Ancient Civilizations of the Americas
Lecture 19
The Cultures of the
Gran Chichimeca
The arid region north of Mesoamerica is today called the
Gran Chichimeca. It was a region inhabited, according to
Mexica ethnohistory by the “Chichimecs.”
Chichimec can be variously translated as “people of the
dog lineage,” or “ nomadic peoples from the north.” The
kingdoms of Postclassic central Mexico such as the
Mexica and Tarascans claimed Chichimec origins even
though they were speakers of unrelated languages.
Today the Gran Chichimeca is inhabited principally by
speakers of Uto-Aztecan languages such as the Mayo,
Cora, Huichol, Tarahumara, and Yaqui.
The Chalchihuites Culture
Chalchihuites: “little green stones” Name given to Classic
period cultures of Northwestern frontier after town of same
name near archaeological site of Alta Vista in Zacatecas state.
Teotihuacan colony model: Teotihuacan is now thought to
have declined in the mid 6th century AD, during the Middle
Classic period – too early to have founded Alta Vista (AD
400-850) or La Quemada (AD 500-900) as colonies. These
centers may have risen as a consequence of Teotihuacan’s
decline as independent agents of their commodities.
Alta Vista, Zacatecas
Sunken courtyard in front of the Hall of Columns
The region around Alta Vista is rich in turquoise, malachite,
jadite, “chalchihuites,” chert and flint.
Ancient tunnels and deep pits have been found.
Hall of columns – dedicated to Tezcatlipoca? (Lord of the North)
After AD 700 Sacrificial cult appears – First Tzompantli in
Mesoamerica constructed
800-850 AD Walkway supported hanging femurs and pierced
20 cm thick layer of human skeletal material found on the floor
of Structure 4.
Evidence of cannibalism noted.
Temple of the Skulls
Pseudo-cloisonné bowl
Alta Vista
La Quemada
• Located on a
mountain in the
Malpasso Valley.
• May have been a
“shrine site.”
Sunken patio
• Occupied AD 500-900 with the high point
being AD 600-850.
• May have been a “sister-center” with Alta
• Hall of Columns contained bones from
several hundred individuals in disarticulated
• On Terrace 18 were found structures that
replicated those of the site core. Temple
contained the remains of 14 individuals that
had been displayed in groupings of similar

Ancient Civilizations of the Americas Lecture 15