Caves and New Fire Ceremonies in the Central Mexican Highlands: The Case of the Cerro de la Estrella, Iztapalapa, Mexico


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January 2016


The calendrical ritual known as the New Fire ceremony was in many ways the paramount rite of cultures in the central Mexican Highlands. Here, we will examine this ritual and its connection to caves as manifested at the Cerro de la Estrella, where the last New Fire ceremony was celebrated by the Aztec in ad 1507. Based on continuities in rock art and archaeological evidence we suggest that New Fire ceremonies were already celebrated at the Cerro de la Estrella during the Epiclassic (c. ad 750-950) if not during the latter centuries of the Early Classic. We present results of investigations and contextualise our findings in relation to the ethnohistoric sources that pertain to the New Fire ceremony. We also suggest that the close connection between caves and fire-drilling rituals is established by mythological precedent recorded in the ethnohistoric manuscripts, wherein the emergence of humans from Chicomoztoc – the fabled ‘seven caves place’ – is closely followed by the drilling of the First Fire, an important aspect that heretofore has been overlooked and neglected by recent scholarship. For this reason, all subsequent New Fire rituals are in essence recreations of this foundational First Fire and materialisations of the distant past.


Caves, New Fire Ceremony, Cerro De La Estrella, Sacred Geography, Epiclassic, Ethnohistoric Sources

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New World Archaeology, Vol. 10 (2016).