Institute of Archaeology


Aztec Archaeology: codices and ethnohistory

Aims of the course

This course examines the critical boundaries between the historical records, the painted books (codices) and the material culture of archaeology. It focuses on the Spanish Chroniclers of Sixteenth Century Mexico who saw and recorded the dazzling brilliance of Aztec life and culture. The evidence from these two distinctive literary sources will be set against the insight gained by archaeological investigations over the last thirty years – in particular the excavations of the Great Temple of the Aztecs that has done so much to revolutionize our knowledge of that civilization. Moving back and forth between the indigenous painted books and the chronicles of Sixteenth century Mexico and archaeology, the student will be able to synthesize the information in order to understand Aztec culture, where religion, politics and economic concerns overlap in complex ways.

The course begins with an overview of the Aztecs from their humble beginnings to Empire builders looking at the Aztec Annals and the archaeological evidence. We then turn to the Spanish Conquest examining the documentary evidence especially the writings of the Conquistadors Hernán Cortés and Bernal Díaz del Castillo as well as the writings of the Catholic friars Bernardino de Sahagún and Diego Durán.


This course will provide students with different interpretive frameworks to develop their skills in critical evaluation of the archaeological, historical and ethno-historical sources resulting in a deeper understanding of Aztec civilization. Students will be able to learn new skills from the rare combination of three sources of knowledge to interpret the past.

Students will be expected to have detailed knowledge of Aztec civilization derived from codices, the ethno-historical record and archaeology.

Learning Outcomes

Students will become familiar with codices that are especially important to the study of Aztec civilization -historical and religious among others. The use of codices together with the writings of the Spanish Chroniclers will allow students to compare and contrast the information to the vast archaeological record.

Students will be able to assess sources critically.

Through case studies students will know how best to use all three sources of information.

Teaching Methods

The course will be taught with various codex facsimiles. The archaeology will be and students will read the we shall analyse the contents of the Chroniclers.

Course information

  • Code: ARCL0137 (formerly ARCLG201)
  • Credits: 15
  • Coordinator: Elizabeth Baquedano
  • Prerequisite: Although it is not necessary to read Spanish, it would be an advantage to be able to read the Spanish Chroniclers in their original language.
  • Handbook: open»

For registered students

  • Moodle page: open»
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  • Running in 2018-19