the period of European contact with the Americas.
    • While we use the term “the Aztecs” most commonly today, this was not what the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan would have called themselves. Historians usually use either Nahuas/Nahua-speaking, to refer to the language these people spoke (and which is still spoken to this day), or Mexica, which refers to the most powerful of the three groups in the Triple Alliance that controlled Tenochtitlan and the Valley of Mexico when Hernán Cortés arrived in 1519. Ask students to reflect on these different names. Why might “Aztec,” which is not what the Mexica specifically or Nahuas generally would have called themselves, have become so common? What is gained from a better understanding of the history of these names and their meanings?
    • Ask students to read and explore this timeline of Mesoamerican civilizations. Reflect on the words often used to describe these civilizations and what happened to them after the arrival of Europeans to the New World. What words come to mind? Have students research indigenous language use in Mexico. This map, from Mexico’s National Institute of Indigenous Peoples, is a good place to start. How does what they find complicate the use of tools like a timeline to understand indigenous civilizations and cultures, or the use of common phrases like “the fall” of a particular civilization? Ask them to reflect on the terms “Pre-Hispanic” and “Pre-Columbian.” What do these terms communicate, and what do they omit? Why do these questions about terminology and periodization matter? Can they think of alternative ways to refer to these time periods? What are the pros and cons of these alternatives?

    Contact, Conquest, Colonization

    A segment of Diego Rivera's mural in the Palacio Nacional (Mexico City), depicting the burning of Maya literature by the Catholic Church.

    When Spanish conquistadors reached the New World, they encountered these complex indigenous societies with their sophisticated, surplus-producing economies, as well as smaller, nomadic societies. The early Spanish colonizers, far fewer in number than the populous New World civilizations they sought to conquer, often attempted to graft onto existing tribute systems to extract this surplus wealth, with major indigenous cities like Tenochtitlan (situated where Mexico’s capital city is to this day) serving as the geographic loci of early colonization. Spanish colonization was helped along by Spain’s military technology, alliances with rival indigenous groups, and, most crucially, disease. The Spaniards introduced contagious diseases, such as smallpox, to which indigenous people had little immune resistance. Indigenous populations were decimated by the combination of warfare, disease, and harsh labor on Spanish plantations. As Spain’s empire expanded, the Spanish crown depended heavily on the Catholic Church to subjugate indigenous peoples, both settled and nomadic, and integrate them into the colonial economy. Along New Spain’s northern frontier, which stretched into the present-day United States and where contact and conflict with other burgeoning European empires was likely, fortified missions relying on coerced indigenous settlement and labor were important institutions for expanding the geographic and demographic reach of the Spanish empire. In the EDSITEment lesson plan, Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción and the Spanish Mission in the New World, students are invited to use the image of the mission to explore one instance of the missionary institution in the mid-17th century. This lesson might be further enriched with an exploration of Spanish mission sites in California in The Road to Santa Fe: A Virtual Excursion.

    The processes of conquest and colonization were often carefully documented by Spaniards, creating a rich—and problematic—historical and literary record. A prime example, the journey of Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, can be found by visiting New Perspectives on the West. For another perspective on Spanish exploration and settlement, visit Web de Anza, which is packed with primary source documents and multimedia resources covering Juan Bautista de Anza's two overland expeditions that led to the colonization of San Francisco in 1776. Surviving indigenous perspectives are more difficult to find. Even when available, these sources pose significant interpretive challenges because they were often mediated through Spanish individuals or institutions. For grades 11-12, The Conquest of Mexico provides a plethora of primary and secondary sources (including texts produced by indigenous people), lesson plans, and exercises in historical analysis. Finally, Southwest Crossroads offers lesson plans, in-depth articles, and hundreds of digitized primary sources that explore the many narratives people have used to make sense of this region, from colonization to the present.

    Framing questions and activities:

    • Source interpretation: In several EDSITEment lessons about Spanish colonization, students are asked to analyze images to glean information about colonial institutions and practices. They have also confronted the problem of authorship and perspective in primary sources from this period, with the archive of the colonizer serving as the main paradigm through which the processes of conquest and colonization are understood. Two lessons from the NEH-funded website, Southwest Crossroads: Cultures and Histories of the American Southwest, throw this problem into sharp relief. In Encounters—Hopi and Spanish Worldviews, students work with texts written by both Hopi and Spanish authors, as well as maps and images, to learn about missionaries’ violent attempts to convert Hopi villagers to Catholicism and to reflect on the lasting impacts of those attempts for Hopi culture and society. In Invasions—Then and Now, students work with a Spanish account of a sixteenth-century expedition, a map of similar expeditions, and a twentieth-century poem to reflect on the echoes and reverberations of the colonial past.
    • Image analysis: The EDSITEment lesson Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción and the Spanish Mission in the New World is based on the analysis of a watercolor painting of the mission. Students can learn more about the architecture of Spanish missions from the National Park Service, and use their insights to analyze the architecture of other missions pictured in the University of California’s digital exhibition of Spanish mission sites in California. They can explore additional photographs of Spanish missions, as well as get a sense for the distribution of missions in what is now the United States, from Designing America, a website created by the Fundación Consejo España-Estados Unidos and the National Library of Spain. Ask students to think critically about this last source in particular as they read through its descriptions of mission architecture and function. How does this information compare with, for example, this Hopi author’s account of the construction of a Spanish mission? Why might this be?

    The Mexican Revolution

    Stereograph cards, like this one of Pancho Villa's headquarters in Juárez, could be viewed with stereoscopes to create the illusion of a three-dimensional scene. They were popular souvenirs this one was produced by the Keystone View Company, in Pennsylvania.

    Beginning in 1910 and continuing for a decade, the Mexican Revolution had profound ramifications for both Mexican and U.S. history. The EDSITEment Closer Readings Commentry on the Mexican Revolution provides background on the conflict and its cultural, artistic, and musical legacies. A lesson plan for the Mexican Revolution covers the context for, unfolding of, and legacies of the Revolution for later social movements. Students can learn about the role played by the United States in the Mexican Revolution in the EDSITEment lesson plan “To Elect Good Men”: Woodrow Wilson and Latin America.

    Framing questions and activities:

    • Guided research: Ask students to explore the Mexican Revolution in greater detail. Useful sources, in addition to those already mentioned, include:
      • The Newberry’s Perspectives on the Mexican Revolution
      • The Library of Congress’s The Mexican Revolution and the United States
      • The Getty’s Faces of the Mexican Revolution
      • Journalist John Reed’s 1914 analysis of the Mexican Revolution

      The following questions and prompts can guide their research:

      • Describe Mexican political, economic, and social conditions during the Porfiriato.
      • What were some of the causes of the Mexican Revolution?
      • Who were some of the major military actors in the Mexican Revolution? Why were they involved, and what were they fighting for?
      • How have different people experienced and understood the Mexican Revolution? Provide at least two different individuals’ perspectives.

      Before students begin their research, ask them to review the sources provided and give examples of primary and secondary sources. As they answer the guiding questions, they should use at least one primary and one secondary source to support each of their answers.

      • Comparing and contrasting: After studying the Mexican Revolution and U.S. involvement in it, ask students to make comparisons with another revolution or conflict that they have studied. They might consider the following factors:
        • Major divisions and conflicts
        • The role of foreign intervention
        • Outcomes of the conflicts
        • Major actors involved in the conflict
        • The way the conflict was represented in contemporary accounts (for example, by researching coverage in historic newspapers on Chronicling America)
        • Ways the conflict is commemorated today

        Students should create presentations of their findings to present to each other. As they listen to their classmates, ask students to take notes about the various revolutions. Use their observations to start a discussion about the word “revolution.” What should be classified as a revolution? Could a coup be a revolution? A civil war? Why do they think some civil wars are classified as such, while others are labeled revolutions, even though the impacts of both might be equally profound?

        Immigration and Identity in the United States

        Photo of Cesar Chávez with farm workers in California, ca. 1970.

        The border between the United States and Mexico has changed over time, and much of the territory that now forms the southwestern United States was at one point Mexican. But the movement of people, goods, money, and ideas has always been a feature of this border. That movement, especially of people, has not always been voluntary. During the Great Depression, many thousands—and by some estimates as many as two million—Mexicans were forcibly deported from the United States. Over half of those deported were U.S. citizens.

        Less than a decade later, U.S. policy changed completely: rather than deporting Mexican-Americans and Mexicans, the United States was desperate to draw Mexican laborers into the country to ease agricultural labor shortages caused by World War II. As a result, the Mexican and U.S. governments established the Bracero Program, which allowed U.S. employers to hire Mexican laborers and guaranteed those laborers a minimum wage, housing, and other necessities. However, braceros’ wages remained low, they had almost no labor rights, and they often faced violent discrimination, including lynching. Oral histories from braceros, as well as several lesson plans about the program, can be found at the NEH-funded Bracero History Archive

        The Bracero program ended in 1964. Two years before, in 1962, César Chávez had co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) with Dolores Huerta. The NFWA would later become the United Farm Workers (UFW). In response to the low wages and terrible working conditions experienced by farmworkers, Chávez and Huerta organized migrant farmworkers to press for higher wages, better working conditions, and labor rights. Students can learn more about Chávez and Huerta in the EDSITEment lesson "Sí, se puede!": Chávez, Huerta, and the UFW.

        The UFW was part of the larger civil rights movement of the 1960s and beyond. The Chicano movement fought for the rights of Mexican-Americans and against anti-Mexican racism and discrimination. It was also important in the creation of a new collective identity for, and sense of solidarity among, Mexican-Americans. Other ethnic categories sought to include a greater number of people of Latin American heritage and to capture aspects of their shared experience in the United States. In the 1970s, activists pushed for the inclusion of “Hispanic” on the U.S. Census in order to disaggregate poverty rates among Latinos and whites. Since then, different terms have emerged to describe this diverse population, including Latino and Latinx. The PBS project Latino Americans (available in English and Spanish) documents the experiences of Latinos in the United States and includes a selection of lesson plans for grades 7-12, as well as shorter, adaptable classroom activities. Additional resources for teaching immigration history include the Closer Readings Commentary “Everything Your Students Need to Know About Immigration History,” which provides an overview of immigration history in the United States, and Becoming US, a collection of teaching resources on migration and immigration created by the Smithsonian Institution.

        Framing questions and activities:

        • Terminology and identity: There are many words to describe the experiences and identities of Latinos in the United States. The words “Hispanic” and “Latino” are intentionally broad and meant to capture a wide diversity of identities and experiences, which means that they can also erase or diminish specific individuals and their stories. Teaching Tolerance has created and compiled a selection of educational materials, including readings, discussion questions, and suggestions for teachers, to help address this topic in the classroom. Within this Teacher’s Guide, the lessons in the section “Borderlands: Lessons from the Chihuahuan Desert” address questions of identity, belonging, and difference in greater depth.
        • Comparing and contrasting: Like "Sí, se puede!": Chávez, Huerta, and the UFW, the EDSITEment lesson Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and the Power of Nonviolence addresses the civil rights movement and the use of nonviolent protest to fight racism, discrimination, and exploitation. Ask students to research a specific protest organized by the UFW and one by leaders of the movement for African American civil rights. They might return to the lessons for some ideas, or work on a protest not included in the lesson plans. Ask them to discuss the following questions with respect to their chosen protests:
          • What actors were involved? What united them?
          • What were they protesting?
          • What strategies did they use? Describe the mechanics of the protest: its location and duration, what actions the protesters took, how they responded to any resistance or confrontations, how and why the protest ended. Depending on the protest they have chosen, a timeline and/or map may be a good way to represent this information.
          • Were there any divisions, controversies, or conflicts within the movement?
          • What responses met the protest? How was the protest represented in different media outlets from the time?
          • How has the protest been commemorated or remembered since it took place? How have those commemorations changed over time?
          • If you were to design a monument, event, or other public commemoration of this protest, what would you create? Why?

          A large selection of reviewed websites that explore the cultural legacy of Mexico, Central America, parts of the Caribbean, as well as other Latin American nations is also featured on EDSITEment. NPR’s Afropop Worldwide introduces the great variety of music with African roots today in countries like Colombia. A Collector's Vision of Puerto Rico features a rich timeline. Other EDSITEment resources focus on the history and culture of other countries. The EDSITEment lesson plan, Mexican Culture and History through Its National Holidays, encourages students to learn more about the United States’ closest southern neighbor by highlighting Mexico’s Independence Day and other important Mexican holidays.

          Additional EDSITEment-created resources help students attain a deeper understanding of the history and cultural wealth of that large and diverse country. EDSITEment marked the Mexican Revolution’s centennial (1910-2010) with a special EDSITEment-created bilingual spotlight that explores the revolution’s historical background, including the muralist movement, and the musical legacy of the corrido tradition. EDSITEment also notes Mexico’s vital role in world literature by saluting one of the most important poets in the Spanish language and the first great Latin American poet, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz in a fully bilingual academic unit. Here, teachers and students will find two lesson plans, accompanying bilingual glossaries, an interactive timeline, numerous worksheets, listening-comprehension exercises, and two interactive activities, one of which entails a detailed analysis of her portrait.

          Contemporary authors writing about Hispanic heritage in the United States include Pam Muñoz Ryan, whose award-winning work of juvenile fiction is featured in the EDSITEment lesson plan, Esperanza Rising: Learning Not to Be Afraid to Start Over (the lesson plan is also available in Spanish). Set in the early 1930s, twenty years after the Mexican Revolution and during the Great Depression, Esperanza Rising tells the story of a young Mexican girl's courage and resourcefulness when, at the tender age of thirteen, she finds herself living in a strange new world. Pam Muñoz Ryan also enriches her story with extensive historical background. Students are given an opportunity to engage in interesting classroom activities that encourage them to imagine the difficult choices facing those who decide to leave home and immigrate to the United States.

          On the literature front, both Latin America and Spain have a rich heritage. Set in the Dominican Republic during the rule of Rafael Trujillo, In the Time of the Butterflies fictionalizes historical figures in order to dramatize heroic efforts of the Mirabal sisters to overthrow this dictator’s brutal regime. EDSITEment lesson plan, Courage In the Time of the Butterflies, has students undertake a careful analysis of the sisters to see how each demonstrates courage. Students additionally analyze a speech delivered in 2006 by a daughter of one of the sisters to understand the historical legacy of these extraordinary women.

          A new EDSITEment curriculum unit of three lessons, Magical Realism in One Hundred Years of Solitude for the Common Core, has students uncover how Gabriel García Márquez meshes magical elements with a reality which is, in his view, fantastical in its own right. García Márquez actually recapitulates episodes in the history of Latin America through the novel's story of real and fantastical events experienced over the course of one century by the Buendía family.

          Students can learn more about some of the most important poets from the Spanish Golden Age and from the twentieth century through the feature Six Hispanic Literary Giants (this feature is also available in Spanish).

          Borderlands narratives have historically been seen as peripheral to the development of American history and identity and the binational spaces border people occupy have been portrayed as dangerous, illegitimate, and as part of a distinct counter-culture. During "Tales from the Chihuahuan Desert: Borderlands Narratives about Identity and Binationalism," a summer institute for educators (grades 6-12) sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and offered by The University of Texas at El Paso, scholars and teachers examine debates about American history and identity by focusing on the multicultural region and narratives of the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez metroplex.

          The lessons and materials provided below were created by institute attendees in the interest of developing "their own creative ways of implementing diverse storytelling methodologies into their teaching philosophies in order to more holistically reflect on the complex histories and identities of border peoples and of the binational spaces they inhabit." The complete portfolio of lesson plans is available at the "Tales from the Chihuahuan Desert: Borderlands Narratives about Identity and Binationalism" homepage.

          Smokestack Memories: A Borderlands History During the Gilded Age—The second industrialization also known as the Gilded Age from about 1870s-1900s is one of the most significant time periods in American history. In 1887, a smelter was established in El Paso which would become known as ASARCO. The purpose of this lesson is to understand and contextualize the global, national, border, and regional impact of industry during the Gilded Age. (Grade: 7, 8, 11) (Subject: U.S. History, AP U.S. History)

          Push/Pull Factors and the Quest for God, Gold, and Glory—Through these two lessons that connect early European exploration of US territories with contemporary immigration, students draw upon the familiar to understand the past and the long history of the United States as a nation by and for people of many cultures. (Grade: 8) (Subject: U.S. History, World History)

          Making a Nation—Through these lessons, students will produce an interactive map of North America in the earliest days of colonization that demonstrates the multiple nations and borderlands that cut across the physical space that we now consider to be clearly defined that they can then use throughout their study of American history. (Grade: 8) (Subject: Language Arts and Social Studies)

          Borders Near and Far: A Global and Local Investigation of Borderlands—This lesson is designed as an introduction for exploring the theme of borders and borderlands throughout a literature course. Compelling questions and text-based examples are provided to prepare students for independent close readings and discussions of borders at multiple points during the school year. (Grade: 11-12) (Subject: Literature and Language Arts)

          Know Thyself—This unit focuses on the topics of identity, stereotypes, culture, and biculturalism. It is a four-part unit intended to extend throughout the semester with supplemental activities and resources in between. This unit is presented in English to serve lower level Spanish courses, however, it can be adapted and taught in Spanish with additional vocabulary instruction and scaffolding. (Grade: 9-12) (Subject: Language, Spanish level 1, 2)

          Borders: Understanding and Overcoming Differences—Students will examine the concept of borders, both literal and figurative, as well as what a border is and how it is created. They will use this knowledge as they learn about the U.S.-Mexico border and will delve deeper into the idea of borders as they examine their own lives. (Grade: 8-10) (Subject: Spanish and Social Studies)

          Latino Americans is an NEH-funded documentary series that chronicles the rich and varied history and experiences of Latinos from the first European settlements to the present day. The website contains trailers from all episodes, a timeline, and an opportunity to upload your own video history. The related education initiative invites teachers and learners to explore the many ways that Latinos have contributed to the history and culture of the United States.

          To accompany Episode 3: War and Peace, Humanities Texas offers a collection of resources to explore the contributions of Latino Americans during the second world war and the experience of returning servicemen who faced discrimination despite their service. These lesson plans and activities include viewing guides to support students as they watch the episode and primary sources to draw out key themes and events introduced by the film.

          Social Studies and History

          The Mexican Revolution —In order to better understand this decade-long civil war, we offer an overview of the main players on the competing sides, primary source materials for point of view analysis, discussion of how the arts reflected the era, and links to Chronicling America, a free digital database of historic newspapers, that covers this period in great detail.

          Chronicling America's Spanish-language newspapers—The Spanish-language newspapers in Chronicling America, along with those published in English, allow us to look beyond one representation of the communities and cultures pulled into the United States by wars and treaties of the 19th century. Spanish-language newspapers reveal how these communities reported on their own culture, politics, and struggles to form an identity in a brand new context.

          Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción and the Spanish Mission in the New World—Focusing on the daily life of Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, the lesson asks students to relate the people of this community and their daily activities to the art and architecture of the mission.

          Literature and Language Arts

          Esperanza Rising: Learning Not to Be Afraid to Start Over (also available in Spanish)—In this lesson students will explore some of the contrasts that Esperanza experiences when she suddenly falls from her lofty perch as the darling child of a wealthy landowner surrounded by family and servants to become a servant herself among an extended family of immigrant farm workers.

          Magical Realism in One Hundred Years of Solitude (Curriculum Unit)—Author Gabriel García Márquez meshes magical elements with a reality which is, in his view, fantastical in its own right. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez vividly retells episodes in the history of Latin America through the story of real and fantastical events experienced over the course of one century by the Buendía family.

          Women and Revolution: In the Time of the Butterflies—In this lesson, students undertake a careful analysis of the main characters to see how each individually demonstrates courage in the course of her family’s turbulent life events in the Dominican Republic during the dictatorial rule of Rafael Trujillo.

          Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: The First Great Latin American Poet (Curriculum Unit, also available in Spanish)—Through this curriculum unit students will gain an understanding of why Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is considered one of the most important poets of Latin America, and why she is also considered a pioneering feminist writer and poet.

          "Every Day We Get More Illegal" by Juan Felipe Herrera—In his poem “Every Day We Get More Illegal” Juan Felipe Herrera, the former Poet Laureate of the United States, gives voice to the feelings of those “in-between the light,” who have ambiguous immigration status and work in the United States.

          "Translation for Mamá" by Richard Blanco—Richard Blanco wrote the poem “Translation for Mamá” for his mother, who came to the United States from Cuba to create a new life for herself and her family. Using both English and Spanish language translation, Blanco honors the bridge between his mother’s new identity and the losses she faced in emigration.

          Culture and Arts

          Picturing America (Available in Spanish)—The Picturing America project celebrates Hispanic heritage with a handsome visual reminder of the Spanish influence on American history, religion, and culture.

          La Familia—Students will learn about families in various Spanish cultures and gain a preliminary knowledge of the Spanish language, learning the Spanish names for various family members.

          De Colores—This lesson plan is designed for young learners at the novice or novice-intermediate level of proficiency in Spanish. The vocabulary, the colors, is appealing to young learners because colors are easy for them to comprehend and observe while connecting the newly acquired vocabulary to familiar objects.

          Origins of Halloween and the Day of the Dead—This EDSITEment feature can be used with students as a framework for discussing the origins and history of the Halloween festival and introducing them to the Mexican festival, the Day of the Dead (el Día de Muertos), recognizing the common elements shared these festivals of the dead as well as the acknowledging the differences between them.

          Mexican Culture and History through Its National Holidays—This lesson will focus on holidays that represent and commemorate Mexico's religious traditions, culture, and politics over the past five hundred years.


          Maya and Aztec

          The earliest known contact by Europeans probably occurred during the last voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1502. However, the existence of the Maya did not become fully known to the outside world until 1517, when three ships commanded by Francisco Hernandez de Cordova landed at Cape Catoche. They arrived back in Cuba almost dead from starvation. Cordova reported that he had discovered mysterious cities on the Yucatan’s coast and that they had fought savage battles against the Maya warriors. They brought back with them, gold ornaments and necklaces stolen out of the Maya temples At once, the Governor of Cuba Diego Valasquez send out an expe­dition under his nephew Juan de Grijalva. After retracing Cordova’s previous route they entered the Rio Tabasco and immediately encountered Maya from whom they obtained some gold objects in trade. It was here that they also heard rumors of the wealthy Aztec empire called Mejico. In an effort to verify these reports Grijalva sailed northward to Veracruz. There they met emissaries who had been sent by Montezuma the Aztec emperor. With them was a large quantity of gold that he had sent to appease the Spaniards. However, it had the opposite effect. Instead, this fatal mistake would launch the Spanish Conquest of Mexico and end up costing Montezuma his life. After hearing about Grijalva’s revelations Cortes would march to Tenochtitlan with soldiers, artillery, horses, and heavy armor. Along side of them would be thousands of Indians allies from the Tlaxcalan and Totonac tribes. It would take Cortes almost two years to topple Tenochtitlan and loot all of its treasure.

          Very soon afterwards large areas once inhabited by Maya came under Spanish attack. The Maya had traded ex­tensively with the Aztecs, and even though the Aztecs were Mesoamericas’s most powerful empire, the Mayan’s insisted on maintaining their own independence. Since 1300, the Quiche Mayans had ruled over the Guatemalan highlands, and when the Aztec’s tried to advance against Mayan territories they were met with great resistance. They ruled from their sacred mountain top capital, which was called Utatlan. The Quiche realm was the largest in Central America It was created by prowess of two great military leaders. Their legendary leader was named K’ucumatz (1375-1425) and his son Quik’ab (1425-1475). The Quiche believed both men had supernatural shamanistic powers. The Mayans believed that Utatlan was favored by the gods, and the surrounding cities were re­quired to pay tribute. At this time the population of Utatlan was approximately 50,000. In 1470. the Cakchiquel Mayans rebelled and set up their own kingdom. This was followed by the Tzutujil Maya on Lake Atitlan. Soon, more and more rebellions occurred forcing the population out of the vulnerable valley sites that had been their homes for more than 1.000 years. The Maya positioned themselves in medieval European fortress like castles on mountain ridges These fortress-like cities looked down on the cultivated valleys bellow, and they were protected by moat-like ravines. When the enemy was near the population of Utatlan would swell as everyone fled to the city for safety. At least three citadels guarded the city and its 140 civic buildings.

          By 1510, civil war had weakened the Quiche Mayans so much that they were now making tribute payments of gold, cacao, quetzal feathers, and textiles to Tenochtitlan. In return, for his loyalty, Montezuma gave away two of his daughters to a Quiche ruler. Many Quiche caci­ques learned Nahuatl as Nahuatl had become the uni­versal language used by merchant traders.

          Pedro De Alvarado

          In 1523, Cortes sent Captain Pedro de Alvarado, 400 soldiers. 160 horses, and plenty of artillery, ammunition, crossbowmen, and musketeers to conquer Guatemala and El Salvador. Cortes spent to much money that it put him into considerable debt, but he expected to be ad­equately compensated from the gold, silver, and jewels that would be found. Alvarado was described as hand­some, and a natural leader of soldiers. He was Cortes’ leading captain. They were accompanied by over 20.000 Indian auxiliaries. The Indians included Tlaxcalans, Mixtecs, Zapotecs, as well as some recently conquered Aztecs. Utatlan refuse to cooperate with the Spaniards. They tried to unite all of the Mayan factions, but they were too late. The Cakchiquels had already made a pact with the Spaniards. The Cakchiquels sent 2.000 soldiers to slaughter the Quiches. The great Quiche cap­tain Tecum organized 10.000 troops from the surrounding towns to fight the Spaniards. The Quiches met the Spaniards outside of what is today called Quetzaltenango. Alvarado estimated that at the time of battle there were 30.000 Quiche warriors. Alvarado and his men rolled over the Quiches in what has been described as a very bloody battle. After the battle the Quiches agreed to make peace with him. They invited him to Utatlan for a feast and as Alvarado crossed a ravine into the walled fortress city he feared a trap. Alvarado and his men barely made it out with their lives. The Spaniards escaped to the valley plains below the citadel. They would have to fight the Quiches one more time before they would finally give in to Spanish occupation.

          Unlike Mexico, there wasn’t any type of central authority ruling what remained of Guatemala. Instead, much like today, the Spanish found great ethnic diversity. They were forced to separately conquer each city-state and chief Making things even more difficult were the constant uprisings. Some cultures required more than one suppression. In order to intimidate the Mayans he tortured and burned the rulers alive. Then, even when they surrendered to him peacefully he still enslaved them. When his conquest extended south towards El Salvador the Pipil Indians abandoned their cities rather than face enslavement, torture, or death. Soon. Alvarado began frustrated with the lack of wealth in Guatemala. There was no gold to be found. The first permanent Spanish settlement. Santiago de Guatemala was established at the foot of Volcan Agua in November 1527. Alvarado returned to Mexico to claim his conquest of Guatemala only to have the Cakcquichel Mayans flee into the mountains and rebel for two more years. By 1532, the Cakcquichel were working as slaves for the Spaniards.

          In 1524, an expedition to conquer Honduras was led by Cristobal de Olid. Olid was under direct orders from Her­nando Cortes. Honduras fell with little interference. Then, as soon as it fell Olid declared it his personal kingdom. During the next two years six conquistadors would clash with him over control of the territory. In order to maintain control Olid killed his nephew and imprisoned two fellow conquistadors. Before long. Olid’s would be captured and imprisoned. He was subsequently beheaded.

          Francisco de Montejo

          Then in 1526, Francisco de Montejo received a royal decree authorizing him to subjugate the Yucatan Peninsula. Montejo’s first attempt in 1527 ended in disaster. Disease, mutiny by his soldiers, and the determined resistance of the Maya forced him to withdraw to Mexico. Three years later Montejo again tried to retake the Yucatan. This time he attempted to colonize several different locations He even constructed a garrison at the ruins of Chichen Itza. Montejo lost everything, and became bitterly disappointed by his failures. Then in 1541, Montejo was too old to return to the Yucatan so he empowered his son. His son had the same exact name, and this time things would be quite different. First, disease (small pox) had now taken an extensive toll on the Mayan population. The Maya had no natural immunity to the European diseases. Smallpox was fol­lowed by influenza, yellow fever, measles tuberculosis amebic dysentery, and very possibly malaria and hookworm. Also, the Yucatan Peninsula had been repeatedly wipped out by locust invasions that left nothing to eat. Montejo had with him 350 well-equipped soldiers and a large group of Maya auxiliaries, who were called the Xiu. From a centralized location he sent out repeated military expeditions to subdue the areas that re­fused to be subdued.

          After one year Montejo the Younger had managed to conquer the entire western half of the peninsula. Then, on Jan. 6.1542. he selected the ancient town of T’ho as a permanent site for a capital. He named it Merida, and used this site as his base of operations. By 1547, he had full control over the Yucatan.

          Only one area of Guatemala remained free from Spanish control. This was the jungle-covered lowlands of Peten, where the ancient city of Tikal had been constructed. This area has an extremely hostile environment and is largely uninhabited even today. Scattered groups of Maya managed to live in the most remote parts of this region without Spanish control for another one hundred and fifty years. The largest of these groups were the Itza, whose capital of Tayasal, was on an island in Lake Peten Itza. By 1618, several attempts were made at converting the Itza to Christianity, but these attempts proved futile. Then, when another missionary named Diego Delgado made an attempt they took him captive and sacrificed him. This action provoked military action. In March, 1697, Martin de Ursua arrived at Lake Peten Itza with a large modern military force. The first thing he did was have a small galley constructed so he could attack Tayasal by water. Hundreds of Itza were killed as it quickly turned into a slaughter.

          From the very beginning of the Spanish Conquest the Indians had been reduced to slaves and had their lands con­fiscated. This immediately had become an accepted practice. Also, the Spanish conquistadors wanted to be com­pensated for their services. The Spanish believed that the best way to achieve this was through the Spanish encomienda. Under this feudal system the Spaniards were awarded land grants together with the services of the na­tives. The natives who were largely vassals of the landowners, were required to work in mines, construction proj­ects, and harvest crops. In addition, they were required to pay regular tributes to their lords. Usually the conditions were horrible and if they complained they were severely punished. Punishment included beatings, torture, impris­onment, and execution. Sometimes if they rebelled they were sold into outright slavery. Alvarado himself received an enormous encomienda. It included the labor and tribute from the highly populated areas of Quetzaltenango, Atitlan, as well as Santa Cruz Utatan (the new name for Utatlan). Franciscan and Dominican friars worked simulta­neously at obliterating Mayan religious beliefs. All important temples, shrines, and alters were destroyed. Any at­ tempt to worship idols, wear ceremonial costumes, or enact native religious rights were vigorously suppressed.
          Catholic faith became mandatory, and failure to accept conversion was met with harsh penalties.

          Christian dogma was enforced with brutal methods. Beatings, whippings, mutilation, and scalding with boiling water were fre­quently used according to the Spanish mayor of Merida, Diego Quijada. These acts frequently provoked Maya rebellion, and plots to overthrow the Spaniards were numerous. However, the result was always the same, after initial success the Spaniards remained in control.

          In 1549, a Franciscan friar named Diego de Landa came to Merida to serve at the monastery of Izamal. Wherever he went in the Yucatan he ordered the swift destruction of all remnants of the native religions. Landa was know for using severe measures in his attempts to cleanse the local pagans. Frequently, he used tor­ture while converting the natives. Then on July 11, 1562, Landa committed an act that would horrify scholars forever. He publicly burned a repository of hieroglyphic books. These books were made from the bark of the wild fig tree, strengthened by a natural gum substance, and then coated in white stucco. Scribes had la­boriously drawn figures and hieroglyphic symbols, coloring them with natural paints made from minerals and vegetables. In a few minutes all records of the history of the ancient Maya were de­stroyed.


          The True History of the Conquest of New Spain (Bernard Diaz)

          Project description
          formulate an analytical response to one student post. This means students will not earn credit for simply agreeing or disagreeing with another students’ original post. All students must explain their intellectual position to another students’ original post based on evidence from the various readings, lectures and documentaries.
          Sources are :
          An Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico (Portillo)

          The True History of the Conquest of New Spain (Bernard Diaz)
          student post :
          How can the first contact between the Europeans and Native Americans be described?
          Well, the first meeting between the Spaniards and the Aztecs was pretty interesting. When the Spaniards arrived to the palace at Tlayacac, the Aztecs welcomed them with open arms. The Aztecs flooded the Spaniards with gifts which reflected their customs and beliefs. These gifts were two suns, one made of yellow metal and the other of white metal. They also brought the Spaniards a mirror in which hung off the person, a gold collar, a gold pitcher, fans, ornaments of quetzal feathers, and a shield made of mother of pearls. It would be easier to believe that the Aztecs were a little more precautions of their land, of their people when strangers were passing through, but they were not. Apparently, the Aztecs felt safe as if the Spaniards were of no threat to them. After reading both articles, “The True History of the Conquest of New Spain” by Bernal Diaz and “An Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico”, it seems as if the Aztecs had a second chance, they would definatly try a different approach when they first came in contact with the Spaniards. This is best described in the article by Bernal Diaz which states, “Senior Malinche, if I had thought that you would so insult my Gods, i would not have shown them to you.” In my opinion, this should have been the precaution that should have occured from the beginning.

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          The Ties that Bind: Ancient Maya Textiles and the Modern Tradition

          Figure 1. Maya ruler K’inich Lamaw Ek’ receives tribute from subject lords on December 16, 778. Each participant wears formal clothing appropriate to his position and the palace setting, the ruler being the most opulently attired. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Loan of Landon T. Clay. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          Dressing the human body for protection from the elements has been a constant need since the early beginnings of humanity more than 100,000 years ago. But the body’s basic necessities of defense and comfort cannot begin to explain the marvelous elaboration of clothing and the textile arts the world over and throughout time (fig. 1). From the earliest eras, clothing and body adornment rapidly became a prime social medium for expressing relationships between the wearer and society at large, a practice which remains strong in the modern world. For example, textiles and accouterments denote one’s communal identity, social and economic status, and political and spiritual beliefs, thereby simultaneously expressing unity and personal individuality. Therefore once the essential need to protect the body was realized, cultures throughout the world expanded clothing and body adornments into an effective tool for communication.

          Figure 2. Map indicating the location of the ancient and modern Maya within Mesoamerica. Drawing by Georgia Clark.

          The social role of clothing was well developed among the myriad cultures of Mesoamerica that were encountered by the colonizing Spanish in the 16 th century (Anawalt 1981). From Mexico to Honduras, clothing styles identified a person’s geo-cultural origin and even specific community, serving as the visible foundation of political identity and place within her/his culture’s concept of social and universal order. Therefore, the study of dress in ancient Mesoamerica encompasses the many facets of society and political organization throughout this vast region, in which the Maya inhabit its southeastern half (fig. 2).

          Figure 3a. A fragment of brocade cloth from the Sacred Cenote, Chichén Itzá, Mexico. Photo courtesy of Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University.

          Yet data concerning ancient clothing styles are limited because so few fiber remains have been recovered from the archaeological record, the only survivals being cloth fragments or “pseudomorphs” (decayed fibers substituted by a mineral compound) (fig. 26b) (see The Threads of Time Conservation Project). The lack of surviving Maya textiles is largely due to the region’s wet environmental conditions that preclude the survival of organic materials, which is in sharp contrast to the arid climes of the Andean world where spectacular textiles have survived from as early as 2400 BC (Murra 1989, Paul 1991 also see Cobo 1990 [1653], Guaman Poma 1980 [1615]). Given the paucity of surviving ancient Maya cloth, we look to carved stone monuments and especially painted pictorial ceramics to glimpse the textile arts from the Classic period (figs. 7, 13-19, 20b-23, 25, 26a, 26c-29. Figurines also are a bountiful source of textile depictions but are beyond the scope of this study (e.g. see Schele 1997) (fig. 20a).

          A few examples of pre-Hispanic Maya textiles have survived and provide important examples for comparison to the carved and painted depictions of textiles. The largest fragments come from the bottom of the Sacred Cenote at Chichén Itzá, its nearly anaerobic conditions preserving the organic fibers (figure 3a). Smaller remains have been excavated from burials at sites in Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, although these examples are but miniscule remains of stacks of fabric offerings or the wrappings of special objects (fig. 3b) (also see Carlsen 1986, King 1979, Mahler 1965, Mastache 1971, Plitnikas 2002, Johnson W. 1954). Yet these tiny fragments exemplify the expertise of ancient Maya weavers even though they comprise a limited corpus of the wide-ranging technical repertoire available to Classic period weavers (Coggins and Shane 1984, Lothrop 1992).

          Figure 3b. Eccentric flint with textile remains from a dedicatory offering inside Structure 16 (the “Rosalila” shrine), Copán, Honduras. Photo courtesy of Ricardo Agurcia.

          Figure 4. Diego de Landa Calderón (1524-1579), the first bishop of Yucatan, Mexico, wrote detailed accounts of all aspects of Maya life during his residency in the Franciscan mission of San Antonio in Izamal from 1549-1566. Sixteenth-century portrait in a monastery at Izamal, Mexico (artist unknown). Licensed under Public Domain.

          Albeit small, the surviving Classic period remains reveal the presence of both Z-spun and S-plied cotton yarn, at least three types of plain weaves, brocades (plain weaves with supplementary weft decoration), twills, double cloth, gauze weaves, looped weft pile, tapestry, and warp-float and open work with supplementary warp weft floats (Looper 2007, 85). Impressions on the bottom of pottery vessels excavated at sites throughout the Maya region provide additional evidence for plain, duck and canvas weaves (e.g. at Piedras Negras and Uaxactun Kidder 1947, 70). These impressed remains intimate the usefulness of fabric for pottery-making, a practice which continues uninterrupted among present day potters in Yucatán and Guatemala (Reina and Hill 1978, 135-136).

          Figure 5. A pair of Maya men’s pants from the town of Chichicastenango show the strong influence of Spanish clothing. Michael C. Carlos Museum, 2009.42.96. Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017.

          Before turning to the ceramic depictions, another significant source is Colonial-period writings by Spanish and indigenous authors that illuminate the pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican traditions (Acuña 1984, Motolinía 1971, Oviedo y Valdez 1851-5 [1535], Sahagún 1950-82). Among the most detailed writings are those of 16 th -century chroniclers Bartolomé de Las Casas (1951, 1967), Diego López de Cogolludo (2010), Bishop Diego de Landa (Tozzer 1941) (fig. 4), and a plethora of Crónicas written by different authors, including those living among the Maya in the Guatemalan highlands (Recinos, Conoy and Goetz 1950 also see Christenson 2001 for an in-depth list). Diego de Landa’s tome Relación de las Cosas de Yucatán (Account of the Things of Yucatan), written around 1566 and first published in 1864 by Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg, offers primary information concerning nearly every aspect of the social life of the Yucatek Maya of eastern Mexico. Bishop Landa worked closely with Native individuals including Juan (Nachi) Cocom and Gaspar Chi who came from well-placed families, and he borrowed heavily from other chroniclers’ writings (Tozzer 1941, viii-ix). Throughout the manuscript Landa describes the importance of textiles for communicating social identity, religious roles and ritual practices, and for transacting economic affairs. He focuses on cotton cloth as a primary exchange commodity and means to settle debts and pay taxes. Landa also describes the principal kinds of garments worn by the Maya, defining who wore which type and when. We can compare these descriptions of textiles and related customs with the ancient survivals to glimpse the now-lost social and economic practices, symbolic meanings, and artistic expressions in the fiber arts.

          Figure 6a. A contemporary woman’s blouse from Santiago Atitlan (a Tz’utujil town). On loan to the Michael C. Carlos Museum, L2016.27.2. Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017.

          Figure 6b. Huipíl from Santo Tomás Chichicastenango (a K’iche’ town), ca. 1945. Michael C. Carlos Museum, 2016.18.1. Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017.

          We also look to modern forms of dress for continuities with the past (e.g. Carlsen 1991, Morris 1985a, Johnson W. 1958). Today, Maya peoples inhabit the eastern half of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and northern Honduras (fig. 2). They speak twenty-eight languages and dialects, which linguists divide into the highland and lowland language families (Boas 1911, Longacre 1967). Just as language and social customs distinguish one group from another, so too do manners of clothing the body and the designs adorning the cloth. They comprise the outward expression of each Maya group’s efforts to sustain its distinctiveness within the modern socio-political boundaries and the broader human community.

          Figure 7. A marriage negotiation takes place inside a palace, with representatives from the potential groom’s family presenting a bundle of valuable goods (e.g. cacao beans) to a seated nobleman who may be the father of the prospective bride kneeling behind him. On loan to the Michael C. Carlos Museum, L2003.14.58. Photo by Bruce M. White, 2011.

          European clothing styles made lasting changes in Maya garment traditions, especially among the male population because men have long interacted more closely with the colonizing Europeans and post-Colonial administrative structures as they seek credence and employment in the new political and economic systems. In these extra-community positions, indigenous dress was discouraged if not outright banned, and over the centuries Maya male dress was replaced by European forms such as pants replacing the loin cloth and hip wrap attire of Classic Maya men (fig. 5). Indigenous styles of men’s clothing remained in use only in isolated areas and during local rites and social practices. In contrast, Maya women’s attire remained more constant in its Native forms, although it, too, responded to European tenets of appropriateness and style (see Creations of the Red Goddess).

          Figure 8. Folded in half, a modern Maya man’s blanket is worn draped over one shoulder, its lack of tailoring a continuity with ancient wear. Michael C. Carlos Museum, 2009.42.121. Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017.

          Today, the greatest variety of indigenous Maya dress has survived in the highlands of southern Guatemala for a variety of reasons. First, the 16 th -century Spanish were obligated to give certain rights and legal status to Native rulers and their constituent communities, and forms of dress were essential markers of identity not only for the Maya but also the Spanish as expressions of the new socio-political order. This is not to say that the Spanish granted free rein for the wearing of Native attire indeed, European prejudice and restrictions placed constant pressure on the Maya to adopt the foreign norms. Yet Maya clothing styles tenaciously persisted, especially among communities with limited European contact. During the 19 th - and early 20 th -century struggles for Guatemalan independence from Spain, and later during the devastating 1960-1996 civil war, indigenous clothing styles were crucial statements of Native rights and solidarity in spite of retribution from governmental authorities. Even under these dire circumstances Maya clothing styles survived, and today women throughout Guatemala wear with pride their distinctive local styles of dress (fig. 6). In addition, indigenous garments are commonly worn by Guatemalans of European descent as a statement of national pride.

          Figure 9. A contemporary Chimaltenango huipíl corresponds to the ancient clothing category of a slip-on blouse. Michael C. Carlos Museum, 2016.18.2. Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017.

          This catalog displays the variety and artistry of the modern survivals of ancient Maya dress. They illustrate the diversity of local styles expressed in the artists’ choices of fibers, dye colors, fabric texture, decorative patterns, types of attire and manner of wearing them. Of particular importance, both today and likely in ancient times, was a garment’s decorative configuration. Studies of modern Maya clothing emphasize the significance of textile decoration, which goes far beyond exhibiting the fiber artist’s dexterity and creativity. These intricate tableaux comprise a symbolic system of meaningful visual codes that communicate social and political information and spiritual beliefs (Morris 1985b). They converse on a variety of levels, and the ability to “read” the full message depends on one’s degree of literacy, which is directly correlated with the person’s extent of cultural initiation. As outsiders to contemporary Maya cultures, we can take part in only some of the messages. Others are meant only for members of the immediate community and sometimes only for the weaver herself whose fiber creations are an essential outlet of personal expression and a shielded tool of cultural survival.

          Figure 10. A man’s jacket from Chichicastenango is tailored in the European style. Michael C. Carlos Museum, 2009.42.93. Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017. See figure 5 for the matching pants.

          In Guatemala today styles of dress and decorative programs articulate not only socio-cultural identity but also such features as social status, political affiliation and religious beliefs — both Catholic and indigenous (see Dressing the Saints). The variations in color and decorative imagery differentiate towns and municipios (an organizational system of socio-politically aligned villages imposed by the 16 th -century Spanish to manage the Native population for purposes of compulsory labor, tax obligations, and religious conversion). Today, subtle nuances in decorative patterning characterize neighborhoods ( barrios ), families, and even master weavers. In addition, both coloration and design motifs can communicate such important matters as marital status. For example, widows wear darker colors and avoid the use of red, in contrast to the clothes of unmarried girls who don more fancy and colorful garments. The elaboration and finesse of a young woman’s clothing signify her personal pride and hard-working nature, which indicate she will be a good spouse.

          Figure 11. A modern Maya backstrap loom is almost exactly the same as its ancient counterpart. Michael C. Carlos Museum, 2009.42.547. Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017.

          As for clothing types, as seen the world over, special garments are made and worn during primary life-changing events — especially marriage and religious observances. Ceremonial textiles are profusely decorated with imagery that pertains to the nature of the ceremony and the wearer’s role therein. Maya ritual clothing typically is made of richer materials and displays the highest quality artistry, reflecting the importance of the solemn rites. These garments’ decorative programs often are more conservative in design and symbolic content because they convey key religious principles, many of which weave together Catholic and indigenous beliefs.

          Figure 12. An ancient Mixtec carved bone batten was carved with an elaborate scene of a man’s death, showing that the idea of a simple tool was transcended by these later neighbors of the Maya. Michael C. Carlos Museum, 1994.18.13. Photo by Michael McKelvey.

          Ceramic Representations of Ancient Mesoamerican and Maya Dress

          Lacking the actual ancient garments themselves, a primary source of comparative material is the scenes painted on the pictorial pottery, which is a hallmark of Classic Maya culture (Reents-Budet et al. 1994). The painted scenes comprise first-hand, albeit highly formalized, representations of courtly life and ritual (e.g. figs. 1, 7). Men and women are depicted in a variety of official events, including palace-based meetings for social and political proceedings, religious obligations of rulers, war victory celebrations and the presentation of tribute, and royal performances in both public and more private settings (Miller and Martin 2004 Reents-Budet 2001). These renderings offer a detailed inventory of event- and role-appropriate elite clothing, identifying the person’s gender, social status, and political role or civic function (Carlson 1991 Looper 2001 Morris 1985a, 1985b Reents-Budet 2007 Tate 1992, 70-84). Many of these same garments are described in the Colonial period sources and continue to be worn today, whereas others have dropped out of fashion due to social, economic, and political pressures during Colonial to modern times as discussed previously.

          Figure 14a. Ruler Ch’ok Wayis wears a plain white loincloth, hip wrap and matching head wrap. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Landon T. Clay, 2004.2204. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          Figure 14b. On the same vessel, a courtier standing behind ruler Ch’ok Wayis sports a decorated loincloth with matching hip cloth and head wrap. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Landon T. Clay, 2004.2204. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          All ancient Mesoamerican cultures shared a common repertoire of clothing forms based on the same methods of construction. Following the principles of categorization developed by François Boucher and adapted to Mesoamerican traditions by Patricia Anawalt (1981, 9-10), Mesoamerican clothing may be divided into five types. These are the draped garment (fig. 8), the slip-on garment with a neck opening and no underarm seam or split (fig. 9), the open-sewn garment composed of multiple widths sewn together and open at the front, the closed-sewn garment (see fig. 6a), and the limb-encasing garment which is the only Mesoamerican garment that requires both cutting and sewing of the woven textile panel (fig. 10).

          Although Mesoamerican garments may be viewed as simplistically constructed following a limited repertoire of forms, textiles were extensively and expertly decorated using a wide variety of weaving and post-weaving techniques, the latter including painting, dyeing, and embroidery. Color was critically important for both symbolic and aesthetic reasons. Dyestuffs were made from different vegetal sources including flowers, roots, wood bark, and fruit. Other hues were fabricated from marine shellfish dyes, the dried bodies of the female cochineal insect (see The Best of the Best), and various minerals and colored earths. Color also was added to textiles by interweaving or attaching bird feathers in ancient times, iridescent insect carcasses and colorful shell and stone embellishments were used, too (e.g. Reents-Budet 2009, 43-44, Schvell 1993, 189).

          Cloth was, as it is today, hand-woven on a backstrap loom (the same type as used in the Andes, see The Best of the Best and Capturing the Rainbow) (fig. 11). The threads were painstakingly processed and spun from cotton, agave, and other plant fibers. The weaving tool repertoire is illustrated and discussed by Father Bernabé de Sahagún in his exhaustive 16th-century report on the lifeways of central Mexican peoples (Sahagún 1926, libro 8, also see Sahagún 1950-82). He describes the fiber arts as the foremost work of women who learn the craft at a very early age and weave throughout their lives.

          Figure 15a. Warriors wearing short-sleeved tunics take captives during a battle, this unusual garment only seen in battle attire in the Classic Maya pictorial record. Photo © Justin Kerr, K2352.

          Figure 15b. Ritual combatants dress in matching black sleeved tunic and shorts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Landon T. Clay, 1988.1274. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          Sahagún specifically comments that among the Mixtecs of Oaxaca, textiles were so important to the social economy that rulers often had as many as fifteen wives who spent their days constructing fabric and clothing (Burgoa 1989, Herrera 1945, Pohl 1994). Infant girls were presented with all the necessary tools (a very fancy and high-status example seen in fig. 12), and women were buried with their weaving kit as these were essential to a woman’s existence from birth to death and even afterwards in the spirit realm (Sahagún 1950-82, books I:44, 6:201, 8:49) (also true in the Andes, see Capturing the Rainbow). Archaeological evidence for Classic Maya weaving activities and weaving tools is relatively scarce, although the remains of weaving activity have been found in palace contexts (e.g. at Aguateca, Guatemala Inomata 2001) and a few tools also survive (e.g. weaving picks make of bone Herring 1985).

          Moving back in time 800 years among the Maya of southern Mesoamerica, the same 16th-century inventory of five clothing types is illustrated on pictorial pottery. The typical male outfit is based on the simple loincloth, usually white in color although red and black cloth also was used, and some have decorated ends (fig. 13a, b). Bishop Landa makes special note of weavers’ attention to fine patterning of loincloth ends including the interweaving of colorful bird feathers (Tozzer 1941, 89). A hip cloth, of variable lengths and amount of embellishment, is wrapped over the loincloth. This second loin garment is typical of more formal attire for men and may be extensively decorated using a variety of weaving techniques (fig. 13b, c also see fig. 2). Often the white loincloth is elegantly tied above the embellished hip cloths (fig. 13c) These two garments comprise the fundamental male attire, and may be paired with a simple head wrap of similar design (fig. 15a, b).

          Figure 16a. A man smokes a cigarette and stares at a jar filled with an alcoholic beverage, perhaps pulque made from fermented agave sap (the undistilled version of tequila). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Anonymous loan. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          Figure 16b. A ritual performer shakes a long-handled rattle and dances on the wide stairs of a palace or other administrative building. He wears a short fringed cape while his seated companion sports a black-hued version of this performance garment. Photo © Justin Kerr, K3825.

          Men wear other types of garments depending on the kind of event in which they participate, the garments’ form and decoration serving to identify status and relationships among the persons in the scene. Garment color also was manipulated by Maya painters as a narrative device to lead the viewer’s eye through a cylindrical vessel’s wrap-around scene and ensure the correct interpretation of the historical message (see fig. 1). For example, this vase records a tribute presentation event between a paramount and a subordinate ruler. The two men’s nearly equal socio-political status is implied by both wearing capes. Yet the dominant ruler is discerned by his placement higher in the picture plane, and his colorful cape occupies more pictorial space. The dominant ruler’s two courtiers, too, sport ornate hip cloths whereas those of the subordinate lord are monochrome (the standing man holding a hammock litter, and the seated man behind the caped noble).

          Figure 16c. A seated ruler wears a distinctive red-and-pink tufted cape as he greets his victorious war captain. Photo © Justin Kerr, K3412.

          Figure 17a. A nobleman dances during a vision quest rite to open the portal to the spirit realm of gods and deified ancestors. Note the divination mirror behind him, supported by its rolled-up carrying cloth. Photo © Justin Kerr, K5233.

          Limb-encasing garments, including pants and sleeved shirts as found in the modern inventory (see figs. 5, 10), are nearly absent in both the early 16 th -century and Classic period inventories. Pants and sleeved shirts primarily are a European substitute for indigenous male garments in response to Spanish standards of men’s attire, as noted above. However, sleeved and legged garments were present in ancient times. In highland Mexico among the 15 th -century Aztecs limb-encasing garments were exclusive to warriors’ costumes, and are illustrated in many central Mexican manuscripts such as the Codex Mendoza (Anawalt 1982, 2011 Sahagún vol. 3, fol 65r).

          The same may be true for the Classic Maya portfolio of combatants’ clothing. For example, a vase from the southern Guatemalan highlands records a battle and subsequent prisoner presentation event in which the victorious warriors sport short-sleeved tops — some made from plain white cloth and others from jaguar-pelt (or jaguar-patterned cloth) (fig. 15a). On another vase, ritual combatants dress in sleeved tops with matching black shorts (fig. 15b compare with the modern version in fig. 5). Men occasionally wear short or long capes depending on role, status, and the nature of the event. Mid-length and long capes usually identify nobles attending palace events whereas more elaborate ones are reserved for rulers and special officials or participants playing principal roles in certain ceremonial events (see figs. 2, 16).

          Figure 18a. A courtesan wears an elegant short blouse wrapped over her breasts and a long wrap skirt in contrasting colors and designs. Photo © Justin Kerr, K544.

          Figure 18b. Two royal women are dressed in typical courtly attire, including a two-piece outfit of long tunic over a wrap skirt and a long wrap dress covering the breasts. Note the lively patterning typical of high status clothing. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Landon T. Clay, 1988.1176. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          Figure 17b. A noble assumes the guise of a mythical shrimp-centipede-jaguar spirit during a ritual performance. Princeton Art Museum, y1988-22. Photo © Justin Kerr, K533.

          Figure 18c. A mythical scene features a woman entwined in the coils of a boa constrictor from which emerges an aged deity. She wears a tunic dress wrapped underneath her ample breasts. Photo © Justin Kerr, K5164.

          For example, participants in vision quest rites frequently tie a short plain cape across one shoulder and draped over the chest (fig. 16a). Elaborate shoulder capes are worn by performers and participants in rites taking place in more open settings such as the wide staircases fronting palaces and administrative buildings (fig. 16b). And a distinctive pink-and-white tufted cape is reserved for those receiving war bounty (fig. 16c). This singular cape may have been decorated with rows of feathers based on observations by Spanish friars concerning feathered garments being reserved for warriors (Anawalt 1981, 10, 37-29 Tozzer 1941, 201 also see Culbert 1993, fig. 72 Ceibal Stela 10 depicts a carved representation of this war-related cape). Kneeling in front of the caped lord is a battle leader wearing a protective tunic made from plaited fibers such as agave or xate (Chamaedorea ernesti-augusti), a durable palm frond. Alternatively, this armor-tunic may have been made of two layers of quilted cotton like those described by 16th-century witnesses in Yucatan and central Mexico (Tozzer 1941, 35, 121 Codex Mendoza vol. 3, fols. 64r, 65r, 66r [see Berdan and Anawalt 1997]).

          The painted pictorial record reserves the most elaborate male costuming for performers in public and sequestered ritual pageants, most of which transpired during important social and political rites (e.g. Miller and Brittenham 2002, 129-137) (fig. 17a,b). The painted renderings display a vast array of decorated loin and hip cloths, waist bands, shoulder and long capes, backrack assemblages, headdresses, and full-head masks. Many performance costumes portray supernatural beings, each unique ensemble serving to transform the social person into a mystical form as an expression of his spiritual power and authority (fig. 17b).

          Figure 19a. The mother of the so-called “baby jaguar deity” holds a cloth bundle likely containing sacred implements pertaining to this enigmatic being. She wears a long black huipíl decorated with clusters of white petal- or shell-like circles. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Landon T. Clay, 1988.1184. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          Figure 19b. A vase is decorated with the distinctive cloth motif associated with female deities. Mint Museum of Art, Gift of Francis Robicsek, 1986.3.1. Mint Museum of Art, Gift of Francis Robicsek, 1986.3.1. Photo by D. Reents-Budet.

          Figure 19c. A woman about to give birth wears a long wrap tunic bound underneath her breasts. Photo by D. Reents-Budet.

          Figure 19d. A vase is adorned with the same fabric design that identifies the Moon Goddess. Mint Museum of Art, Gift of Francis Robiscek, 1982.208.2. Photo by D. Reents-Budet.

          Figure 19e. The Old Moon Goddess in her role as midwife attends a birthing event. Photo by D. Reents-Budet.

          Figure 20a. One of two singing/dancing women from a narrative grouping of 23 figurines found in the tomb of a ruler at Waká-El Perú, Guatemala. They portray the burial/resurrection ceremony for a deceased king, and this figurine wears the ritual black dress of women in pivotal roles during sacred rites. Photo by Michelle Rich, courtesy Waká Archaeological Project (dir: David Freidel).

          Figure 20b. A court matron is attired in the formal black huipíl while she assists in a ritual boxing-vision quest-blood sacrifice sacrament. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Landon T. Clay, 1988.1274. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          Classic Maya women typically wear a wrap skirt and blouse or a long wrap tunic (fig. 18a-c). The blouse may be short and wrapped over the breasts and underneath the arms (fig. 18a) or it may be a longer tunic-like blouse with arm slits at the sides (fig. 18b compare with the modern versions in figs. 6, 9). The long wrapped dress may be worn covering the breasts (fig. 18b) or baring them (fig. 19c), the latter fashion being common in the tropical lowland regions according to early Colonial documents. The custom of leaving the breasts uncovered became less frequent in later Colonial times in accordance with Spanish and Catholic tenets of female modesty (also true of the Guna of Panamá, see Engaging the New).

          As with male garments, women’s dress can identify one’s role in and nature of the illustrated event. One example is the Maya version of the “little black dress,” a long black huipíl decorated with one of two motifs: a white cluster of three or five petal-like circles (fig. 19a, b) or a white circle with crenelated edge (fig. 19c, d) (Reents-Budet 2007, 114). This distinctive huipíl is worn by the mother of the so-called “baby jaguar deity” (fig. 19a) and the moon goddess in her two aspects as an old midwife (fig. 19e) and the youthful new moon (see 1988.1282, MFA Collections).

          Elite Maya women wear this special black patterned garment during courtly proceedings, especially those associated with change of office and life-transition rites (fig. 20a). The dress, too, was worn by royal women attending to vital duties during obligatory rites concerning the sacred foundation of political authority, in particular ones of ritual intoxication, bloodletting, and vision quest (Schele and Miller 1986, 175-208) (fig. 20b).

          Textiles served not only to envelop the human body but also to protect or contain the potent powers of sacred objects. Foremost among these are divination mirrors, which were considered portals to the spirit world. When in use, they usually are rendered with their protective cloth wrappings serving as a support (fig. 21). In addition to the potent mirrors, the practice of “dressing” sacred objects in fine textiles is well-documented by the archaeological excavation of ritual objects encrusted with textile remains or pseudomorphs (the mineralogical replacement of organic fibers) (fig. 3b). Pseudomorphs are especially prevalent on pottery and, in the Andean region, on metal objects due to their natural degradation processes or “rusting” (see The Threads of Time Conservation Project). The ubiquity of this practice is further attested by the thin layers of fine reddish powder often found in Maya tombs and caches and underneath the funerary offerings. This powder is all that remains of the objects’ textile wrappings (e.g. see Carrasco 1996).

          Figure 21. A noble, likely a ruler, gazes into a divination mirror which is propped up by the red cloth in which it is wrapped when not in use. On loan to the Michael C. Carlos Museum, L2003.14.57 (K7797). Photo by Bruce M. White, 2011.

          The importance of cloth among the Classic Maya is illustrated by the many representations of fabric as tax payments and diplomatic gifts (fig. 22a), as war tribute paid to overlords (fig. 22b, d), and especially as feasting gifts bestowed by hosts to boost prestige (fig. 22c) (Reents-Budet 2000). Bishop Landa discusses these same functions for cloth, emphasizing its being the most valued gift distributed during feasts (Tozzer 1941, 258, 304). In fact, throughout Mesoamerica cloth was ranked alongside precious cacao in terms of value and esteem (Brumfiel 1978, 1997 Burgoa 1989, Herrera 1945, Hicks 1994, Houston 1997). Classic Maya painted images of stacks of tribute and gifts may include quetzal feathers, shells, jadeite adornments and/or prepared foods (fig. 22d). Yet by far, cloth is the most prevalent commodity and often serves pars pro toto for the tribute or gift (Reents-Budet 2007:110-111).

          Figure 22a. Gifts presented as part of a diplomatic meeting between political adversaries include a bundle of cacao beans, a sheath of quetzal features, and a large stack of folded mantles. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Landon T. Clay, 2004.2204. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          Figure 22b. War tribute presented to the enthroned victor features the captured war captain and two sumptuous piles of highly decorated fabric. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Landon T. Clay, 1988.1170. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          Figure 22c.. The rendering of a courtly feast is predominated by the cloth gifts arrayed on the broad stairs leading up to the host seated on a masonry bench. Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, G83.1.129. Photo © Justin Kerr, K6059.

          Figure 22d. Piles of tribute are set before a seated ruler. The tribute includes a basket filled with small round items, large Spondylus shells, quetzal feathers, and folds of white and red cloth. Note the attendant kneeling behind the ruler who prominently displays a long swatch of finished textile. Photo © Justin Kerr, K1392. The vases in b. and d. were painted in closely aligned workshops if not by the same artist.

          The pictorial ceramics also reveal that tribute and gifts often were wrapped in white cloth and placed before aristocratic individuals and enthroned rulers (fig. 23). Some bundles are marked with hieroglyphs denoting their contents as cacao beans (k’a bul, “our beans”, Houston 1997) whereas others indicate the quantity contained therein (ox pik, “3 x 8,000=24,000 [beans]” fig. 22a). The practice of using hand-woven cloth to hold sheathe candles, incense, flowers, and other offerings during religious rituals continues today among Maya peoples in Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala (see Dressing the Saints Andean cultures also place great importance on the bundle, see Dialogues in Thread.)

          Figure 23. A large cloth-wrapped bundle sits between men representing the two families of a prospective nuptial couple. The giving of gifts to the prospective bride’s father, including chocolate and clothing, continues today throughout Mexico and Guatemala among many indigenous groups. On loan to the Michael C. Carlos Museum, L2003.14.58. Photo by Bruce M. White, 2011.

          A plethora of fabric decorative styles and techniques is represented on the Classic period painted pottery. Yet to date, efforts to correlate a specific clothing type with the geographic location of the historical scene and/or the pottery vessel’s workshop have been unsuccessful. This is surprising given the strong correspondence today between Maya groups’ individualistic clothing styles and place of origin or habitation. Perhaps the lack of a Classic period parallel is due to a stronger link between the nature of the event and its appropriate clothing communicating one’s place therein. In other words, Classic-period socio-political conventions may have overridden any kind of geo-political messaging for the clothing. Instead, the social or political role of the wearer determined the type of garment worn, its design motifs, and even the fabric’s fiber content and overall quality. Therefore, on the painted ceramics clothing type and style aids the viewer in correctly interpreting the pictorial narrative and identifying the roles of the participants. Viewed from this perspective, the use of clothing among today’s Mayas as a socio-political graphic idiom reaches back more than 1200 years to the Classic period.

          Figure 24a. The imagery adorning this vase replicates a multi-layered textile, the herringbone design of the underlying fabric suggesting a twill fabric overlaid by an openwork layer. Denver Art Museum, 5.1980. Photo by D. Reents-Budet (also K5179).

          Figure 24b-c. The pseudomorph on the lid of this tripod vessel suggests either a plain weave or a twill fabric. Margarita Tomb, Copán. Photo by D. Reents-Budet.

          Figure 24c. Photo by D. Reents-Budet.

          The wide variety of textile depictions provides an avenue for postulating the array of weaving and decorative techniques mastered by Maya fiber artists. It is important to acknowledge these representations as stylized portrayals rather than methodological depictions, and that the painters likely were not striving to accurately render weaving techniques. Thus caution is needed in any attempt to identify specific weaving and decorative methods in these painted illustrations of cloth.

          Yet the variety of textile illustrations on the painted pottery provides an avenue to explore Classic period weaving techniques in the absence of surviving fabrics. The most common depictions appear to be plain weaves and twills, (fig. 24a) which also comprise the majority of pseudomorphs on pottery vessels found in tombs. These fossilized remains indicate that stacks of cloth constituted a sizable portion of the funerary goods and also that some tomb offerings had been wrapped in (fig. 24b).

          One of the more common weaving techniques may be supplementary weft decoration (brocading), which often appears on the long huipíles worn by ladies in formal palace settings and by mythic women (i.e., deities and other supernatural persons) (figs. 25a, b). These conjectured representations of the brocade technique often feature a gauze-like fabric ornamented with dense geometric designs suggesting the characteristic interwoven threads of a brocaded fabric.

          Figure 25a. A royal woman of Tikal (Guatemala) kneels in a dynamic pose. She is clothed in a long red huipíl with what may be a discontinuous warp-and-weft hem, the huipíl wrapped below her breasts. Over the huipíl she wears a luxurious open-weave overblouse with brocade-like geometric motifs. Photo © Justin Kerr, K2573.

          A thin and delicate gauze weave was favored for other huipíles worn by elite women taking part in ritual performances (fig. 26a). The presence of gauze weaves during the Classic period is occasionally preserved in pseudomorphs on the exteriors of funerary vessels such as a stuccoed-and-painted bowl found in the tomb of a royal Copán (Honduras) woman who perhaps was the wife of the dynastic founder Yax K’uk’ Mo’ (fig. 26b) (Bell at al. 2004, 138). Sheer cotton fabrics also are pictured on the pottery and in the recently-discovered wall murals at Calakmul, Mexico (Martin 2012). Based on these renderings, perhaps this diaphanous fabric was more commonly worn by younger women — both human and divine (fig. 26c).

          Many textile representations imply a combination of weaving techniques, especially fabrics presented as tribute payments and gifts (figs. 27a, b). These include fanciful hems produced using a discontinuous warp-and-weft technique as well as double-cloth and intricate embroidery. Elite clothing sometimes was boldly patterned, and those featuring curvilinear designs may portray painted fabrics (fig. 28a). The hems of many garments are ornamented with bands of complex designs, which may depict weaving, painting, or embroidery (fig. 28b). Edgework included fringe and perhaps interwoven feathers (figs. 27b, 28c). It is likely that some of the decorative motifs were not made from fibers but instead represent attached elements such as tiny shell squares or beads of greenstone or shell. Hundreds of tiny beads and perforated shell or greenstone tesserae have been found in tombs concentrated around the skeletal remains, their arrangement evincing an adorned garment.

          Rulers and other nobles wore sumptuous garments at court especially during important social and political gatherings. In addition to the most common types of weaves and decoration, more complex modes of fabrication are intimated by these extravagant textile depictions. One such method is tie-dyeing, which typically produces white-bordered shapes with blurred edges and interspersed coloration (fig. 29a). A related technique is jaspé which uses tie-dyed yarns to weave the fabric. The technique creates a geometric, soft-edged design, capable of evoking rounded contours. Jaspé is commonly used by modern Maya weavers, and it may be present in the Classic period pictorial record, too (figs. 29b, c compare with 2009.42.175).

          Figure 25b. A similar, perhaps brocade, overblouse with geometric forms often clothes supernatural women in mythic narratives. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1988.1180, Gift of Landon T. Clay. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          Figure 26a. A noble woman dances while she assists a lord undergoing a vision quest performance. She wears a long, sheer overblouse or huipíl atop a wrap skirt. Photo by D. Reents-Budet.

          Figure 26b. A gauze fabric is preserved as a pseudomorph on a stuccoed-and-painted bowl from the Margarita Tomb, Copán, Honduras. Photo by D. Reents-Budet.

          Figure 26c. In a mythic scene, a voluptuous young woman rides a deer which actually is the transformed Maize god. Her sheer fabric huipíl shows off her feminine beauty. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Landon T. Clay, 1988.1180. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          The identification of specific decorative techniques with representations on pottery deserves more study given the variety and complexity of these painted interpretations that match those seen in modern-day indigenous fabrics from Guatemala and Mexico. Also deserving of investigation is the diversity of Classic period head wraps and headdresses that, like the garments, comprise a visual symbolic system of identity and meaning. As noted previously, a person’s garment and headgear often are similarly decorated, implying a pairing germane to social position and courtly role as well as the nature of the event (e.g., see Coe and Kerr 1989).

          The elaborate fabrics and attire portrayed on Classic Maya pictorial ceramics and painted wall murals reflect the pan-Mesoamerican role of textiles as prime indicators of prestige, wealth, and power. The value of a fabric was directly correlated with fiber quality, weaving finesse, intricacy of decoration, and overall aesthetics. Mesoamerican esteem for cloth is exemplified by the gifts given by Aztec and Maya leaders to the invading Spaniards in the 16 th century. Although finely crafted items of prized greenstone and precious metal objects were among the gifts, textiles outnumbered all others due to their matchless value from the Native perspective. The Classic Maya pictorial record echoes these 16 th -century accounts highlighting textiles as the paramount commodity and most esteemed art form, much like the high valuation of fabrics among contemporaneous Andean peoples. The Classic Maya renderings display the diversity and intricacy of weaving techniques and decoration for clothing that served as material symbols of prestige, wealth, and power. Although modern Maya textiles may play somewhat different socio-economic and political roles, the art form and its importance for identity and social well-being remain at the heart of Maya culture

          Figure 28a. The exuberant, curvilinear shapes on many fabrics may render painted rather than woven decoration. On loan to the Michael C. Carlos Museum, L2003.14.58. Photo by Bruce M. White, 2011.

          Figure 28b. Hem lines often are highly ornamented, sometimes even with hieroglyphic texts as seen on the bottom edge of a woman’s wrap skirt. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Landon T. Clay, 1988.1176. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          Figure 28c. The standard male loincloth was as lavishly embellished as were women’s garments. The complex yet delicate garnish of this loincloth may depict an embroidered fabric. Note the tiny hieroglyphs on the loincloth’s upper tie end and the lattice-and-tassels at both ends composed of tied warp threads. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Landon T. Clay, 2004.2204. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          Figure 29a. Tie-dyeing may be indicated by soft-edged, multi-colored designs outlined in white (the color of the base cloth). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Landon T. Clay, 1988.1176. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          b. The designs on the hipcloths worn by a supernatural artist may have been produced using the jaspé technique. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Anonymous loan. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          Figure 29c. The designs on the hipcloths worn by a courtier may have been produced using the jaspé technique. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Loan of Landon T. Clay. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

          This essay is dedicated to Donna Horié, Barbara Kerr, and Landon T. Clay–mentors, good friends and scholars who taught me about ancient Americas textiles and opened my eyes to the wealth of fiber arts data portrayed on Classic Maya pictorial pottery.


          Aztecs Abroad? Uncovering the Early Indigenous Atlantic

          Indigenous people are often seen as static recipients of transatlantic encounter, influencing the Atlantic world only in their parochial interactions with Europeans, but the reality is that thousands of Native Americans crossed the ocean during the sixteenth century, many unwillingly, but some by choice. As diplomats, entertainers, traders, travelers, and, sadly, most often when enslaved, Indigenous people operated consciously within structures that spanned the ocean and created a worldview that was framed in transatlantic terms. Focusing on purposeful travelers of “Aztec” (Central Mexican) origin, this article uses the distinctive context of the 1500s to rewrite our understandings of the Atlantic world. In the turbulent waters of early empire, we can more easily see Native people as purposeful global actors who created and transformed social, economic, political, and intellectual networks, forging not one but many “Indigenous Atlantics.” This is about more than “looking east from Indian country,” or recovering the transatlantic journeys of Native people, important though both those things are. To find a truly “Indigenous Atlantic,” we must reimagine the history of the ocean itself: as a place of Indigenous activity, imagination, and power.


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