Expert opinion
Feminine Rituals
Rituals for fertility, maternity and rainmaking were traditions that lay at the heart of indigenous life.

Xochitecatl was one of the most impressive settlements during the early periods of the Puebla-Tlaxcala region’s cultural history. Built in the Middle Preclassic (800-400 BC) on raised volcanic ground, it was visible from all across the valley. The site’s most important buildings are the Pirámide de las Flores ("Pyramid of the Flowers"), the Pirámide de la Serpiente ("Pyramid of the Serpent"), and the Pirámide de la Espiral ("Pyramid of the Spiral"). These three monuments were in use until the Late Preclassic, between 100 BC and 100 AD, when a series of eruptions of Popocatépetl devastated the region and forced inhabitants to abandon their settlements in the area. After being deserted for five to six centuries, Xochitecatl was reoccupied in the Late Classic period (650-900 AD), and the Basamento de los Volcanes ("Plinth of the Volcanoes"), the fourth most important building on the site, dates from that era.

One of the most important aspects of Xochitecatl during the Late Classic was its use as a religious and civil space, unlike Cacaxtla, which was the center used by rulers and administrators. Xochitecatl is clearly associated with the feminine aspect of the indigenous world view, as evidenced in the discoveries made by Mari Carmen Serra Puche and Carlos Lazcano Arce at the foot of the Pyramid of the Flowers. More than 350 clay figurines and other ritual offerings such as ceramic vessels, representations of gods, and obsidian knives were placed at this site between the years 774 and 632 BC. Most of the figurines are female, because they are attired in a quechquemitl or shawl with a V-shaped neckline, a garment only used by women. There is an extraordinary variety of these female figurines, who are depicted variously as in a state of pregnancy, offering prayers, and raising their hands to the skies. The collection also includes representations of old women, mothers carrying babies, and finely dressed women. Some have movable parts, or babies and cots with infants inside them.

Juliette Testard and Mari Carmen Serra Puche recently conducted further studies of these figurines. They found that their iconography and decoration, including their postures, expressions, floral motifs, “ollin” circles (referring to movement), and the “flower-blood,” are references to Tlazolteotl and Xochiquetzal, two Nahua deities associated with fertility, maternity and rainmaking. Other feminine objects discovered in the same area as the offerings of the figurines include more than 500 malacates—spindles used for textile-work, an activity normally associated with women. Furthermore, the main facade of the Pyramid of the Flowers is west-facing, an orientation that is also linked to feminine characteristics in Nahua culture.

We do not know who placed these offerings, simply because no written records were left to give clues about their identity. However, they were probably the work of a number of people from various regions, who visited Xochitecatl over the centuries. The main purpose seems to have been to pay homage to the deities of Xochiquetzal and Tlazolteotl on the hill. Perhaps the wide variety of people who came to this area is one explanation for why the figurines have decorative features similar to those found among other cultures, such as those from the Gulf Coast, the Valley of Mexico, and the Maya region of Tabasco. In any case, it is extraordinary that the goddesses were worshipped over such a long time span, at least until the Late Classic period in Puebla-Tlaxcala. By analyzing the cultural importance of Xochitecatl and its role as a sacred space to indigenous people for so many centuries, we can begin to understand the vital need for efforts to ensure their continued preservation.

INAH-Zona Arqueológica de Cacaxtla-XochitécatlYajaira Gómez
INAH-DMC/Héctor Montaño
INAH-Zona Arqueológica de Cacaxtla-XochitécatlYajaira Gómez

  • Lazcano Arce, Jesús Carlos, 2012, "Xochitécatl-Cacaxtla: Una ciudad Prehispánica", en Arqueología Mexicana, núm. 19, México, Editorial Raíces.
  • Serra Puche, Mari Carmen, 1999, "Evidencias e indicadores arqueológicos de la presencia femenina en Xochitécatl, Tlaxcala, México", en Anales de Antropología, vol. 33, México, IIA / UNAM.
  • Testard, Juliette y Mari Carmen Serra Puche, 2011, "Las figurillas epiclásicas de la Pirámide de las Flores de Xochitecatl, Tlaxcala, México: tipología y simbolismo", en Itinerarios, vol. 14, Varsovia, Instituto de Estudios Ibéricos e Iberoamericanos / Universidad de Varsovia.


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