General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 22 Sep 2017/11 Vulture
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Our In-House Team

Question for April 2008

Which pet was the Aztecs’ favourite? Asked by Canonbury Primary School. Chosen and answered by Our In-House Team.

Replicas of pre-Hispanic Mexican dog and turkey pottery figurines
Replicas of pre-Hispanic Mexican dog and turkey pottery figurines (Click on image to enlarge)

The basic Aztec diet was simple, plain but also nutritious. Meat was in short supply, and most protein came from beans, maize and squash. Deer were hunted as game, and some 30 different types of bird were also eaten, mainly migratory ducks.br Only two animals were domesticated: the dog and the turkey. Whether we would call them ‘pets’ is an open question, since both were kept at home - to be eaten (albeit only at feast times)!

Image from the Florentine Codex, Book IX
Image from the Florentine Codex, Book IX (Click on image to enlarge)

‘Turkeys were raised for eggs and meat; dogs provided companionship and meat. Anthropologist Frances Berdan writes that dogs and turkeys were occasionally served together, as in the lavish merchant feasts, in which the host provided 80-100 turkeys and 20-40 dogs. Sometimes the two meats were served in the same dish. Dog meat was served at the bottom of the dish; turkey was served on top, implying that it was more highly esteemed as a food source...’ (from ‘Handbook to Life in the Aztec World’ by Manuel Aguilar-Moreno, p. 329).br
So perhaps after all the turkey was top dog for the Aztecs! By the way, wealthier Aztecs added other meats to their meals from time to time: duck, fish, deer, rabbit, iguana, possum, crane, goose, quail and even eagle...

 (Click on image to enlarge)

It’s worth pausing to realise that, if it wasn’t for the ancient Mexicans we wouldn’t perhaps be enjoying turkey at Christmas... The Aztec (Náhuatl) words for dog and turkey were ‘izcuintli’ and ‘uexolotl’ - words that in Mexico today are still common (though changed slightly to ‘escuintle’ and ‘guajolote’.

‘Dog’ was one of the 20 Aztec calendar signs. Turkey wasn’t, but a creature with similarities was - ‘Vulture’; turkey and vulture were revered as a symbol of long life (because of their bald heads!)

NOTES: Professors Manuel Aguilar-Moreno and Frances Berdan are both on our Panel of Experts. The photos of dog and turkey models were taken by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.

A little more about Aztec dogs...

A little more about turkeys and their history in Mexico...

Our In-House Team has answered 20 questions altogether:

Did the Aztecs have different types of chewing gum to today’s?

Did the Aztecs have a god of snow?

Which parts of the Day of the Dead festival go back to the Aztecs?

Why did they put holes [gaps] in the [upright huehuetl] drums?

Was Snake Woman an Aztec empress?

How big was the Aztec army?

Did they have First Aid?

Which pet was the Aztecs’ favourite?

Why did they call them ‘chinampas’?

Did the Spanish have an interpreter when they conquered the Aztecs?

Which was the Aztecs’ most fearsome weapon?

Why was the Sun God called Tonatiuh?

Did they send post (mail)?

Did they have the same seasons as we do?

What did they do with the shells of armadillos after eating the meat?

Why didn’t Aztec houses have doors?

Which was the biggest group [job sector] in Aztec society?

Why is it better to support loads on the forehead and not on the shoulders?

When children were punished, how long were they held over smoking chillies for?

What was the Aztecs’ greatest fear?

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