Plundering and carnage were the overlying resultsof the Spanish conquest of MesoAmerica beginningin 1519. The ensuing years brought many new”visitors,” mostly laymen or officials in searchof wealth, though the Christianity toting priestwas ever present. Occasionally a man from any ofthese classes, though mainly priests would be soin awe of the civilization they were singlehandedly massacring that they began to observe anddocument things such as everyday life, religiousrituals, economic goings on, and architecture,which was the biggest achievement in the eyes ofthe Spaniards.
That is how the accounts of FriarDiego de Landa, a priest, were created, giving usrare first per-son historical accounts of theconquest and the people it effected. Toarchaeologists monumental architecture is moreimportant than an inscribed stelae listing namesand dates. There is so much more to learn from abuilding than a slab of stone usually seethingwith propaganda.In most societies they are whatremains after conquest, usually for their beautyor ability to withstand the elements. Landa wasamazed by what he found. “There are in Yucatanmany edifices of great beauty, this be-ing themost outstanding of all things discovered in theIndies; they are all build of stone finelyornamented” (Landa, 8). If it were a commonersdomestic dwelling we would learn through the studyof remaining artifacts and middens what objectswere used on a daily basis and also the standardof living, helping us to construct an accurateview of the long neglected commoner. According toLanda steepled roofs covered with thatch or palmleaves protected the habitat from rain.
Homes wereoften divided into two sections, a living section,customarily whitewashed, and a domestic area wherefood was prepared and inhabitants slept (Landa,32).In Aztec societies commoners often lived incalpolli, a residential area segregated byoccupation, usually surrounded by walls forprotection (Smith, 145). If it were a domesticdwelling for a noble it would be larger than acom-moner’s dwelling, and usually consisted ofmore than one large structures occasionallylocated on a platform near the center of the town.The high status is obvious by the in-clusion ofmore elaborate and ornamental objects andfrequently frescos adorned the walls. MonumentalArchitecture of public and private buildings areone of the best indi-cators of the size andimportance of a site.
The size of the structurehas direct corrolation to the power held by theleader, in his ability to conduct peasants toconstruct the build-ing. Temples and plazas werethe main objects of monumental construction andoften rival the pyramids of Egypt in quality andsize. Temples were often pyramid like struc-turesthat were built, facing east, over the crematedremains of a priest or ruler.
With each accedingruler the temple was made larger by building overthe previous, thus the layering effect so oftenuncovered. Different styles of decoration andconstruction were used by each culture duringdifferent periods. “In contrast to earlierMesoamerican pyramids with a single temple builton top and a single stairway up the side, thepyramids built by the Early Aztec peoples had twintemples and double stairways” (Smith, 43). “Thereare several complexes of Esperanza architecture atKaminaljuyuthese are stepped temple platforms withthe typical Teotihuacan talud-tablero motif” (Coe,84). Then in less than three hundred years therewas a completely different style of architec-turein the area, “Characteristic of Puuk buildings arefacings of very thin squares of limestone veneerover the cement-and-rubble core; boot-shaped vaultstonesand the exuberant use of stone mosaics onupper facades, emphasizing the usual monster-maskswith long, hook-shaped snouts, as well as fretsand lattice-like designs of criss-crossedelements” (Coe, 157). Mesoamerican architecturehas withstood the test of time, many of thestructures not destroyed during the conquest stillstand today, whereas numerous Spanish buildings donot.In pre-modern history, throughout the worldburials have been customarily simi-lar,irregardless the distance. Whether this iscoincidence or not will be determined at somepoint in the future, but for now I am of theopinion that since many cultures wor-shippedsimilar gods many of their customs will becomparable.
For example many cul-tures, includingthe Aztecs and the Maya buried bodies in the fetalposition facing east. More often than not variousfoods and goods were placed in the grave toaccompany the deceased in the next life. Burialsusually followed some ritual and occurred near thehome, which would be abandoned soon after (Landa,57). If they were not cremated the body would bewrapped in a shroud and buried in the temple (Coe,76).It is believed that many Aztec adults, thoughcommoners, were cremated, mainly because of thelack of adult burials found (Smith, 142). Noblesand priests were cremated and placed in an urn orhollow statue and if the person was of greatimportance they would be buried in a tem-ple orhave a temple erected over their burial site.
“Foreign lords of the Esperanza phase chose thetemple platforms themselves as their finalresting-places. As with the earlier Miraflorespeople, each platform was actually built toenclose the ruler’s tomb, a log-roofed chamberusually placed beneath the frontal staircase,successive burials and their platforms beingplaced over older onesSurrounding him were richfunerary vessels, undoubtedly containing food anddrink for his own use” (Coe, 84-85). Unlike theMaya who believed that everyone went to Xibalba,the cold Maya un-derworld, the Aztec believedthere were several underworlds depending on themethod of death. “Soldiers who died in battle andsacrificial victims went to an eastern solarrealmwomen who died in childbirth went to awestern solar realmpeople who died by drowning orother causes related to the rain god went to theearthly paradise of Tlalo-can. Most people,however went to one of the nine levels of Mictlan,the underground realm of death” (Smith, 141-142).Funerals of Aztec nobles were often attended bypeo-ple of importance throughout the empire,usually bringing jewels or other gifts such asslaves.
Although a Spaniard, Landa was one of themost important historians of his time in regardsto Mesoamerica. His accounts may be less thanscientific and a bit biased to-wards his ownculture but at the same time show an awe of the”primitive” societies they were attempting tocivilize in the name of Christ. He was ignorantand therefore in my mind is not to be blamed much,at least he tried to preserve information on theirculture, though he did burn most manuscriptswritten by the natives. Bibliography: Works CitedLanda, Diego de. Yucatan Before and After theConquest. Dover Publications Inc.
New York City,New York, 1978. Smith, Michael E. The Aztecs.Blackwell Publishers. Oxford, UK, 1996.
Coe,Michael D. The Maya.Thames and Hudson Ltd.London, 1999. Works Cited Landa, Diego de. YucatanBefore and After the Conquest. Dover PublicationsInc.
New York City, New York, 1978. Smith, MichaelE.The Aztecs. Blackwell Publishers.
Oxford, UK,1996. Coe, Michael D. The Maya. Thames and HudsonLtd.London, 1999..