Toltecs as Mound-Builders

By John D. Baldwin.

As the remains of the Mound-Builders show clearly that they had commercial intercourse with the Mexican and Central American countries, and as it seems probable that they had otherwise a very close relation to the people of those countries, it would be surprising to find no mention of their country in the old books and traditions of the Central Americans and Mexicans. If we could have the lost books, especially those of the more ancient time, and learn to read them, it might be possible to know something of the origin and history of the Mound-Builders. It is believed that distinct reference to their country has been found in the books still in existence, and there appears to be reason for this belief. Brasseur de Bourbourg, one of the few investigators who have explored them, says:

“Previous to the history of the Toltec domination in Mexico, we notice in the annals of the country two facts of great importance, but equally obscure in their details: first, the tradition concerning the landing of a foreign race, conducted by an illustrious personage, who came from an eastern country; and, second, the existence of an ancient empire known as Huehue-Tlapalan, from which the Toltecs or Nahuas came to Mexico, in consequence of a revolution or invasion, and from which they had a long and toilsome migration to the Aztec plateau.”

He believes that Huehue-Tlapalan was the country of the Mound-Builders in the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys. According to the native books he has examined, it was somewhere at a distance in the northeast; and it is constantly said that some of the Toltecs came by land and some by sea. Sahagun learned from the old books and traditions, and stated in the introduction to the first book of his history, that the Toltecs came from that distant northeastern country; and he mentions a company that came by sea, settled near the Tampico River, and built a town called Panuco. Brasseur de Bourbourg finds that an account of this or another company was preserved at Xilanco, an ancient city situated on the point of an island between Lake Terminos and the sea, and famous for its commerce, wealth, and intelligence. The company described in this account came from the northeast in the same way, it is said, to the Tampico River, and landed at Panuco. It consisted of twenty chiefs and a numerous company of people. Torquemada found a record which describes them as people of fine appearance. They went forward into the country and were well received. He says they were industrious, orderly, and intelligent, and that they worked metals, and were skillful artists and lapidaries. All the accounts say the Toltecs came at different times, by land and sea, mostly in small companies, and always from the northeast. This can be explained only by supposing they came by sea from the mouth of the Mississippi River or from the Gulf coast near it, and by land through Texas. But the country from which they came was invariably Huehue-Tlapalan.

Cabrera says Huehue-Tlapalan was the ancient country of the Toltecs. Its simple name was Tlapalan, but they called it Huehue, old, to distinguish it from three other Tlapalans which they founded in the districts of their new kingdom. Torquemada says the same. We are not authorized to reject a fact so distinctly stated and so constantly reported in the old books. The most we can do against it with any show of reason is to receive it with doubt. Therefore it seems not improbable that the “Old Tlapalan” of Central American tradition was the country of our Mound-Builders.

Another circumstance mentioned is not without significance. It is said, in connection with this account of the Toltec migration, that Huehue-Tlapalan was successfully invaded by Chichimecs, meaning barbarous aboriginal tribes, who were united under one great leader. Here is one statement (a little condensed) touching this point: “There was a terrible struggle, but, after about thirteen years, the Toltecs, no longer able to resist successfully, were obliged to abandon their country to escape complete subjugation. Two chiefs guided the march of the emigrating nation. At length they reached a region near the sea named ‘Tlapalan-Conco,’ where they remained several years. But they finally undertook another migration and reached Mexico, where they built a town called ‘Tollanzinco,’ and later the city of Tullan, which became the seat of their government.”

This is substantially what is told of the defeat and migrations of the Toltecs. The history of Ixtlilxochitl adds doubtful modifications and particulars not found in the “Codex Chimalpopoca.” (See Quatre Lettres, etc.) This Chichimec invasion of Huehue-Tlapalan is placed at a period which, in the chronology of the native books, was long previous to the Christian era, and is mentioned to explain the beginning of the Toltec movement toward Mexico; but the account of it is obscure.

To find a system of chronology in these old books is not surprising when we consider that even the Aztecs of Montezuma’s time knew enough of astronomy to have a correct measure of the year. The Aztecs adopted the methods of astronomy and chronology which were used by their predecessors. They divided the year into eighteen months of twenty days each; but, as this gave the year only three hundred and sixty days, five supplementary days were added to each year, and a sixth day to every fourth year. The bissextile is known to have been used by the Mayas, Tzendals, and Quichés, and it was probably common.

We can not reasonably refuse to give some attention to their chronology, even while doubting its value as a means of fixing dates and measuring historical periods. Its method was to count by equal periods of years, as we count by centuries, and their chronology presents a series of periods which carries back their history to a very remote time in the past. Brasseur de Bourbourg says: “In the histories written in the Nahuatl language, the oldest certain date is nine hundred and fifty-five years before Christ.” This, he means, is the oldest date in the history of the Nahuas or Toltecs which has been accurately determined. The calculation by which it is found is quoted from the later portion of the “Codex Chimalpopoca” as follows: “Six times 400 years plus 113 years” previous to the year 1558 A.D. This is given as the date of a division of the land by the Nahuas. The division was made 2513 years previous to 1558 A.D., or in 955 B.C. If this date could be accepted as authentic, it would follow that the Nahuas or Toltecs left Huehue-Tlapalan more than a thousand years previous to the Christian era, for they dwelt a long time in the country of Xibalba as peaceable settlers before they organized the civil war which raised them to power.


This is taken from Ancient America, originally published in 1871.



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