FIVE MYTHS OF AZTALAN
By: Kirsten Hines and Marissa Lee
There are a lot of myths floating around the “legendary Lake Mills” and many of them revolve around the Native American site of Aztalan. So, we have made a list of some of the most common myths of ancient Aztalan.
Myths of Aztalan
- Aztalan was built by peoples of the Aztec empire
- The people who inhabited Aztalan were cannibals
- All of the mounds were used for burials
- The walls were set up as a defensive border
- Mississippian immigrants ruled the local Late Woodland population
As scientists and archaeologists, we question these myths. Many decades of investigation at the site have demonstrated that they first two of these myths are wholly false. Aztalan was built and settled by Native Americans, some were migrants from modern-day Illinois (archaeologists refer to these peoples as Mississippians) and some who already lived in the area (archaeologists call these local people Late Woodland), and there is no evidence that they practiced any form of cannibalism. Excavations at the site many decades ago demonstrated that some of the mounds were not used for burial, while others were. The last two myths cannot be discredited without further investigation, and remind us that it is important to ask what we actually know about the site and its residents based on cultural artifacts like pottery, animal bones and plant remains, stone tools, and residential architecture.
During our first week at Aztalan, our hard-working team has learned many skills essential to becoming a successful archaeologist. We have learned how to remove soil with a shovel in thin and even layers. This process is called shovel skimming.
We have also learned how to use a trowel to clean the walls and floor of our test units to reveal differences in soil color. These techniques may sound easy, but they can be difficult to execute at times. Roots, the texture of the soil, and the moisture content all affect how easy it is to keep the walls and floor of the test pit even and smooth. A good pit should have 90 degree angles where the walls meet the floors. But, it is difficult to maintain vertical walls within the test unit, which is crucial to see different layers in the profiles clearly.
These techniques allow us to notice important details in the soil
that give us clues to understanding how the Mississippian and Late Woodland people arranged and constructed the site. Our goal is to use this information to bette grasp what everyday life was like for the people of Aztalan.
Our team has been screening soil to recover small artifacts like broken pieces of pottery, small flakes of stone, and other materials like charred nutshell and small animal bones.
The first week of excavations here at Aztalan has gone well, and we are very excited to see what the next layer of soil has hidden in its depths. Stay tuned for our next week summary of our work at Aztalan to see what we can learn about this site and its people, or better yet come visit us and see for yourself!