Was Utah the First Home of the Aztecs?
The mythical homeland of Mexico's Aztecs – an island known as Aztlan – has eluded historians for centuries, and the quest to find it has become shrouded in political spin and scholarly speculation.
Like the lost Atlantis and Camelot, Aztlan may or may not have existed, but fervent believers have sought it from the desert of Utah to a mangrove swamp in western Mexico.
Academics agree that the Aztecs, a warlike tribe with a passion for human sacrifice, wandered the badlands of central Mexico for years before founding what is now Mexico City around 1325 and then forging the greatest empire of the ancient Americas.
But the original habitat of the people whose history and symbols are still invoked by modern Mexico remains a mystery.
Aztec legend says little about Aztlan, apart from that it was a small island on a lake inhabited by herons north of Mexico City. If it is ever found, archeologists do not expect to discover much in the way of treasure or ruins there.
The small western state of Nayarit, long neglected by the federal government, declared itself the" cradle of the Mexicans" in the early 1990s based on an old theory that the marshy island of Mexcaltitan was in fact Aztlan.
Little stirs on the mosquito-infested islet nestled in a salt water lagoon on the Pacific coast.
An expected tourism boom to the state has mostly failed to materialize and the islanders still scratch a living from fishing for shrimp and lobsters.
"No serious archeological study has ever been done in Mexcaltitan," said Jesus Jauregui, an expert in western Mexico at the National Institute of Anthropology and History.
"Aztlan is a mythical place, not a historical one," he said.
SPEAKING SAME TONGUE
Try telling that to the growing number of Mexican immigrants in the United States for whom the idea that Aztlan was in Utah or Colorado has become a matter of doctrine.
"Mexican Americans are very interested in it because it gives them identity as an ethnic group," said Armando Solorzano, ethnic studies professor at the University of Utah.
He said that if the Aztecs indeed came from what is now the western United States, as some linguistic studies suggest, then the millions of mostly illegal Mexican migrants there could argue that they are not just undocumented workers but descendants of the original inhabitants who have come home....
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