Aztecs leaving Chicomoztoc, 7 Caves.

After the Conquista in 1521 AD, the Spanish conquistadores had entire Aztec libraries burned, claiming they did contain nothing but superstitious beliefs. Such barbarian murdering of cultural heritage isn't all that rare throughout world history. In Ancient Times, the library of Alexandria went up in flames and in Modern Times Nazi rulers ordered the destruction of books by fire. Even the Aztecs themselves set a bad example.

Itzcóatl (1428-1440), king of Tenochtitlan, had all pictorial manuscripts burned, 'since it wouldn't be right if the people were to find out what they contained'. He probably wanted Mexican history to start with his rulership, thus wiping out most of Mexica-Azteca-Tenochca history. When asking about his ancestors, Itzcóatl's successor found out about this gap in time.

When Motecuhzoma the Old (1441-1469) was resting from his many victories in war, he felt the urge to find out more about the homeland of his ancestors, a desire so strong, he decided to send out an expedition in order to search for the mythical city of Chicomoztoc, the '7 caves', since nobody even recollected where their ancestors came from.

Chapter 27 by Durán (1967 II:215-224) tells us the remarkable story in spanish of this expedition and its successful ending (1). It has now been freely translated in english by Pieter De Keyser and be completed with comments by A. L. Vollemaere.

Diego de DURAN

The History of the Indies of New Spain


How Motecuhzoma, the first king by that name (2), in all his glory and majesty, sent out an expedition to search the place from which his ancestors had emigrated, a search for the Seven Caves (3) in which they had stayed and lived, and about the magnificent gifts they were to give at those they would encounter there.


In addition to these footnotes, we will later publish a complementary analysis, covering all Duran's data.

(1) See comments on the translation by Pieter DE KEYSER in our Aztlan- publication.

(2) Motecuhzoma is the first king of that name in Tenochtitl n, but before him, another king named Motecuhzoma, reigned in their homeland Aztlán, according to Tezozmoc (1975:15) : 'El Aztlán de los antiguos mexicanos es lo que hoy d¡a se denomina Nuevo México; reinaba all  el llamado Moctezuma. Este rey tenía 2 hijos, ...'. We ignore whether this data is correct and reliable, but anyway we will have to take it into account.

(3) After Aztlán and Colhuacán, Chicomoztoc, or the '7 Caves' has been the most important Aztec residence in the initial period. The history of many of the Nahuatl-speaking peoples refers to this place. Even the Popol Vuh, the Maya-Quiché manuscript par excellence, mentions 'Tulan, Zuyva, Vucub Peq, Vucub Zivan,...' or 'Tollan, Zuyva, 7 Caves, 7 Canyons,...' (Munro S. Edmonson 1971:161:5259). We will tell you more about the 7 caves later on. Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca (1976:F.5r, Ms 54-58 p.11 & F.16r, Ms 51-53 p.28) contains 2 interesting plates of Chicomoztoc, with pictures of the local flora.

(4) Chimalpahin (1889:75-76) claims that Tlacaelel is the half-brother of Motecuhzoma the Old, Ilhuicaminatzin Chalchiuhtlatonac. Both were born on the same day of the year 10 Tochtli (10 Rabbit) or 1398. The father was Huitzilihuitl II, king of Tenochtitlán, but their mothers were Cacamacihuatzin, princess of Teocalhuiyacan and Miyahuaxiuhtzin, princess of Quauhnahuac. Tlacaelel was a few hours older than Motecuhzoma :

'Année 10 lapin, 1398. Alors, comme l'indiquent les anciens mexicains, naquirent Moteuhczoma, l'ancien, Ilhuicaminatzin Chalchiuhtlatonac, qui vint au monde au moment où le soleil était déjà élevé, et dont la mère nommée Miyahuaxiuhtzin était princesse de Quauhnahuac, et Tlacaelleltzin qui naquit le matin au moment où, comme nous disons, le soleil allait se lever, de sorte qu'il fut l'ainé; sa mère nommée Cacamacihuatzin était princesse de Teocalhuiyacan; ainsi ils n'étaient pas de la même mère, mais avaient le même père qui était Huitzilihuitl ii, roi de Tenochtitlan.'

Chimalpahin (1889:85, 96, 98, 101, 103 and 106) adds more information about Tlacaelel :

Tlacaeleltzin conquered in the year 1 Tecpatl (1 Silex or 1428) the land of Azcapotzalco. He became Cihuacóatl or vice-roy, probably in the year 4 Acatl (1 Reed or 1431). He received the general's title of Tlacochcalcatl (He who provides the arrows) that same year. He provided Itzcóatl with many victories on the Azcaputzalca, Cuyohuaque, Xochimilca and the inhabitants of Cuitlahuacán. He was also the man who made the devil Huitzilopochtli as god of the Mexicans. He was the most courageous and the most important figure of the State. Nevertheless, he had no ambition of becoming king, and he lived happy and in wealth. His some hours younger step-brother, Motecuhzoma became king of Tenochtitlán in his place, while he himself became vice-roy (Cihuacóatl).

Although he lived in abundance, his name means 'poor, unfortunate' according, to Siméon (1885:501) : 'Tlacaelleli, adj. v. Privé de ses biens, malheureux, tombé dans la misère en punition de sa dûreté à l'égard des nécessiteux. RR. tlacatl, elleloa.

Meaby he never cared for the needy in his youth. This is why he was nicknamed Tlacaelel. We cannot forget that we indeed know the historical figures only by their nickname or give name, and not by their family name.

(5) Huitzilopochtli, lefthanded hummingbird or southern hummingbird, became at a certain time the main god of the Tenochca (Azteca Mexica). The important twin pyramid of Tenochtitlán (now Templo Mayor on the Plaza Mayor), was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli and the rain and wind god Tlaloc. We hope to write a paper about this very important god. Sahagún (1880:13-14) give us the following information :

In fact, in Codex Telleriano-Remensis he is depicted as a giant. The Maya rain god Chac, also was a giant. For the moment we do not know the relation or link between Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli.

(6) Cuauhcóatl or Quauhcóatl, was the first 'teomama' or bearer of bones (or relics) of Huitzilopochtli, at the time of their departure in Aztlán-Colhuacán in the year 1 Tecpatl (Silex), or 1064. When the Aztecs came to Chapultepec in the year 11 Tochtli (Rabbit), or 1283, there was also a man called Quauhcóatl. In the year 3 Tochtli, or 1326, there was again a Quauhcóatl, this time in connection with Colhuacán.

After Siméon (1885:364) we have : Quauhcóatl, s. Chef envoyé par Quinatzin à la recherche d'un emplacement pour une ville (Bétancourt). RR. Quauhtli, cóatl. Quauhtli means 'eagle' or 'tree, wood, forest', depending upon the pronounciation. Quauhcóatl seems to be a 'minister' title, after Chimalpahin (1889:195).

(7) Aztlán means 'whiteness' after Durán. We saw a meters high white band, that marks the high water level on the shores of Lake Powell, the Colorado and the San Juan River. Is this the explanation of the 'blancura' of Durán? We do not think so. Durán (1967:28.8) says also :

Other meanings of Aztlán are the following :

Codex Ramirez (1985:18) gives for Aztlán the meaning of 'place of herons'. On an incorrect copy of the Mapa de Sigüenza, which is a map with the migration path of the Aztecs, we indeed find the head of a bird (heron ?) as topoglyph for Aztlán. By the fact self that there is such a topoglyph, we can be sure that Aztlán was not a mythical but a real region ! It is impossible for us to locate Aztlán only by studying the name, because all over the U.S.A. and Mexico there are places were herons can live along the rivers. We are only sure that Aztlán was located near a water body. In the Nahuatl-French dictionary of Siméon (1885:45) we find the following information :

Tezozomoc (1949:22) gives the meaning of 'habitat of the herons' for the twin name Aztlan Aztatlan. We know several places called Aztlán or Aztatlan :

a/ There is an Aztalan (not Aztatlan) near Lake Michigan in the north of the United States of America.

b/ Strange enough, Chimalpahin (6-7:222) gives an Aztatlan in relation to Teocolhuacan, at the beginning of the colonial period :

c/ Cesar Macazaga Ordoño gives in his 'Nombres geográficos de México' (1979:31) the following information :

'ATASTA, Aztatla(n), Localización:
(1) Pueblo del Partido del Centro, Estado de Tabasco.
(2) San José Atasta, hacienda del partido y municipal del Carmen, Estado de Campeche.
(3) Laguna de la costa occidental del Partido del Carmen, Estado de Campeche
AZTA-TLA:  aztatl, garza; tla-, - posposición que indica abundancia : 'lugar donde abundan las garzas' AZTATLAN es sinónimo de Aztlan.'

In the Historia Tolteca Chichimeca (1976:255 and 259) Aztatlan is located near Coaixtlahuacan, in the Mixtec region, indicated on 2 maps.

d/ W. Jimenez Moreno thinks that Aztatlan, near Mexcatitlan, on the coast of Nayarit, is in fact ancient Aztlan.

e/ On an old map (without references) we find Aztatlan indicated near Culiacan in the State of SONORA (Mexico).

(8) According to Chimalpahin (6-7:325), Colhuacán or Culhuacán means 'place where the ancestors (Colhua) are.' In fact we must translate this better with 'residence of the ancestors'. The name refers to the original residence in the United States of America, the homeland of the Colhua's and Aztecs. Later, during their migration they named several towns Colhuacán in memory of the past. The first Colhuacán was also named Teocolhuacán, holy Colhuacán, in reference to the place of origin of their tribal god Huitzilopochtli.

But we may also translate it as 'bent or bended residence' because the verb Coliui means 'bending forwards, can no longer walk straight up', which not applies only to old people, but also to a wall or construction. Hence the name of Colli or Culli for an old man or an ancestor. Hence also the name of Colotl or Culutl, scorpion, beacuse of his bended, venom tail.

Durán gives thus the translation 'bended hill' for Colhuacan, and so is the topoglyph depicted in the pictorial manuscripts. Suddenly we understood this description concerned a 'cliff dwelling' somewhere north of Nuevo México, in the Pueblo or Anasazi region in the southwest of the United States of America ! Please consult the following chpters for further details.

(9) Durán (1967 II:18) gives another indication for the existence of caves in Aztlán :

The repeated mention of mountains with caves and holes as habitations for the ancestors is an important geographic indication for the localisation of Aztlán, as we will understand from the discussion of the Vollemaere-expeditions of 1992, 1993, and 1997. Indeed, there are in the south cliffs of the Wilson Mesa (for us = center of Aztlán region), at the confluence of the Colorado River and the San Juan River (the highwaterways of pre-Columbian times), holes, caves and alcoves suitable for (ancient) habitation.

We may put that all the tribes, all the inhabitans of Aztlán, were Aztecs, regardless of their ethnic origin. In ethnohistorical sources we sometimes find twin names with as second name a specification of origin : (azteca), azteca mexica, azteca chichimeca, nahuatlaca, azteca colhuaca, azteca chicomoztoca, etc. According to an Aztecan legend the name of Mexitin was given by Huitzilopochtli (Chimalpahin). From that moment on a fine feather became the symbol of the Azteca Mexica.

(10) Siméon says the following about huauhtli: Uauhtli of Huauhtli, s. Graine de la blette uauhquilitl, que les Mexicains ne mangeaient guêre que dans les temps de famine; ils lui préféraient le maîs; uauhtli polocayo (Sahagún), graine non émondée.

(11) Siméon says the following about teonacatzli : Teonacaztli, s. Plante dont la fleur jaune est belle et très-odorante; elle servait comme arome dans la boisson de cacao (Sahagún). RR. teotl, nacaztli.

(12) There have been many TULA's. From Tula in the State Hidalgo to Tollan-Cuitlahuac, Tollan-Chollolan and Tollan-Teotihuacan. This latter is the historical site of Tollan to which the majority of Mesoamerican peoples refers. We presume there has been a Tula in the Southwest of the USA. Historia Tolteca Chichimeca (1976:138 note 2) accounts :

La presencia de estos nonoualca que salieron de Tollan se asentaron en Teouacan se manifiesta por otra parte en los toponímicos registrados en el 'Libro de tributos de Tehuacan', año 1635 (microfilm de la Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología e Historia, serie Benjamin Franklin, rollo 13), donde aparecen Santa Mar¡í nativitas Nonoalco:

Tollan Tloquentlan, Tollan Nonohualco, Tollan Tlacochcalco, Tollan Tepepolco, Tollan Tecoloc, Santiago Miaguatlan Tollan, Tollan Tlacuillocan, Tollan Cocolco Atempan y Tollan Mihuacan, todos sitios habitados, sujetos a Teouacan.

(13) There have been numerous sites named COATEPEC. There was Coatepec in the vicinity of TEXCOCO (Siméon), but however Coatepec, 'On the Mount of Serpents', might refer to the pyramid of serpents of QUETZALCOATL in the Ciudadela of Tollan-Teotihuacan.

(14) Nahuatl, the Aztec language, is one of the Uto-Aztecan languages, spoken from Utah to Nicaragua.

(15) Coatlicue, Huitzilopochtli's virgin mother, became goddess of the flowers. Her temple, called TOPICO, had been erected in Mexico. The festivities in her honor, were held during the month TOZOZTONTLI (Clavijero). Coatlicue means 'skirt of serpents'.

(16) When analyzing the geography and geology of the Southwest of the USA, we came to the conclusion that the shifting sand, the key element in the account of Moctezuma's expedition, appears to be quicksand, such as it is found near the cliff dwellings in Canyon de Chelly. Hence our decision to locate here the historic Aztec site of COLHUACAN.

(17) Siméon (1885:98-99) says :

One can put that a CIiuacóatl is the highest magistrate in a kind of Aztec Supreme Court of Appeal.

(18) Codex Mendoza gives a list of all founders of Tenochtitlan (2 Calli, 1325) : Tezcatetl, Acacitl, Ocelopan, Ahatl, Xomimitl, Ahuexotl, Huictoh, Tenoch. The latter was leader of the Mexicans from 1299 to 1363 A.D. After his death there was a gap in rulership of 3 years. Clavijero (1971:74) tells us there were 20 founders.

(19) According to Clavijero, Axolohua would be one of the (20) Aztec rulers who founded Tenochtitlan.

(20) Here we have a reference to a diet problem.

(21) The priests never washed themselves during the periods of abstinence, a habit that gave them a very bad smell. They became very dirty and ugly.

(22) We have indeed the following Aztec kings :

(23) Motecuhzoma I has extended enormously the influence of the Aztecs by conquering many towns and provinces. He was the first king who reached the Maya regions of Tabasco and Guatemala. He was in fact the first emperor of the Mexicans. After the wars he became very interested in his past and origin.

(24) The distance of 300 leguas is far enough to wear out a pair of sandals. The 10 and 8 days for the whole trip forth and back are not realistic. Maybe there is an error here in the nahuatl translation of the old pictorial document.

(25) This is a fantastic intermezzo, a story about a mountain of eternal youth. It is yet not clear why the story teller has put this fragment in the description of the expedition. In fact people died as well, but the name of important people was sometimes taken over by the priests so that the name never 'died'. We hope to make a study of this fragment in the future.

(26) In fact, the 'braguero' is the loincloth or maxtli of the Mexican.

(27) About 60 sorcerers and wizards set off to search for Chicomoztoc, quite an army. It appears they were all old men, which must have been a severe handicap when undertaking such a long journey of more than 3000 km. Only 40 of them managed to return to Tenochtitlán, 2/7 (almost 1/3) died.

(28) 1 legua = 5572 m = 3 millas; 300 leguas would correspond to about 1700 km, which inevitably leads us to the South of the USA. A march to this area would take about 85 days of 20 km/day, meaning 10 times the given duration. If we believe the stories about the Tarahumara's about their marathon of 190 km in five days, then we must also believe that they needed only 10 days for 1700 km. This is only possible by waterways. We believe some manuscript must have been misinterpreted.

(29) Finally, these products are not so different from those manufactured in the Valley of Mexico.