[Would it be possible to know why the question has been downvoted? So that I can improve future ones]

The question comes from the fact that I found I have at home Aztecs of Mexico by George Vaillant. The book was published in the 40's but it went through further edition(s?), which I understand is from the 60's, which included the latest studies and discoveries of the time.

If I read this book today, would I be missing a much richer / more precise / more correct / etc picture that I could get with a more recent work (still talking of books for the general public)? Or has our knowledge of the Aztecs remained more or less similar - at least to a level that makes it worth for me to stick to this particular book which I already have?

I also have The rise and fall of Maya civilisation by Eric Thompson, which makes me ask the very same question but for the Maya - however I don't know if it's ok to include that here too, or if I should create a separate thread.

  • 3
    It's always a good idea to read a range of books about a subject. Some might have more up-to-date information but do a poorer job of explaining things, while others are more dated but give a clearer foundation. I very much doubt a single book will be the best at everything.
    – Steve Bird
    Jun 23, 2021 at 22:25
  • Vaillant died in 1945 but someone may have updated the book in the 1960s. Even so, Vaillant (and whoever updated his work) would not have been able to draw upon archaeological discoveries since the1960s (that's quite a lot), nor the benefits which have come from advances in science (considerable), nor the work of a broader spectrum of academic disciplines which have looked at the Aztecs. Jun 24, 2021 at 1:26
  • @Lars Yes, that's exactly why I asked this question. The thing is, while I'm sure that is the case in principle, I just don't know how strongly that applies to the case of the Aztecs - i.e. if in the case of the Aztecs our knowledge didn't increase significally since the 1960s, or not enough to justify reading a different book than Aztecs of Mexico from the perspective of a non-expert. Or is your comment implicitly suggesting that I'd be better off with a more recent book?
    – Matteo
    Jun 24, 2021 at 8:06
  • I would read it, and when you have perhaps look at citations about it in the academic literature. That will tell you if it's still widely respected, totally discredited, or something in between. More broadly the advice to read more than one book about a subject is good advice.
    – Ne Mo
    Jun 24, 2021 at 8:57
  • 1
    Good edit (IMHO)!
    – MCW
    Jun 24, 2021 at 10:55

1 Answer 1


Any source prior to the 2015 discovery of tzompantli towers in Mexico City will likely understate the scope of ritual execution engaged in by the Aztecs:

Some conquistadors wrote about the tzompantli and its towers, estimating that the rack alone contained 130,000 skulls. But historians and archaeologists knew the conquistadors were prone to exaggerating the horrors of human sacrifice to demonize the Mexica culture. As the centuries passed, scholars began to wonder whether the tzompantli had ever existed.

Archaeologists at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) here can now say with certainty that it did. ... Beginning in 2015, they discovered and excavated the remains of the skull rack and one of the towers underneath a colonial period house on the street that runs behind Mexico City's cathedral. ... The scale of the rack and tower suggests they held thousands of skulls, testimony to an industry of human sacrifice unlike any other in the world.

In summary: No, the Aztecs were not Noble Savages misunderstood by Spanish conquistadors; but rather industrial scale executioners and murderers terrorizing their neighbours with activities that would definitely be termed genocidal if engaged in today at even a fraction off the scale.

  • 1
    This answer doesn't answer the question being asked, which is "Has there been significant progress in our knowledge of the Aztecs and/or Maya since the '60s?". It also provides an un-cited, unfounded, delusionary summary of the Mayan society around an unknown time period. Downvoted for completely missing the point and for providing un-cited opinion as fact
    – Thomas
    Oct 27, 2021 at 21:36

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