Murray State Theses and Dissertations


At the time of Spanish Contact in the early 16th Century the western Tuxtlas region formed part of the Aztec imperial frontier in the southern Gulf lowlands. The most apparent material manifestation of this imperial connection was Aztec-style Texcoco-Molded Censers, recovered primarily from sites that served local centralizing functions. While rare, these symbols may provide valuable information on the dynamics of frontier politics and the relations between this region and the distant core to which they were sending tax payments. Initial consideration of this adopted imperial style implies political linkages, but the mechanisms of introduction, knowledge transmission, imperial versus local production, and controls over distribution within the frontier remained unknown. Moreover, the reasons for overlap with other symbolic systems, particularly international ones, were unclear. Within the regional assemblage of Texcoco-Molded Censers, there appears to be considerable variability in the pastes and decorative components present, both within and across sites. Although similar design elements are represented in the mold-impressions, diversity in their arrangement, dimensions, and spacing exists. Likewise, the paste recipes are highly variable. This decorative and paste variability makes the definition of a “standard” product difficult, and despite concentration at larger settlements, it suggests decentralized production, at least within certain stages of the manufacture process. This thesis examines the political and economic dynamics associated with this imperial style and overlapping ceramic symbols by determining their chemical compositions through the use of portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (pXRF). Comparing the results of these compositional analyses with those of other regional ceramics, raw materials, and varying design content provides new insights regarding locations of production and the communities of practice in which these symbols became embedded. Particular attention is paid to diversity in production steps throughout the regional assemblage, as well as the degree of centralization as factors relevant to imperial-local and intraregional dynamics. These analyses ultimately resulted in the identification of 4 chemically distinct groups and one outlying sherd sample. These chemical groups were primarily linked to local production, with some very limited evidence of importing molds from other areas to inform specific production. Further spatial analysis also strongly suggests a decentralized scheme of local production. These findings suggest that production was less linked to any one or few centers, but also relied on producers from the hinterlands as a way of involving others outside of those centers.

Year manuscript completed


Year degree awarded


Author's Keywords

Aztecs, ritual, imperialism, political networks, propaganda

Thesis Advisor

Marcie L. Venter

Committee Member

Christopher A. Pool

Committee Member

Anthony L. Ortmann

Committee Member

Ben Post

Document Type