Chicomoztoc: The Birthplace of the Aztec

A picture of Chicomoztoc from the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca
Diagram from the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca
Chicomoztoc is a fabled cave dwelling from which the “Seven Tribes” that settled around Lake Texcoco heralded.

The Aztec version of the legend is best known and describes a mythical land known as Aztlán where a sacred cave called Chicomostoc (place of the seven caves) was found. Each cave was home to a tribe with a common ancestry, and from here they began an exodus to the lands to the south.

The Mexica (Aztec) believed themselves to be the last to leave and their calendar began on the date they left, the 24th May, 1024AD. When they arrived in the southern lands, the other tribes already occupied all the available lands. So they led a nomadic life until they finally saw the prophesied vision of an eagle perched upon a cactus with a serpent in its beak. It was here that they settled, on the banks of Lake Texcoco, and built the mighty city of Tenochtitlan.

There is no certainty as to whom the “Seven Tribes” were. Many legends speak of the Seven Caves and include different tribes. The most popular theory is that the seven tribes are the Nahuatl speaking cultures who settled in central Mexico. These are the:  Xochimilca, Tlahuica, Acolhua, Tlaxcalan, Tepaneca, Chalca, and Mexica.

However, other non-Nahuatl speaking groups, such as the Matlatzinca, also believed themselves to have originated at Chicomoztoc.  Many attempts have been made to identify the location of Chicomoztoc, but  there is no certainty as to where it was. Many historians believe it is simply a legend designed to manipulate warring tribes into (re)uniting as a single Aztec Empire.

The concept of caves being the birthplace of mankind stretches way beyond the 11th century and spans the majority of cultures across Mesoamerica. The likelihood is that these mystic caves were believed to the wombs of the earth – and a 16th century book called the “Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca” alludes to this association by representing Chicomostoc as a womb-like entity, complete with vaginal passage. Although the book was written during the Colonial period, its author, Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxochitl, was the great-great-grandson of the penultimate Aztec ruler, Cuitláhuac, and an ancestor of Ixtlilxochitl I and Ixtlilxochitl II, who were both rulers of Texcoco – so he had authority and knowledge of pre-Hispanic customs and legends.

Mesoamerican myths and legends often combined historical events with a cosmological events to leave a record of when the event happened and a permanent memorial to the event in the heavens. The most likely cosmological representation of the seven tribes/caves is the Pleiades. The timing of the supposed exodus would probably coincide with a cosmic event that involved this cluster of seven stars.

The most probable geographical location is thought to be El Cerro de Culiacán, Guanajuato, where there is evidence of a convergence of cultures. However, the depiction in the “Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca” features a crooked mountain above the caves, which was the emblem of Culhuacan, a key city in pre-Hispanic Mexico.

Another theory is that the crooked hill combined with the desert-like sandy ground, thistles and cacti, is symbolic of La Quemada, a city whose origin is deeply mysterious and whose demise coincides with the time of the exodus.

8 thoughts on “Chicomoztoc: The Birthplace of the Aztec”

  1. Robin,

    According to the Wikipedia entry on Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca, the document was not written by Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl. Elsewhere, it is specified that the document was commissioned by don Alonso de Castaneda. I want to cite–and maybe create a link to–your interesting piece in an essay of my own but not until that discrepancy is cleared up.

  2. I am a true neophyte to Meso-America history, far from post-graduate knowledge. Nevertheless, I ask what is the relationship between Chicomoztoc and Aztlán? As a secondary school teacher of Spanish, I used to tell my students that the Mexicas originated in Aztlán and related this fact to the settled inhabitants around Lago de Texcoco when they arrived, who then referred to the Mexicas as Aztecas. When does documented history refer to the geographic area as Mexico?

    1. Hi Ruari,

      Aztlán is a legendary place that may never have existed. However, it may also be a place far to the north, such as La Quemada, or beyond the Tropic of Cancer. The relationship to Chicomoztoc is the cave that the Mexica alleged they descended from. Aztlán is the region they departed from on their nomadic pilgrimage. The two might be different.

      Officially, the the region became Mexico, in 1824. The “Seven Tribes” of Mexico is simply a term I’ve used to describe the seven tribes that possibly descended from a place that might have existed 🙂

      I’ll make a note to tidy this up.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment and give me a nudge about that.

      Best wishes,

      Robin

  3. Aztlan and chicomoztoc are real places, they are in México center, I have real ubication, but we need to be careful before to say where is exactly site

  4. First may I begin with Fact: There has never in our CEMANAHUAK history of a tribe with the name Uto- Aztecan. We have been called every name your scholors thought of other than the truth and we are not a mythical people we are THE UTO- MÉXICHIKAH we originated the mountains West of Salt Lake City Utah the location is not a myth Chicomoztoc us and actual place in the Ute territory and are brethren to the Paiute and Ute Nations if AZTLÁN /ATLANTIS the Northern half of the Uto-Mexichikáh Empire in Anahuak . The name Aztec derived from Aztaztlán where Huihuipochtiltli (GOD) via Ometeotl ( JESUS ) warn us not to use Aztec as any kind of identifying who we truly are. The Cherokee are descendants to the Iraqouis as they are descendants to the Nahuatliolli tribes “Those who speak who speak a dialect of the mother languege of Classic Nahuátl in Fact the language of the Tenocheka of the twin cities of today’s Valley of Mexico
    we began our migration Nochtili in the year 1063 AD. our migration was a directive to where the city of artiseans (Toltecoyatl ) called the Toltecs . We did wonder AZTLÁN
    we were ordered to leave Chicomoztoc because of the imminent dangers of poisonous sulfer filled gases and fallout of the many eruptions of the nearby active volcanos that were killing animals crops leaving the landscape of Chicomoztoc desullete bare deserts of day in the 150,000 square miles of the American south west some of us went to YanYuik territorymy family Pedigree name is Peru. And I in Fact am 6th generation Great-grandson of Manuel Peru 1663 AD of the Chihuahua Kingdom which was one of 80 nations of ANAHUÁC CEMANAHUAK my information, it’s accuracy is 100% . those of us that continued to the Valley of Mexico and built upon the ruins left behind after the demise of the Toltecs which I’m not in liberty to say anything about them. So despite what WIKIPEDIA renditions are irrelavant and hold no merit nor fact.Plato was like a glass half full half empty we with respect to India and her rich beautiful culture we are not Indians we are not a dead Tribe our languege culture and truth is and has been alive and doing well . We are the CEMANAHUAKEAN period.
    Teotehuacán/Tenochtitlán built upon ruins of the Toltecayotl we are cousins to the Yucatec Maya and migrated to all areas of what is still to us The Uto-Mexichiká Empire I created ANABTAO a place for all peoples of CEMANAHUAK where we at this moment are sharing and comparing our Histories in order to secure our presents here in America in the near future the world will be enlighten by the truth that has been swept under the rug 528 years have passed which gave us the CEMANAHUAKEANS plenty of time to regroup as one Indigenous people of the land between two waters Not! The new world reall!y we have awaken and will accept the past and all born on this land are Native Americans that said : Indigenous Natives differ immensely. Point in case How can an Indigenous persons be immigrants of thier own Nation? Preservation and Reservation mean two different concepts of what the THIER descriptions indicate. Voice of CEMANAHUAK- Advocate forJUSTICE and EQUALITY . Gregory Xocoyotlzen Dominguez

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