Production and Daily Life
FIGURE 33. Tlaxcalan man carrying a pointed digging stick before the chapel of Ocotelolco, from the main scene of the Lienzo de Tlaxcala.
FIGURE 34. Basalt mano and metate, which has been used to crush cochineal, hence the red stain. April 2006. Photo by Byron Hamann.
FIGURE 35. Comales for sale in Tlaxiaco. May 2007. Photo by Byron Hamann.
FIGURE 36. Roast maguey heart for sale in San Juan Mixtepec. May 2007. Photo by Byron Hamann.
FIGURE 37. Nopal cactus with fruit. Oaxaca, April 2006. Photo by Byron Hamann.
FIGURE 38. Chile peppers. Oaxaca, April 2006. Photo by Byron Hamann.
FIGURE 39. Comatl filled with foaming pulque, from folio 12r of the Codex Borgia.
FIGURE 40. Postclassic Aztec III black on red cajete. 3 3/4” diameter at rim, 1 11/16” diameter at base, 1 1/8” height. Photo of YPM Ant 257078 courtesy Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.
FIGURE 41. Tecomates as tribute items, from folio 8v of the Matrícula de Tributos
FIGURE 42. Jícara as a tribute item, from folio 4v of the Matrícula de Tributos
FIGURE 43. Late Postclassic tripod cajete from western Morelos, possibly a ceramic spinning bowl. 1 5/8” height, 2 13/16” diameter at rim. Photo of YPM Ant 257079 courtesy Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.
FIGURE 44. Lower right corner: footed tecomate containing two thread-wrapped spindles, from folio 59v of the Codex Borgia.
FIGURE 45. Stone bark beating tool, possibly from Tlaxcala. Photo of YPM ANT 135478 courtesy Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.
FIGURE 46. Amate paper as a tribute item, from folio 3v of the Matrícula de Tributos.
As in many societies, productive labor in Central Mexico was divided into stereotypically male and female tasks. Agricultural work was typically male; houses often had nearby gardens and fruit trees, with larger fields located further away from town centers. The ground would be plowed by hand, using a long spade-like digging stick (Figures 9 and 33). Terraces were built in order to hold in soils and prevent erosion: a number of prehispanic terraces and check-dams to prevent erosion surround the ruins of Cuexcomate.53 Central Mexican people began their eighteen-month solar year in the late winter, probably in mid-February. The rainy season begins in April, where gentle showers soften the ground for the planting of fields in May. From June to October, afternoon thunderstorms provide water for growing crops—maize above all. The end of the rainy season in October allowed crops to dry and be harvested from late October through November. At least, this was the weather in good years. If spring rains came late, planting would be delayed, and even if the summer brought no droughts, early frosts in the fall might destroy a year’s labor. Central Mexicans were an agricultural people, and so it is no surprise, as we saw above, that one of the two main temples at the center of Tenochtitlan was dedicated to the Rain god Tlaloc.
If men’s work focused on fields, women’s work centered on the house, where food and textiles were prepared. A number of Nahuatl names for foods have been incorporated into Mexican Spanish—and into English as well. Maize (cintli in Nahuatl) was the central staple, cooked in many ways. Whole kernels could be heated to make popcorn (izquitl), but maize was usually softened in a solution of water and limestone and then ground into a doughy paste with a mano (a cylinder of stone not unlike a rolling pin) on the surface of a metate (a miniature stone table— metlatl in Nahuatl; Figure 34). The resulting dough was further prepared into a wide range of forms. Most common was the tortilla (tlaxcalli in Nahuatl—Tlaxcala means “Place of Tortillas”). These thin flat patties would be prepared by hand, roasted on a flat ceramic griddle (called a comal today—from the Nahuatl comalli; Figure 35), and then filled or dipped in different kinds of stews and sauces. The general term for such sauces was molli, a word which has been transformed into today’s mole. One such sauce, made of avocadoes (ahuacatl in Nahuatl), was called (appropriately) ahuacamolli_—that is, guacamole. Another form of preparing maize was to steam cakes of dough inside wrappers made from dried maize husks: this was the _tamalli, today’s tamale. A hot beverage was made from ground maize and water: atolli, today’s atole.
Maize was a pan-Mesoamerican staple, but many other tasty foods were eaten as well. One famous beverage was made from ground cacahuatl—that is, cacao (a plant that can only grow in hot lowland environments, such as the coasts of Veracruz and Oaxaca). Crushed cacao nibs would be mixed with water and any number of other flavorings (honey, chile, vanilla, sweet-scented flowers) and then beaten or poured from on high to create foam: this drink was the delicious chocolatl (chocolate). The sweet sap of the maguey cactus was also consumed, either fresh or fermented into a milky pulque (octli_—the term pulque comes from the Nahuatl _poliuhqui, “something lost”). The “heart” of the maguey could be roasted and sliced into small pieces for eating—a fibrous, caramelized mouthful (Figure 36). The nopal cactus also provided a number of edibles: from its flat leaves to its sweet red fruits (Figure 37). Vegetables important to the Nahua diet included the bean (etl), squash (ayotli), tomato (tomatl), and chili pepper (chilli; Figure 38). Meats were eaten sparingly: the domesticated turkey (huexolotl) and dog (chichi or itzcuintli); wild deer (mazatl) and rabbit (tochtli). Vegetables and meats would be prepared into thick stews and sauces using a round, narrow-mouthed pot called a comatl (today’s comate, or olla). The comatl was also used to ferment pulque (Figure 39).
Most foods were served in flat-bottomed bowls (caxitl in Nahuatl, today’s cajete). Usually these would rest on the ground (Figure 40), although fancier versions are raised up on a tripod of three flat legs. Beverages were served in round ceramics cups called tecomatl (today’s tecomate; Figure 41), as well as semicircular cups made out of dried hollow gourds (_xicalli_—today’s jícara; Figure 42). Different styles of ceramics were made in different parts of Mesoamerica, and were traded widely. Based on the styles of ceramics found in excavations, archaeologists can reconstruct the local and regional networks in which people from different communities participated. Styles of ceramics can also help reveal social distinctions within communities. In Cuexcomate, for example, certain styles of imported ceramics were more common in elite contexts than in the houses of commoners—but, surprisingly, commoner households in general did have access to imported wares. During the period 1350-1430, 9.1% of all ceramics in commoner houses were imports from the Valley of Mexico, slightly less than the 10.7% found in elite houses. During the period 1430-1550, the amount of imported Valley of Mexico ceramics in commoner houses dropped to 7.7%, whereas ratios in elite houses remained about the same, at 10%. In other words, although material distinctions between elite and commoner household goods can be detected archaeologically, they are not as extreme as one might suspect (or as extreme as one might find in larger cities). 
In addition to preparing food, women were also in charge of creating textiles—and this is another aspect of life in Cuexcomate where we find parallels between elite and commoner households. First, women would pull raw fibers into thread using a spinning top-like malacatl (a round weight of stone or ceramic with a pointed stick thrust through a hole in the center). Different types of spindle whorls would be used to prepare different fibers: large heavy ones for spinning the thick fibers from maguey leaves, smaller ones to spin cotton (or even feathers or rabbit fur). In order to control the movement of the top-like spindle, women would sometimes place the spindle in a small ceramic vessel—a spinning bowl (Figures 43 and 44). Hundreds of ceramic spindle whorls and spinning bowls were found at the site of Cuexcomate—and they were associated with both commoner and elite houses. Women of all classes of society spun thread. This thread would then be woven into cloth using a rack-like backstrap loom. Because these looms were made of perishable materials (fibers and wood), they haven’t survived archaeologically, although some bone weaving battens (wedge-like slats used to tamp down weft fibers) have been recovered in excavations elsewhere in Mesoamerica.55
In addition to the production of textiles, archaeological evidence reveals that paper from the bark of the amate tree was also manufactured in Cuexcomate. (The Matrícula de Tributos, remember, is painted on sheets of amate paper). Excavations at the site—and at the neighboring village of Capilco—recovered several grooved retangular bark-beating tools (Figure 45). Made of basalt, these were used for hammering the water-softened bark of the ficus tree into smooth flat sheets. Indeed, according to the Matrícula de Tributos amate paper was one of the items demanded by the Aztecs from the tribute province of Cuauhnahuac, in which Cuexcomate was located (Figure 46). Excavations at Cuexcomate also produced minerals used in making paint pigments: hematite for red, limonite for yellow, and graphite for black. Of all craft-related items, paint pigments show the strongest association with elite contexts throughout the site’s occupied history.56 However—intriguingly—of the 43 paint stones recovered from contexts dating 1430-1550, 28 (67%) were found in patio Group 10. As we saw above, Group 10 was not an elite residence, yet throughout Mesoamerica the arts of writing were preeminently noble pursuits.57 Perhaps Group 10 was home to a family specializing in the preparation of pigments for elite use. Overall, the existence of both bark-beating stones and paint pigments at Cuexcomate offers the tantalizing possibility that painted manuscripts were once created at the site.58
Text by Byron Hamann
53 Smith 1992, 321-327; Smith and Heath-Smith 1994, 356.
54 Smith and Heath-Smith 1994, 360-365.
55 McCafferty and McCafferty 1994.
56 Smith and Heath-Smith 1994, 359.
57 Houston 1994; Boone 2000, 27.
58 See the cautious reference to manuscript production in Smith and Heath-Smith 1994, 359.