by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
Tula de Allende, Estado de Hidalgo – July 7, 1970
One Summer In Mexico – Part 22
The three articles on the Toltec People are being presented out of chronological sequence, because their capital, Tula, was actually the first large Pre-Columbian city that I visited outside of Mexico City. After Dr. Román Piña Chan showed me his book on the Toltecs then matched both artistic symbols and pottery between Tula and Moundville, Alabama, I wanted to immediately see Tula. However, for readers to fully understand Tula, it was necessary to publish articles on the civilizations that came before and after the Toltecs.
I have examined my journal from July 27 to Sept. 12, 1970. It will be impossible for me to adequately discuss all the archaeological sites visited during the same period in 2020. For example, today 50 years ago, I boarded a bus for Oaxaca, but have not even discussed several major sites in other parts of Mexico, which were visited in July. Therefore, the Mexico series will extend into Autumn 2020.
Origins, Ethnicity and Fate
If you really want to get confused, try looking up the word Toltecs in a reference. You are immediately told that their capital, Tula, was occupied from about 900 AD to 1150 AD and that the word means “Place of the Reeds.” (IT DOES NOT!) You then must wade through several paragraphs that summarize various theories presented by various academicians about the nature of the City of Tula. There are several more paragraphs with conflicting information about the identity of Quetzalcoatl.
You are never told where the Toltecs came from, what they looked like or where they went after Tula was abandoned. You are not told that Tula, the Acropolis at Ocmulgee National Historic Park and that a highly sophisticated alliance of towns connected by causeways and canals in South Florida all lasted from 900 AD to 1150 AD. You are certainly not told that Dr. Dr. Román Piña Chan, esteemed author of Los Toltecas, observed that both in Tula and Moundville, Alabama the people ate human stew from identically decorated mugs!
Etymology of the words, Tula, Toltec and Etowah
The etymology of Tula and Toltec, provided by Wikipedia and several anthropology books, printed in the United States, is absolutely wrong. The Gringo anthropologists keep on copying each other rather than examining the indigenous languages of Mexico. The false etymology described both as originally being “Aztec” words, when in fact Tula and Toltec predate the arrival of the Nahuatl speaking peoples to Central Mexico.
Tula became the word for town in Totonac, Itza Maya and Itsate Creek! It is derived from the Maya word for a type of architecture, involving the stacking of stones, taulum. Tauli is the Itza Maya, Itsate-Creek, Chickasaw and Choctaw word for stone. Talli means to plan or survey a town in Itza Maya and Itsate. A talliya was a Creek architect-surveyor.
Toltec is the Anglicization of the Spanish word Tolteca, which was derived from the Nahuatl word, toltecatl, which was derived from the Totonac word, tula-ch’izcu. It literally means “town dweller.” The same word in Creek is Tulase, which has been Anglicized to Tallasee.
Etowah is the Anglicization of the Muskogee Creek word Etalwa, which was derived from the Itza Maya and Itsate-Creek word, Etula. Etula means “Principal Town.”
Chariot of the Gods
Tula was a little known, off the beaten path, archaeological zone until Erich von Von Däniken published his best-selling book, Chariot of the Gods, in 1968. Since the 1968 Olympics were being held in Mexico City later that year, marketing for the book stressed Von Däniken’s statement that the large stone statues on top of the main pyramid at Tula was proof that extraterrestrials built the pyramidal temples in Mexico. The author interpreted the flint knives on the belts of Toltec soldiers as being ray guns. This resulted in hundreds of thousands of Olympic Games tourists visiting the ill-prepared archaeological zone.
Once the book’s popularity began to swell, no one questioned Von Von Däniken’s credentials. He was labeled a historian and archaeologist. Actually, he had no education past the senior year in high school and had a long criminal record, reaching back to age 18. In fact, in November of 1968, he was arrested for embezzling $130,000 from the hotel he managed, plus income tax fraud. He served yet another prison term, while the book’s sales made him wealthy – even after paying back his debts. Thus, by 1970, when I was in Mexico the first time, many tourists assumed that Tula was a space vehicle launching pad . . . as Mexico’s archaeologists rung their hands in disbelief.
As I was flying to Mexico in 1970, the MOVIE “Chariot of the Gods” was playing to packed theaters in Atlanta. It was a 1970 West German documentary film directed by Harald Reinl, dubbed or captioned in English. The movie was based on Erich von Däniken’s book, but didn’t happen to mention that he was in prison for fraud! The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. It was the 9th highest grossing film of 1970. The film was edited and re-dubbed into English in a 1973 American TV documentary, “In Search of Ancient Astronauts,” narrated by Rod Serling. This version was also shown as a Science Documentary in many schools in the 1970s, distributed through 16 mm film prints.
“Chariot of the Gods” unleashed a legion of books and films, which got farther and farther away from reality. Most of them intertwined the Spanish (Christianized) version of the legend of Quetzalcoatl, with two kings named Quetzalcoatl at Tula and an assumption that Quetzalcoatl was Jesus Christ. The Toltecs were rebranded from being brutal warriors to being ascetic scholar-priests wearing white robes and having light complexions. In fact, the real Quetzalcoatl, if there was such a person, founded the first city in Mexico near Tepotztlan, Morelos in the vicinity of the year 1200 BC. At that location are found petroglyphs, typical of Bronze Age Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia and northern Georgia, USA.
1970 academic version of the Toltecs
The most prevalent interpretation of the Toltecs in 1970 was that they were the first or one of the first Nahuatl tribes to invade central Mexico. Their demise was brought about by much more primitive Nahuatl-speaking tribes, who arrived in central Mexico around 1100 AD. There was no archaeological work to support a Nahua ethnic identity, just an assumption that since the Aztecs gave the Toltecs a Mexica (Nahuatl) name, they were Nahuatl.
Dr. Román Piña Chan was not quite sure of the ethnic identity of the Toltecs in his book, Los Toltecas. He gave lip service to the prevailing orthodoxy at that time, which assumed that the Toltecs were Nahuatl, but then suggested that perhaps refuges from Teotihuacan had founded a new capital at the site of a small village. Thus, the city contained a mixture of several ethnic groups like Teotihuacan.
When I was studying at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia both the exhibits and their accompanying literature made visitors quite aware that a vast tidal wave of Nahuatl tribes had swept down Mexico from what is now the western United States and northwestern Mexico around 1000 AD to 1250 AD. Some Nahuatl tribes reached as far as Honduras. However, no thought was given to the peoples, who had long lived in central Mexico before then. Apparently, the assumption was that they evaporated.
A new understanding of Mexico’s past
During the past 20 years, Mexican anthropologists and historians have become increasingly aware that the largest ethnic group in Central Mexico during the Classic Period (c. 200 AD-900 AD) was virtually exterminated by the Mexica (Aztecs) and their Nahuatl allies. For lack of a better term, they are called the Tolteca tribes by academicians. Physically, these people can be described as extremely tall, lanky and with long arms.
Mexican scholars are gradually learning the names of the tribes. For example, the tribal name for the region where the Kaushete Creeks came from was Tekesta . . . which is also the name of a tribe that settled in southern Florida. A few Tolteca tribes still remain in remote sections of Jalisco State, Mexico. These currently are being studied by sociologists and linguists.
Just from the words now coming out of these studies, that the Toltecas spoke a language similar to Choctaw or Itsate Creek. They seemed to have had a lot of shared words with the Western Mayas living in southern Mexico and the Totonacs in northern Veracruz State.