Review: At Home with the Aztecs: An Archaeologist Uncovers Their Daily Life

It is odd to attempt to describe a book that I think should be read but could not recommend to most people. Like, it is a well written and thoroughly researched text, yet the presentation of information and narrative is far too academic to be read by the mass populace. Not because of any intellectual vacancy or anything. More so, it is simply that most academic texts are not written with the intention to be read outside a very niche audience that would probably not require more capacity than the average American Waffle House. At Home with the Aztecs very much reads in the same vein that I imagine it was originally the author’s thesis work with some field notes and a few random personal anecdotes to sell it as a mass paperback. All that being said, it is still a pretty good read.

And the read is only improved with a really good cup of coffee.

At Home with the Aztecs is a book by Michael Ernest Smith, an archaeologist specializing in the Aztecs and Teotihuacan in Mexico. In the book, Smith provides new insights and perspectives into the lives of everyday people of the Aztec and Mexica empire. While most previous research and writings have focused on the kings and nobles and priest and pyramids of the large cities, this book is more interested in examining the homes and lives of villagers and commoners away from the central capitals across the empire. Essentially he wanted to know if the writings on life in the capitals was similar to life in the outskirts and what, if any, impact the conquest and fall of the Aztec empire had on the lives of the common villagers and people away from the main centers.

Smith attempts to answer this question through archaeological studies by digging and excavating sites in Mexico that were found to be the locations of ancient homesteads. For years, Smith, his wife, and a collection of graduate students and hired locals would dig at various locations, find archaeological artifacts such as pottery, ceramics, metalworks, tools, etc., extensively record their findings, and make hypotheses about their findings. As you can imagine, a lot of the writing in the book is dry and academic going into detailed explanation on how the sites were marked off, the process of excavating, the impact of local politics on the dig sites, etc. Accordingly, this kind of book would not be interesting to anyone who is not fascinated by JSTOR articles on random topics. I happen to be, but also realize I literally went to school for my field of study for my temperament.

Still, if you have any interest in history, the Aztecs, archaeology, or a nuanced and researched view of history, this is far from the worst text to pick up. While I doubt it will ever be a mainstream bestseller, At Home with the Aztecs does give a deeper, more engaging insight into a mostly mystified and sensationalized people. For that alone, it is worth a read.

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