Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Riverside

UC Riverside Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Riverside

The Stone Sculpture of Tenochtitlan: Changes, Discourses, and Actors


This dissertation focusses on social change during the Late Postclassic period in Central Mexico through an analysis of Aztec stone sculpture recovered from the capital city of Tenochtitlan. This work is the culmination of the Aztec Stone Sculpture from the Basin of Mexico Project (AZSSBMP), which created a standardized database of over 2000 whole and fragmented sculptures to facilitate comparison and identify changes overtime. My research addresses stone sculpture development, before and after the Aztec Empire, by analyzing sculptures with known archaeological contexts from the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan, the surrounding area of the Main Precinct, and other parts of the island city. I use stylistic and iconographic similarities to create groupings of sculptures that are contemporaneous and identify changes in forms and iconographic narratives through time to explain the emergence, experimentation, and synthesis of a Mexica style.

I propose the construction of a master chronological sequence, which is divided into three stages: the Pre-Imperial Stage (ca. 1300 – 1430 AD), the Early Imperial Stage (1430 – 1481 AD), and the Late Imperial Stage (1481 – 1519 AD). This approach addresses both synchronic and diachronic perspectives of stone sculpture and illustrates the diversity of the stone sculpture corpus that has not been previously highlighted. Over time there is an increase in the number and size of sculptures, as well as the development of high aesthetic quality and complex iconographic narratives. This research argues that the emerging Aztec Empire used sculptures to display political propaganda that aided their objectives as an expansionist state. These iconographic narratives show a tendency towards state violence and use stone images as relevant media to depict Tenochtitlan as the center of the universe to enforce a new sacred order and invoke the Flower World complex as a justification. This research serves as an example for understanding how material culture can be used to explain the socio-political dynamics of Central Mexico during the development and apogee of the Aztec Empire.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View