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The Materiality of Aztec Agricultural Deities: From Tenochtitlan to the Provinces


This study interrogates the ritual function of Aztec agricultural deities across various media to discover how material objects were perceived as animate and sacred. In addition, it addresses the following themes as they relate to the objects themselves: the instantiation of sacred essence in ritual performance, consumption as metaphor for sacrifice, and the reach of imperial power in provincial regions or the relationship of center and periphery. To do so, I examine a corpus of Aztec sculptures of female agricultural deities, made out of stone and paper, dough, and polychrome ceramic primarily, from provincial sites of central Mesoamerica (ca. 1325-1521). In both the capital of Tenochtitlan and the provinces, public rituals involving female agricultural deities solidified the interconnectedness between the material and spiritual realms; however, their prevalence in the provinces likely emphasizes their association with the agrarian economy. Whereas previous studies of Aztec ritual have privileged textual and pictorial accounts, I concentrate my analysis on extant concrete evidence (from museum collections and archaeological sites) and its relationship to Aztec ritual practices outside of Tenochtitlan.

This study contributes to a broader understanding of Aztec ritual and sacrality, particularly as it relates to the nature of sacred imagery within the ceremonial life of provincial peoples. In this dissertation, I move beyond the simplistic categorization of Aztec female agricultural deities identifiable by diagnostic traits, to understand how they functioned in a ritual context. I focus on their materiality as it relates to an animate Mesoamerican universe in order to understand the interconnectedness of the physical environment and ritual activity. By examining the complex histories of objects related to ritual activity, I hope to further our understanding of the engagement of Aztec social communities with the material essence of sacred objects and, more broadly, explore the religious and political relationship between Aztec provinces and the state.

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