Tlatilco

02
  • Environment and Geography

    The Tlatilco culture arose on the high plains of what is now central Mexico, on the shores of Lake Texcoco. The name ‘Tlatilco’ is the Nahuatl word for “place where things are hidden” or “place of mounds”. This lakeside region offers rich hunting and fishing grounds in a landscape of wooded hills and fertile valleys and a humid, rainy climate.

  • Economy and Technology

    The Tlatilco were one of the first agricultural peoples of Mesoamerica. While their economy was based on maize, they may have also grown squash and beans. Seeds were sown using a pointed stick on land that was cleared by fire. This group supplemented their diet by hunting lakeside birds and animals such as fish, ducks, turtles, armadillos, bears, and frogs. They also gathered wild fruit, root vegetables, tubers, and Tule rushes, which were used for both food and basket-making. The presence of exotic items and raw materials from far away places at Tlatilco sites shows that the culture engaged in extensive inter-regional trade.

  • Art

    The most notable Tlatilco artwork are ceramic figurines in human shapes, two kinds of which are known: large hollow figurines painted red, and small solid ones fashioned with remarkable skill and attention to detail. The smaller figurines are of naked young women decked out in elaborate headdresses and short skirts or body paint. Others represent two-headed figures, humpbacked people, and deformed or masked individuals. The Tlatilco figurines depict ceremonial clothing, personages, and people of different social rank, including ball players and contortionists. The culture’s ceramic vessels feature decorated forms with limited use of color. Their most common shapes show clear external influences and include dishes, jars without necks, long-necked bottles, three-legged jars, and bottles with stirrup handles. They also fashioned vessels modeled in the forms of local animals and plants, such as ducks, fish, and squash.

  • Social Organization

    Tlatilco society had differentiated segments, including an emerging elite class that did not take part directly in food production but held power and prestige based on the unequal distribution of goods. The tombs of this elite class contain offerings brought from Olmec territory, indicating that this class controlled trade and relations with distant groups.

  • Beliefs and Funerary Practices

    The Tlatilco spread out their burials instead of grouping them together in cemeteries. Bodies were buried directly in the earth, laid out and accompanied by offerings for the afterlife, particularly ceramic figurines. The iconography of Tlatilco grave goods reflects a belief system based on fertility worship, which is most notable in the emphasis on wide hips, breasts, and females in general. Among these early village dwellers, these would have been related to fertility rites associated with agricultural cycles.

  • History

    The Taltilco emerged from the earlier El Arbolillo and Zacatenco cultures in the Mexico Valley and were influenced by the lowland Olmec people. These influences are expressed in the representations of felines, in the features of many Tlatilco figurines, and throughout the Tlatilco ceramic tradition. The Tlatilco culture disappeared between the 6th and 5th centuries BCE.

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