This archaeological study analyses households at the Postclassic site of Calixtlahuaca (State of Mexico, Mexico), to evaluate the directness and collectiveness of local and imperial Aztec rule based on their effects on the commoner population. Scholars are divided as to whether Aztec rule was generally positive (due to opportunities for economic and cultural interaction) or negative (due to taxation and loss of autonomy). Contexts at Calixtlahuaca date to three periods, the Dongu (AD 1130-1370), Ninupi (1370-1450), and Yata (1450-1530) phases. The first two phases show the pre-Aztec trajectory, which is compared to the final period under Aztec rule to disentangle general trends toward regional integration from Aztec effects. Each phase includes six excavated households.
I assess economic changes on three dimensions: foreign trade, local craft production, and household wealth. Trade is evaluated for obsidian and ceramics (INAA, petrography, type classification) and local crafting is evaluated for ceramic, lithic, textile, and molded ceramic items. Wealth is measured using all excavated artifacts, with the relative values of artifact classes based on Colonial Nahuatl wills. Prior to Aztec rule, trade was increasing and diversifying, but craft production was low. Under Aztec rule, trade reoriented toward the Basin of Mexico, craft production remained low, and household wealth stabilized. Pre-Aztec inter-household variation for all dimensions is low, before increasing during the Yata phase.
Cultural changes are evaluated for ritual activities and foodways. I evaluate the degree of interhousehold variability, the overall similarity to other parts of Central Mexico, the degree of change under Aztec rule, and immigration versus emulation as potential explanations for that change. Evaluation is based on the distinction between high and low visibility objects and practices. The Dongu and Ninupi phase households at Calixtlahuaca were culturally homogeneous and regionally distinctive. During the Yata phase, the site became moderately more Aztec, but this change was unevenly distributed among households.
Together, the economic and cultural patterns at Calixtlahuaca indicate that the pre-Aztec local organization of power was relatively collective, but that this was partially overlaid by relatively indirect and non-collective Aztec imperial rule, with mildly negative effects.