Ancient Mesoamerica


The Return of Quetzalcoatl

Evidence for the spread of a world religion during the Epiclassic period

William M. Ringlea1, Tomás Gallareta Negróna2 and George J. Bey IIIa3

a1 Department of Anthropology & Sociology, Davidson College, Davidson, NC 28036, USA

a2 Centro Regional de Yucatán, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Apartado Postal 1015, Mérida, Yucatan, Mexico

a3 Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Millsaps College, Jackson, MS 39210, USA


Continuing analysis of the site of Chichen Itza suggests that its construction dates primarily to the Late Classic period, ca. a.d. 700–1000, rather than the Early Postclassic. This paper examines the implications of this redating for the well-known “Toltec” problem. Since Chichen largely antedated Tollan-phase Tula, we conclude that what is usually identified as Toltec imagery in fact dates to an earlier Epiclassic horizon extending from Morelos and Puebla to the Gulf Coast and Yucatan. Chichen Itza, we suggest, was the eastern node in a network of shrine centers dedicated primarily to Quetzalcoatl/Kukulcan. This network transcended political boundaries and included such sites as Cholula, Cacaxtla, El TajIn, Xochicalco, and ultimately Tula. The Quetzalcoatl cult is manifested by a specific complex of traits and seems to have expanded militarily with messianic vigor. Pilgrimage was also an important activity at these centers. This cult axis apparently continued into the Postclassic period, and was responsible for the distribution of the Mixteca-Puebla art style. In Yucatan, Mayapan would seem to have assumed Chichen's position as the major Yucatecan node, although accompanied by several new shrines along the Caribbean coast.