Postclassic Craft Production in Morelos, Mexico: The Cotton Thread Industry in the Provinces

Ruth Fauman-Fichman

PhD Thesis. 1999

This research analyzed excavations of Mesoamerican houses in one urban and two rural communities just outside the central area of the Aztec Empire for cotton thread and textile production. The study covered Middle and Late Postclassic periods (1100-1519 A.D.). Methods included measuring spindle whorl moments of inertia and conducting experimental archaeology. The spindle whorl assemblage in Morelos differed fundamentally from Valley of Mexico whirl assemblages in whorl weight and moment of inertia. Spindle whorl efficiency, as measured by moment of inertia, went down over time. This was true especially in the most rural community. Experimental work showed that although whorl use is very flexible, some whorls work better for plying thread. This insight enabled analysis of division of labor among households. In all three communities the greatest increase in thread spinning occurred in the Middle Postclassic period, well before incorporation of the areas into the Aztec Empire, all three communities had access to metal needles from West Mexico.

After Aztec conquest, the urban community maintained trade with the Tarascan Empire for West Mexican ores, but the most rural community did not. While spinning did not increase significantly after Aztec conquest, the organization of labor in households changed subtly. In both communities with elites, elite involvement in thread production became more specialized over time. The larger rural community rearranged labor over time so that household task sharing shifted from a single house in a house group more focussed on particular tasks to whole house groups being focused on particular tasks. Although thread production did not increase significantly after Aztec conquest, pollen analysis showed that it is likely that raw cotton production for export increased and at least one community increased its use of dye plants. Women in the most urban community bore the lightest domestic burden after Aztec conquest as reflected in lower relative thread and tortilla production to the other two communities. Concurrently, the two rural communities increased their efforts in either needlework or textile dyeing.