Bright Light in the Big City: The Aztec New Fire Ceremony and the Drama of Darkness

Author(s): Kirby Farah

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "After Dark: The Nocturnal Urban Landscape & Lightscape of Ancient Cities" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Populated by as many as 200,000 people, the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan—like most cities—was buzzing with activity through the night. Given the dynamism of the city, and especially weighed against our modern understanding of the sounds and lights that keep cities alive during the night, it is significant that one of the most important Aztec ceremonies took place in total darkness. The New Fire Ceremony, a rare but potent ritual, took place every 52 years and required that all the fires across the empire be extinguished. Night became dark in a way that many urban central Mexicans may never have experienced. While archaeological research has helped provide evidence for the range of household and community activities that surrounded the ritual, some of the most compelling information comes from ethnohistorical documents which convey the emotions bound up in the ritual. This paper explores how the total darkness that fell over the city in the days leading up to the ceremony contributed to the anticipation and impact of the event. The New Fire Ceremony reflected some of the core values that helped sustain the empire, and certainly the drama of this ritual helped to create a lasting impression.

Cite this Record

Bright Light in the Big City: The Aztec New Fire Ceremony and the Drama of Darkness. Kirby Farah. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 450646)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 18.48 ; max long: -94.087; max lat: 23.161 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 23934