General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 21 Sep 2017/10 Eagle
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Professor Michael E. Smith

Question for February 2016

Why did Aztec houses have no windows? Asked by Chalfont St. Giles Junior School. Chosen and answered by Professor Michael E. Smith.

Pic 1: Model of a traditional Mesoamerican one-room house and patio, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Pic 1: Model of a traditional Mesoamerican one-room house and patio, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

This question applies equally well to Aztec and Maya houses. They rarely had windows! I have excavated many Aztec houses, but I can’t say for sure whether they had windows, because most of the houses had collapsed, leaving only the stone foundation walls. I compare these Aztec foundations to the foundations of modern traditional houses today to try to figure out what the Aztec houses were like. The foundations are almost exactly the same, so I conclude that the rest of the houses weren’t too different. And one interesting fact is that modern traditional houses in rural Mexico - most of which are made of adobe (dried mud) bricks - rarely have windows. Also, paintings of Aztec houses don’t show any windows either.

Pic 2: Artist’s impression of an Aztec home in the ‘chinampas’ of Xochimilco
Pic 2: Artist’s impression of an Aztec home in the ‘chinampas’ of Xochimilco (Click on image to enlarge)

There are several reasons for the lack of windows. I think the most important one is that in these tropical areas with high temperatures most of the year, people spent most of their time outdoors. Kitchens consisted of a fireplace and other things under a lean-to roof. For most domestic activities, from eating to weaving (women) to making stone tools (men), people set up outdoors, often in a patio in front of their house. The interiors of houses were used for sleeping at night, and for storage of goods during the day. There wasn’t much reason to have windows to let in light, since the houses were mostly empty in daytime.

Pic 3: Model of the interior of a simple Aztec house, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Pic 3: Model of the interior of a simple Aztec house, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

Another reason for the lack of windows was that the Aztecs and Mayas didn’t have glass for windows. A window would just be an open place in a wall. It was hard to build shutters to close off the windows at night (to keep bugs and animals and evil spirits out). This is because in houses built of adobe bricks, it is difficult to make frames for doors and windows. You can’t just nail on a frame like you can with a wood house (think what would happen if you pounded a nail into a dried mud brick!). People probably thought it just wasn’t worth it to go to the bother of making some kind of window opening that could be closed off at night, just to get some additional daylight into the house in the daytime, when no one was there.

Picture sources:-
• Pic 1: Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Pic 2: Illustration by and courtesy of Felipe Dávalos
• Pic 3: Photo by Ana Laura Landa/Mexicolore

‘Home Smoky Home!’

Why did [Maya] houses have no windows?

RESOURCE: A Maya farmer’s house

Professor Michael E. Smith has answered 4 questions altogether:

Where did the aqueduct go to (from Tenochtitlan)?

Were there rich and poor in Aztec times?

If the Aztecs died of old age - if nothing went wrong - how long did they expect to live for?

Why did Aztec houses have no windows?

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