The Aztecs and the Little Ice Age

Aug 2016
I know the Aztecs take their name from Aztlan, a mythical place referred to as "White Land". Is it possible that the Aztecs and other Nahuatl-speaking peoples migrated south to Mesoamerica as a result of the Little Ice Age? How much do we know about how the little ice age affected the climate and native people in Arizona/California?
Likes: sailorsam
Nov 2018
The Old Dominion
I see much greater evidence that North America was settled after Middle America for the most part. During the last glacial maximum, much more of North America was covered by thick glaciers, and of the parts that weren't boreal forests spread much farther south. The climate was much more inhospitable in general. The archaeology certainly suggests that the entire basin around the Gulf of Mexico was a hot spot for much more sophisticated civilizations at much earlier dates than anything you see in North America. Note that we have lots of earthen mounds, but nothing like the Mexican pyramids or what you see around Lake Titicaca, in the Andes, etc.

If North America had a climate back then like it does today, I suspect it would have been much more heavily populated with much more sophisticated settlements than what we actually see in the archaeological record. It looks like it was generally too cold and inhospitable for much of its prehistory though, for anything other than hunter-gatherers.

Arizona used to have a tremendous canal system when its climate was different, dated around the 600's AD. Check this out: Hohokam Canals: Prehistoric Engineering

I don't know what specific diagnostic artifacts or any of the rest is associated with this particular site, but if you can find it, I think that will give you a very strong indication as to how closely these people of a different Arizona climate related to the people farther south in Middle America. My guess is that they moved from the south, into the north, following the receding glaciers and the expansion of temperate forests into the north.

In fact, this is precisely how Mississippian culture is believed to have spread from the Gulf of Mexico, up the Mississippi River, into the Ohio Valley and other tributaries.
Nov 2018
The Old Dominion
But they have to have come from the North originally, no?
Even the Smithsonian Institution's scholars (the government group in charge of managing public artifacts) are moving away from the land-bridge hypothesis in recent years. They've held that position for a long time, but the academic sands are shifting. There are multiple areas of research that are refuting the idea that the natives of the Americas all came across from Siberia.

First, there is growing genetic and other evidence that Polynesians crossed the Pacific Ocean, island-hopping until they reached South America. So there is one source that would not be by the land bridge.

Second, you have the Solutrean hypothesis, which is still controversial, but is gaining a lot of support. Both Clovis and pre-Clovis points are most concentrated on the East Coast of the US and become rarer and rarer as you head west. There are virtually none of the west coast. As these are supposed to have been among the most primitive people to inhabit North America, it doesn't make sense that there is such a lack of these artifacts out west, and such an abundance of them in the east. Also, the Clovis points are famously similar to prehistoric points in Europe, making this geographic distribution even more intriguing.

Third, you had guys as early as Samuel George Morton comparing skulls and other anatomical features, and concluding that only the Inuits/Eskimos were truly Mongoloid by race. The others he classified as all types of a people originally from between Peru and Central America, which is right around where Polynesians and perhaps even southeast Asians and Australian Aboriginals were arriving in pre-history. Morton's conclusion, however, was that this was a truly American race that was just as distinct as all the other races. Morton's work has been controversial over the years, too, but several attempts at recreating his work have validated it to the point that even a New York Times article admitted that his measurements of native skulls were accurate.

One more thing I'll throw in, for whatever it's worth. I've done comparative analyses on my DNA. According to these tests, I'm 100% white European by ancestry, and yet I am a remarkable genetic match for a prehistoric man discovered in Montana. Make of that what you will. I'm still trying to figure it out myself.
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Forum Staff
Aug 2016
There was an Anasazi settlement of cliff dwellers at Mesa Verde, Colorado that died out aprx 1300 CE, the survivors drifting south into Arizona and New Mexico. 1300 is about the beginning of the Little Ice Age. Moving south in response to a cooler climate makes sense.
Nov 2018
The Old Dominion
There was an Anasazi settlement of cliff dwellers at Mesa Verde, Colorado that died out aprx 1300 CE, the survivors drifting south into Arizona and New Mexico. 1300 is about the beginning of the Little Ice Age. Moving south in response to a cooler climate makes sense.
Ahh, that's much later than I had in mind. The Smithsonian's literature postulates several "little ice ages" to explain why various cultures appeared and disappeared in different locations, for example transitions between Archaic/Adena/Hopewell/Mississippian, etc. Any land bridge crossing is supposed to have begun after about 12,000 years ago or so, and that's what I thought was being referred to as far as migrations from the north, and then it could have been any number of hypothetical episodes of great climate change that occurred since then. I say hypothetical because some of them may be duplicates of each other, and a lot of that kind of research is very tentative.

It sounds like maybe what you guys are talking about is a relatively recent expansion from the south into the north, and then when colder weather set back in, they retreated back toward the south again. Is that the idea?

Any evidence for this in terms of linguistics? Apparently, the Purepecha have a similar language to the Quechua speaking Incans.
That would support the theory of a common heritage between the natives of Peru through Middle America, possibly as a distinct race which did not come from Siberia like the Eskimos seem to have. I've only studied archaeological cultures east of the Mississippi in any detail though so I just take what you say for granted about the languages.

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