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Plundering and carnage were the overlying results
of the Spanish conquest of MesoAmerica beginning
in 1519. The ensuing years brought many new
“visitors,” mostly laymen or officials in search
of wealth, though the Christianity toting priest
was ever present. Occasionally a man from any of
these classes, though mainly priests would be so
in awe of the civilization they were single
handedly massacring that they began to observe and
document things such as everyday life, religious
rituals, economic goings on, and architecture,
which was the biggest achievement in the eyes of
the Spaniards. That is how the accounts of Friar
Diego de Landa, a priest, were created, giving us
rare first per-son historical accounts of the
conquest and the people it effected. To
archaeologists monumental architecture is more
important than an inscribed stelae listing names
and dates. There is so much more to learn from a
building than a slab of stone usually seething
with propaganda.

In most societies they are what
remains after conquest, usually for their beauty
or ability to withstand the elements. Landa was
amazed by what he found. “There are in Yucatan
many edifices of great beauty, this be-ing the
most outstanding of all things discovered in the
Indies; they are all build of stone finely
ornamented” (Landa, 8). If it were a commoners
domestic dwelling we would learn through the study
of remaining artifacts and middens what objects
were used on a daily basis and also the standard
of living, helping us to construct an accurate
view of the long neglected commoner. According to
Landa steepled roofs covered with thatch or palm
leaves protected the habitat from rain. Homes were
often divided into two sections, a living section,
customarily whitewashed, and a domestic area where
food was prepared and inhabitants slept (Landa,

In Aztec societies commoners often lived in
calpolli, a residential area segregated by
occupation, usually surrounded by walls for
protection (Smith, 145). If it were a domestic
dwelling for a noble it would be larger than a
com-moner’s dwelling, and usually consisted of
more than one large structures occasionally
located on a platform near the center of the town.
The high status is obvious by the in-clusion of
more elaborate and ornamental objects and
frequently frescos adorned the walls. Monumental
Architecture of public and private buildings are
one of the best indi-cators of the size and
importance of a site. The size of the structure
has direct corrolation to the power held by the
leader, in his ability to conduct peasants to
construct the build-ing. Temples and plazas were
the main objects of monumental construction and
often rival the pyramids of Egypt in quality and
size. Temples were often pyramid like struc-tures
that were built, facing east, over the cremated
remains of a priest or ruler.

With each acceding
ruler the temple was made larger by building over
the previous, thus the layering effect so often
uncovered. Different styles of decoration and
construction were used by each culture during
different periods. “In contrast to earlier
Mesoamerican pyramids with a single temple built
on top and a single stairway up the side, the
pyramids built by the Early Aztec peoples had twin
temples and double stairways” (Smith, 43). “There
are several complexes of Esperanza architecture at
Kaminaljuyuthese are stepped temple platforms with
the typical Teotihuacan talud-tablero motif” (Coe,
84). Then in less than three hundred years there
was a completely different style of architec-ture
in the area, “Characteristic of Puuk buildings are
facings of very thin squares of limestone veneer
over the cement-and-rubble core; boot-shaped vault
stonesand the exuberant use of stone mosaics on
upper facades, emphasizing the usual monster-masks
with long, hook-shaped snouts, as well as frets
and lattice-like designs of criss-crossed
elements” (Coe, 157). Mesoamerican architecture
has withstood the test of time, many of the
structures not destroyed during the conquest still
stand today, whereas numerous Spanish buildings do

In pre-modern history, throughout the world
burials have been customarily simi-lar,
irregardless the distance. Whether this is
coincidence or not will be determined at some
point in the future, but for now I am of the
opinion that since many cultures wor-shipped
similar gods many of their customs will be
comparable. For example many cul-tures, including
the Aztecs and the Maya buried bodies in the fetal
position facing east. More often than not various
foods and goods were placed in the grave to
accompany the deceased in the next life. Burials
usually followed some ritual and occurred near the
home, which would be abandoned soon after (Landa,
57). If they were not cremated the body would be
wrapped in a shroud and buried in the temple (Coe,

It is believed that many Aztec adults, though
commoners, were cremated, mainly because of the
lack of adult burials found (Smith, 142). Nobles
and priests were cremated and placed in an urn or
hollow statue and if the person was of great
importance they would be buried in a tem-ple or
have a temple erected over their burial site.
“Foreign lords of the Esperanza phase chose the
temple platforms themselves as their final
resting-places. As with the earlier Miraflores
people, each platform was actually built to
enclose the ruler’s tomb, a log-roofed chamber
usually placed beneath the frontal staircase,
successive burials and their platforms being
placed over older onesSurrounding him were rich
funerary vessels, undoubtedly containing food and
drink for his own use” (Coe, 84-85). Unlike the
Maya who believed that everyone went to Xibalba,
the cold Maya un-derworld, the Aztec believed
there were several underworlds depending on the
method of death. “Soldiers who died in battle and
sacrificial victims went to an eastern solar
realmwomen who died in childbirth went to a
western solar realmpeople who died by drowning or
other causes related to the rain god went to the
earthly 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 by
peo-ple of importance throughout the empire,
usually bringing jewels or other gifts such as

Although a Spaniard, Landa was one of the
most important historians of his time in regards
to Mesoamerica. His accounts may be less than
scientific and a bit biased to-wards his own
culture but at the same time show an awe of the
“primitive” societies they were attempting to
civilize in the name of Christ. He was ignorant
and therefore in my mind is not to be blamed much,
at least he tried to preserve information on their
culture, though he did burn most manuscripts
written by the natives. Bibliography: Works Cited
Landa, Diego de. Yucatan Before and After the
Conquest. 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. Yucatan
Before and After the Conquest. Dover Publications
Inc. New York City, New York, 1978. Smith, Michael

The Aztecs. Blackwell Publishers. Oxford, UK,
1996. Coe, Michael D. The Maya. Thames and Hudson

London, 1999..

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