General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Nov 2017/5 Eagle
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Dr. Alfredo López Austin

Question for May 2016

What toys did children play with? Asked by Little Green Junior School. Chosen and answered by Dr. Alfredo López Austin.

Pic 1: Pre-Hispanic ceramic dolls, Diego Rivera Anahuacalli Museum, Mexico City (top), miniature bow and arrows (bottom)
Pic 1: Pre-Hispanic ceramic dolls, Diego Rivera Anahuacalli Museum, Mexico City (top), miniature bow and arrows (bottom) (Click on image to enlarge)

Girls played with dolls; boys with small bows and arrows. There were plenty of other toys and children’s games.

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Las niñas con muñecas; los niños, con pequeños arcos y flechas. Había otros muchos juguetes y juegos infantiles.

Pic 2: Mexican ethnomusicologist Roberto Velázquez Cabrera holds a ceramic replica he has made of a pre-Hispanic bird whistle
Pic 2: Mexican ethnomusicologist Roberto Velázquez Cabrera holds a ceramic replica he has made of a pre-Hispanic bird whistle (Click on image to enlarge)

Our In-house Team adds:-

It’s interesting to note that, if you look for ‘toys’ in the index pages of scholarly books on the Aztecs, you won’t find anything! There’s next to no information out there on Aztec toys... This is in part because archaeologists simply haven’t found clear examples of toys, because they’re not depicted in pre-Hispanic codices or sculptures, and because many simple ‘toys’ would have been made from discarded materials that haven’t survived and weren’t important enough to be included in burial offerings. Some people believe that wheeled models that HAVE been found (see link below) were toys, but this is disputed. A good explanation can be found in the short section ‘Toys in Mexican History’ in the classic book Mexican Folk Toys by Florence H. and Robert M. Pettit (New York, 1978):-

Pic 3: It’s highly probably that Aztec children would have played with miniature household objects such as darts and brooms - reminiscent of the symbolic gifts given them at birth
Pic 3: It’s highly probably that Aztec children would have played with miniature household objects such as darts and brooms - reminiscent of the symbolic gifts given them at birth (Click on image to enlarge)

Burial sites believed to date from about 1 A.D. have yielded tools, weapons and pottery pieces, and also some toy-like objects that at first were thought to be children’s playthings. Fired pottery balls, whistles and small animal figures on wheels which appeared to be pull-toys were unearthed at Tres Zapotes, Las Tuxtlas in Vera Cruz on the east coast of Mexico. Other such wheeled pieces were found in Central Mexico....
A comprehensive study of tomb findings was completed in 1950 by a Mexican scholar, Francisco Javier Hernandez, who finally concluded that such objects as fired clay balls, whistles, wheeled dogs and other animals were probably made expressly to be used as funereal offerings or votive figures to be buried with the adult dead of high rank, but that they were not children’s playthings. He cites the fact that such unearthed objects appear never to have been used and are in perfect condition. Furthermore, no toys are described or pictured in Mexican codices... Hernandez’ opinion is now widely accepted.

Daniel Rubin de la Borbolla, former director of the Museum of Popular Arts in Mexico City says that the most antique clay toys are the whistles of Oaxaca, Puebla, Tonalá and Tlaquepaque. Other very old toys are the clay turtles - which are usually rattles or whistles - wood, clay and papier maché dolls, rattles made of woven palm and miniature musical instruments.

Indians and Indian children all over Mexico have always devised toys of their own making, and these must surely be included among the early historic toys of the country. They are not very different from country [American] Indian toys of today - bamboo whistles, reed darts, corn cob and corn shuck dolls, horses made of twigs, rag dolls and toys made of rope, straw and palm leaves.

All photos by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.

“Just ‘toying’ with wheels?”

‘Swingalong’ whistles

‘[Miniature] Aztec birth symbols’

Dr. Alfredo López Austin has answered 6 questions altogether:

Why do the 20 day signs run ANTI-clockwise on the Sunstone?

Who was the first archaeologist to find out about the Aztecs?

Why was the statue of the earth goddess re-buried?

How were the stars created?

What toys did children play with?

What’s the most interesting fact you’ve come across about the Aztecs? (3)

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