Family Activity: Maize for All Seasons

Learn about Xilonen, the Aztec goddess of maize. Includes an art-making activity.


Find an ear of corn (with corn silks dangling from it) emerging from Xilonen's headdress.

How many blossoms do you see on her headband? What other decorations do you see?

Look for a stone necklace that has two holes pierced at either end. Although it has been lost, a real necklace was once inserted into these holes.

Print the image of Xilonen and design a new necklace for her with markers, crayons, and colored pencils.

This stone sculpture comes from Tenochtitlán (ten-oh-cheet-lahn), the center of the ancient Aztec empire, which is now buried under present-day Mexico City. The woman depicted in the sculpture is Xilonen (shi-lo-nen), or "Young Maize," the Aztec goddess of the first tender corn.

Because corn was the main food plant in Mesoamerica, Xilonen was a very important goddess. When dried, corn lasted a year or more. Therefore, the Aztecs could eat it year-round.


Glossary

Aztecs (n, pl)
people who, in the 15th and early 16th centuries, conquered a large empire in what is now central and southern Mexico. The Aztecs began as a tribe of hunters and gatherers on the northern Mexican plateau before migrating to the valley of Mexico in the 12th century. They settled on islands in Lake Texcoco and in 1325 founded Tenochtitlán, which became the Aztec capital. The Spaniard Hernando Cortés (1485-1547) conquered this civilization in 1519.
The Aztecs’ success as a society was due to sophisticated farming practices as well as a powerful military organization and cultural beliefs. The society was governed by a warlord ruler and supported by a priestly and bureaucratic class. At the bottom of the society were serfs, indentured servants, and slaves.
The Aztecs shared many of the cosmological beliefs of earlier cultures, most notably the Teotihuacanos, the Toltecs, and the Mayans. Many ritual ceremonies occurred on a rotating basis, set by the Aztec calendar, which comprised a solar year of 365 days and a sacred year of 260 days. Human sacrifice was commonly practiced in Aztec ritual as part of the human obligation to the gods, and to maintain the orderly succession of seasons.

maize (n)
Indian corn

Mesoamerica (n)
geographical area between North and Central America comprised of the modern nations of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and El Salvador as well as the ancient cultures of the Olmec, Teotihuacanos, Maya, and Aztec. The term is used to define the cultural and historical context of the people who have inhabited this area for millennia.



Art Access