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Technologies of time: calendrics and commoners in postclassic Mexico

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Article of journalBrumfiel, Elizabeth M. . (Northwestern University, Department of Anthropology, Evanston, Estados Unidos). Technologies of time: calendrics and commoners in postclassic Mexico.  / Tecnologías del tiempo: calendarios y comuneros en el México postclásico Ancient Mesoamerica, 2011 vol. 22 no. 1 p. 53-70. Keywords:
Anthropology, Ethnology | History
Cultura mesoamericana / calendario / medida del tiempo / etnohistoria
Pre-hispanic period


This article explores how the 260-day divinatory calendar changed over the course of Mesoamerican history. I begin with a description of the day-count in an ethnographic context, twentieth-century highland Guatemala. I then examine the day-count as recorded in sixteenth-century historical documents from central Mexico. Ceramic motifs on Early-Middle Postclassic period pottery from Xaltocan, Mexico, guide an examination of the day-count in the eleventh through sixteenth centuries. This study concludes that despite its reputation as an exclusively elite institution, the tonalpohualli has served commoner purposes for at least a millennium. Commoners were more knowledgeable and more active agents regarding cosmology than most Mesoamericanists have previously believed. This study concludes that comparative historical analysis, that is, the systematic search for differences, as well as similarities, in the ethnographic, ethnohistorical, and archaeological records, enhances the contributions of ethnography and ethnohistory to Mesoamerican archaeology.

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