The Tarascans Tzintzuntzan Artifacts Relationship with Aztecs
The Tarascan • Among the fertile volcanoes of Michoacan Lumholtz came across the Purepecha people, who were called Tarascan by the Spanish. • Enemies of the Aztecs, the Tarascans flourished from 1100 A.D. to 1530 A.D. • Their origins are still a puzzle, along with their stirrup-shaped, long-necked bottles and round temples called Yacatas. • The center of the Tarascan Empire was Lake Patzcuaro and the nearby site of Tzintzuntzan, now a much-visited archaeological site
Lake Patzcuaro Region http://www.humanities-interactive.org/unknown/ex085_14.html
Origin • Their exact origin remains unknown, but linguistic similarities to the Quechua language of South America have been noted. • South America may also have been the source for the Tarascan pottery styles and metalworking techniques that were not previously known in Mexico. • The Tarascan capital city of Tzintzuntzan was dominated by a huge platform supporting a row of five temple pyramids called yácatas. • From this religious and administrative center, the Tarascans waged war against their neighbors.
Tarascan History • The Tarascans’ own legendary history, as related in the Relación de Michoacán, picks up the story. • Somewhere around 1325, the great king, military, leader, and culture hero Taríacuri – one of the uacúsecha, who had established themselves as an elite lineage – declared himself as lord and Pátzcuaro as his capital. • He furthermore set his nephews up as secondary rulers: Hiripan at Ihuatzio, and Tangáxoan at Tzintzuntzan. By 1350, the three of them had begun a successful series of military conquests in and around the Pátzcuaro Basin; and, after Taríacuri’s death, his nephews continued to expand their sphere of influence to the area around Lake Cuitzeo
Tarascan warfare: Exapansion • One of the king’s duties was to conquer new lands for the god Curicaueri (Fire God). • Following a decision to go to war, an important religious act occurred: The priests at Tzintzuntzan lit huge bonfires which, when seen, were to be duplicated by priests at the other eight administrative centers. • All 91 settlements in the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin were able to see the fires from one or more of these centers, and thus the message to prepare for war was received
Warfare: Threats & Defense • Expansion was not the only reason for the Tarascans to go to war. • Threats to their way of life and resource networks could trigger military action. Lameiras notes a war conducted against Tarascan allies (pueblos confederados) in the south of Jalisco who were attempting to control access to the saltpeter beds at Sayula • And of course, defense – primarily against incursions by the Aztecs – continued to necessitate a standing army and military network even after the empire had reached an impressive size. • Traditional weapons used by the Tarascans included the bow and arrow, lances, and the atlatl, with some use also of maces and slingshots.
Peripheral Borders • In the Río Palos Altos Basin between the Tarascan controlled ridgeline and the Aztec fortified line was a no-man’s-land that appears to have been abandoned as imperial intervention in the area caused increased militarization. • It is theorized that a 3 km long wall discovered in the no-man’s-land appears to have been a Chontal (borderland culture) construction aimed at defending important cotton and cacao producing lands. • One end of the wall had an artifact distribution suggesting that a Prehispanic battle had been fought there. http://www.famsi.org/reports/97014/index.html
Chontal fortress at Ixtepec http://www.famsi.org/reports/97014/index.html
Natural Defensive Barrier http://www.famsi.org/reports/97014/index.html
Tarascan society • Although Tarascan society was socially stratified with nobility, commoners, and slaves, there is no archaeological evidence to indicate that the Tarascan sites were much more than rural settlements, the exception being their capital city of Tzintzuntzan. • The Tarascans were excellent craftsmen in many materials. • Their metalworking skills were the most advanced in Mexico. They were also accomplished at pottery making and lapidary work. • Their utilitarian domestic pottery contrasted sharply with the exotic designs of funerary pottery.
Tarascan society • By the time of the Conquest, the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin held a population of 60,000 to 100,000 inhabitants, spread among 91 settlements of varying sizes. • To administer this dense population and the outlying regions, effective social, economic, and administrative structures were needed. • Indeed, these were in place by the Protohistoric period (1450-1520), and they continued to evolve with the expansion of the empire and incorporation of new peoples, trade goods, religious philosophies, etc.
Social Stratification • Kinship was extremely important to the Tarascans. Social class was essentially determined at birth, with only minimal movement between classes. • Gorenstein and Pollard have discerned three hereditary social classes, based on information in the Relación de Michoacán and on excavations made at Tzintzuntzan: • the Cazonci, sometimes also called irecha; and the royal lineage (lords, señores) • nobility, also known as principales, caciques, señores naturales; who were connected with and had responsibility in certain settlements • commoners, also called purépecha, la gente baja, gente común • There were also slaves, found only in connection with the royal lineage.
Economy • Products such as honey, cotton, feathers, copal, and deposits of salt, gold, and copper were highly prized by the Tarascans. • Neighboring regions that possessed these commodities quickly became a primary target of military expansion. • When conquered, the peoples of these regions were expected to pay tributes of material goods to the Tarascan lord.
Tarascan Religion • Like the Aztecs, the Tarascans had many deities, each with their own attributes, requirements, sacred colors, associated animals, and calendrical days. • The most ancient and revered Tarascan deity was Curicaueri, the fire god. • A Tarascan origin myth tells the story of how Curicaueri and his brother gods founded the settlements around Lake Pátzcuaro. • The pre-Columbian Tarascans believed themselves to be Curicaueri's descendants. • When rulers and priests dressed in their ritual finery and performed ceremonial dances, they were affirming the connection to their ancestor gods.
Tzintzuntzan Architecture • There is little of monumental architecture to be found in the Tarascan empire. • Neither the major cities of the heartland nor the frontier towns appear to have been fortified in any significant way. • Though there were trade routes, they were apparently “unimproved,” as the building of roads and bridges was one of the first efforts undertaken by the Spaniards. • Only two ball courts are known, and neither is in Tzintzuntzan where one might expect to find one. • It is this relative lack of monumental architecture which led many to assume that the Tarascans had not achieved state-level society … and, that there was not much interesting to be learned about them.
Tzintzuntzan Architecture http://www.rose-hulman.edu/~delacova/tzintzuntzan.htm
Tzintzuntzan The View of Lake Pátzcuaro from The Palace
Tzintzuntzan Looking north more of the huge open plaza behind the temple structures. Looking east in the opposite direction from the picture above, this shows the construction of the terrace above the lake. http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/travel/rmeyer/mich/tzin.htm
The Yácata • The Yácata, a typically Tarascan building, appears to have been used as both a mortuary and a habitation. • The structure consists of three parts whose ground plan is shaped more or less like a capital T: a rectangular stepped pyramid, a round stepped pyramid that is placed at the mid-point of the rectangle, and a stepped passageway which joins the round structure to the rectangle. • Carl Lumholtz describes three yácatas which he saw in the Sierra de los Tarascos: "The mound is built of stones, without mortar, in the shape of a 'T,' each arm about 50 feet long and thirty-two feet high. The western arm terminates in a circular construction, a kind of knob. • The sides all rise in regular steps from the ground, and the level surface on top of the arms is only six feet wide, while the base is twenty feet broad. These encircling steps make the monument singularly symmetrical and graceful."
Yacata. Line drawing (after Lumholtz) by Jimmie I. Clubb. http://www.humanities-interactive.org/unknown/ex085_14.html
Spouted Jars http://www.rose-hulman.edu/~delacova/tarascan.htm
Olla with painted designs. Clay, paint. 1100-1500 A.D. http://www.humanities-interactive.org/unknown/ex085_14.html
Tarascan Grave Goods • All manner of personal objects would have been placed in Tarascan burials. • Common grave offerings included miniature pottery vessels; bells, needles, tweezers, and axes made of copper; long-stemmed clay smoking pipes; obsidian lip plugs, ear spools, and knives; shell beads; highly decorated pottery vessels, some filled with food and drink; and occasionally even gold ornaments.
Jewelry: Earplugs, Shell Pendants, and a Shell Necklace http://www.rose-hulman.edu/~delacova/tarascan.htm
Obsidian Cores http://www.rose-hulman.edu/~delacova/tarascan.htm
The Aztecs • The Aztecs attempted more than once to conquer the Tarascan lands but never attained their goal. • This left the Aztecs with a major rival on their western border. • In combat, they repeatedly suffered grievous losses to the Tarascan armies. • For example, in 1478 the ruling Aztec lord, Axayacatl, marched against the Tarascans. • He found his army of 24,000 confronted by an opposing force of more than 40,000 Tarascan warriors. • A ferocious battle went on all day. Many of the Aztec warriors were badly wounded by arrows, stones, spears, and sword thrusts. • The following day, the Aztecs were forced to retreat, having suffered the loss of more than half of their elite warriors.
Arrival of the Spanish • The arrival of the Spanish Captain Hernán Cortés and his men on the east coast of Mexico in April 1519 led to the end of both the Aztec and the Tarascan Empires. • Knowing that the Spaniards were on their way to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, the Aztecs sent some emissaries to the Tarascans to ask for help. • Instead of providing assistance, they sacrificed the Aztec messengers. • Tenochtitlán fell in 1520 after a bloody siege. • The Tarascans' turn came in 1522. • The last Tarascan king, Tangaxoan II, offered little resistance. Once he submitted, all the other Tarascan realms surrendered peacefully. • After the conquest, the Spanish crown appointed Don Vasco de Quiroga to govern the Tarascan villages. He decided that each community should be noted for the production of a specialized art form. This vision of artistic specialization and commercial production persists today.
Why isn't the Tarascan Empire better known? • Remarks made by sixteenth century Spanish soldiers and missionaries give the impression that the Tarascan king was considered to be second in power only to the Aztec ruler Moctezuma. • Some early accounts even rank the two as equals. • Missionaries who served among both the Aztecs and the Tarascans considered the Tarascans superior to all other peoples in New Spain. • Unlike the Aztecs, the Tarascans left no personal documentary histories, and they had no missionary-historian-defender ready to write down their story as it might have been dictated at the time of conquest. • The best source of historical information is the Relación de Michoacán compiled by an anonymous Spanish Franciscan friar around 1538. • The Relación de Michoacán, coupled with archaeological excavations and a significant body of pottery, copper, and stone objects affords us a glimpse into the lives of these West Mexican peoples.
The Tarascan Today Florentina Dominga, a Tarascan woman, with a midwife's offering; August 6, 1978. Tarascan masked dancers, "owner" (left) and "watcher" (right. http://hearstmuseum.berkeley.edu/exhibitions/tzin/21.html