Image - Cacao Pod Vessel - K6706 © Justin Kerr FAMSI © 2006:
Christina M. Elson

Aztec Elites and the Post Classic Economy: Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (INAA) of Museum Collections from Chiconautla, México
With contributions by:  Deborah Nichols (Dartmouth College) and Leslie G. Cecil and Michael D. Glascock (Missouri Research Reactor).
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Cuauhtitlán ceramic sample, AMNH catalogue number 30.2/2802 A01. Mazapan, Toltec Buffware, Wavy line Red-on-Buff, bowl. Otumba Macro ceramic sample, AMNH catalogue number 30.2/2490 A01. Late Aztec Redware, Black/white-on-Red, bowl. Tenochtitlán ceramic sample, AMNH catalogue number 30.2/175. Aztec figurine with elaborate headdress.

Research Year:  2004
Culture:  Aztec
Chronology:  Post Classic
Location:  Basin of México
Site:  Chiconautla

Table of Contents

Research Design
Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (INAA)
Sample Preparation
Irradiation and Gamma-Ray Spectroscopy
Interpreting Chemical Data
INAA Results
Early Post Classic (Mazapan)
Middle Post Classic (Early Aztec)
Late Post Classic (Late Aztec)
Aztec Incense Burners and Censers
Spindle Whorls
Table 1. Chemical assignations for 200 ceramic samples from Chiconautla
List of Figures
Images by Ceramic Composition Group
Sources Cited


With support from the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc., (FAMSI) the authors analyzed ceramic material from George Vaillant's excavations at the site of Chiconautla, México housed at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). The results of this work shed light on outstanding questions regarding the relationship between markets, urbanism, and political development in the Basin of México and contribute to ongoing collaborative research that has created a better understanding of ceramic exchange networks emerging after the decline of the Classic Period state of Teotihuacán (Brumfiel and Hodge 1996; Charlton et al. 1999; Crider 2002; Crider et al. 2003; Hodge 1992; Hodge and Minc 1990; Hodge et al. 1992, 1993; Hodge and Neff, in press; Ma 2003; Minc 1994; Minc et al. 1994; Neff et al. 2000; Neff and Hodge, in press; Neff and Glascock 2000; Nichols and Charlton 2002; Nichols et al. 2002).

Previous work using INAA has identified six major ceramic composition groups associated with different subregions of the Basin of México–Chalco, Cerro Portezuelo, Cuauhtitlán, Otumba (Teotihuacán Valley), Tenochtitlán/Culhuacan, and Texcoco–along with several smaller groups (Figure 1) (Neff and Glascock 2000; Nichols et al. 2002). These studies also have obtained 185 clay samples from sources throughout the Basin for comparison with the composition groups (Neff and Glascock 1998).

The cumulative results of this research suggest that the Epi-Classic Period (A.D. 750-950) landscape, dominated by small city-states, had highly localized production and little exchange between political units (Crider et al. 2003; Ma 2003; Neff and Hodge, in press; Nichols et al. 2002). During the Early Post Classic Period (A.D. 950-1150) ceramic exchange (particularly the exchange of decorated vessels with prestige value) increased, although some limitations on exchange probably were imposed by political boundaries and, as a region, the Basin was divided into eastern and western marketing zones. In the Middle Post Classic Period (A.D. 1150-1350), the export of ceramic products from composition groups that included politically powerful city-states expanded (Minc 1994; Minc et al. 1994).

For example, Texcoco ceramics appear at the former city-state capital of Cerro Portezuelo, suggesting the onset of Acolhua dominance over the eastern Basin. In the Late Post Classic Period (A.D. 1350-1521), exports of Black-on-Orange pottery from the Texcoco and Tenochtitlán/Culhuacan composition groups further intensified as these imperial capitals became the largest market and craft production centers in the Basin. Greater frequencies of Black-on-Orange pottery from the Tenochtitlán/Culhuacan composition group at Chalco, an important production zone for Black-on-Orange ceramics in the Early/Middle Post Classic, may correlate with the conquest of that polity by the Aztecs around A.D. 1465 (Hodge et al. 1992, 1993; Nichols et al. 2002:69-70).

At the same time, the production and distribution of some other types is unclear. More research is needed to identify patterning in the production and distribution of Chalco-Cholula Polychromes that include a range of thin-walled, finely made vessels, which frequently occur as bowls, pulque vases, or copas (Neff et al. 1994). These fancy vessels appear less frequently and are less well-preserved in surface collections that have provided the majority of the samples analyzed by INAA to date.

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Aztec Elites and the Post Classic Economy: Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (INAA) of Museum Collections from Chiconautla, México  (29.8 MB)

Those with a slower internet connection can download the report in various sections listed below.
Report Text Only   (1.08 MB)
Cuauhtitlan (images only)   (5.21 MB)
Otumba Macro (images only)  (9.49 MB)
Tenochtitlan (images only)  (5.51 MB)
Unassigned (images only)  (8.19 MB)
Yautepec (images only)  (855 KB)

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Submitted 05/01/2006 by:
Christina M. Elson, American Museum of Natural History New York

Deborah Nichols, Dartmouth College

Leslie G. Cecil, Missouri Research Reactor

Michael D. Glascock, Missouri Research Reactor

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