Ballplayers and Bonesetters: One Hundred Ancient Aztec and Maya Jobs You Might Have Adored or Abhorred


Ever thought of becoming a bug farmer?
Or how about a stone slinger?

Imagine growing up in Mesoamerica before the Spanish Conquest (1350-1521). What does your future hold? The ancient Aztecs, Maya and other Mesoamericans believed that the gods created a world where everyone had a role to play. Some people were born to rule, others to serve. If you were lucky, you might have been a high priest or a queen. On ...

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Ever thought of becoming a bug farmer?
Or how about a stone slinger?

Imagine growing up in Mesoamerica before the Spanish Conquest (1350-1521). What does your future hold? The ancient Aztecs, Maya and other Mesoamericans believed that the gods created a world where everyone had a role to play. Some people were born to rule, others to serve. If you were lucky, you might have been a high priest or a queen. On the other hand, you could have ended up as a latrine boatman or a slave destined to become a sacrificial victim.

Find out what it was like to be a tax collector (don't try to keep any money for yourself; the penalty is death!) or a porter (only if you enjoy carrying heavy packs up mountains). Or perhaps you'd prefer building pyramids, raising dogs or being a royal cook (frog casserole with green chile, anyone?).

Other jobs you might have held include:

  • Counterfeiter
  • Bell maker
  • Mosaic mask maker
  • Beekeeper.

Featuring a fact-filled introduction, a timeline and humorous illustrations, this book offers a unique view of one of the most remarkable civilizations of all time.

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Editorial Reviews

School Lilbrary Journal - Ann Welton
Readable and humorous ... the descriptions of the vocations yield a rich view of the culture, and the breezy text makes this as much a browsing as a reference title. The colorful cartoon illustrations enhance the text, adding just the right artistic complement... A solid purchase for elementary school and public libraries.
ForeWord - Ellizabeth Breau
An excellent source for a report about Mesoamerican life. With short paragraphs on each occupation, cartoon pictures of Mesoamericans at their jobs, and bubble commentary, this kid-friendly narrative will entice with its humor and unexpected trivia.
School Library Journal

Gr 4-6

Following a readable and humorous overview of the highly developed Aztec and Maya civilizations, this lively text lists 100 jobs that a young person might have held or aspired to during the Late Postclassic period in Mesoamerica (1350 to 1521). Twelve chapters list city-state jobs; pyramid temple-building opportunities; palace work; food and drink jobs; everyday crafts; luxury crafts; trade and market positions; temple placements; ceremonial jobs; military service; health and beauty occupations; and beast, bird, and bug work. Some of the careers sound like contemporary ones: professional ball player (okay, no version of ball that we know, but still) and midwife. Others, such as Volador or Calpulli Governor, are specific to the time and place. Taken as a whole, the descriptions of the vocations yield a rich view of the culture, and the breezy text makes this as much a browsing as a reference title. The colorful cartoon illustrations enhance the text, adding just the right artistic complement. An afterword tells what became of these complex cultures subsequent to the Spanish conquest, and a brief list of recommended reading and sound index round out the whole. Paired with Elizabeth Lewis's Mexican Art and Culture (Raintree, 2004), which is a more traditional informational book, this title would be a useful classroom tool. It remains, regardless, a solid purchase for elementary school and public libraries.-Ann Welton, Helen B. Stafford Elementary, Tacoma, WA

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781554511419
  • Publisher: Annick Press, Limited
  • Publication date: 9/12/2008
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 1,110,370
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.40 (w) x 10.60 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Laurie Coulter is the author of six books, including Secrets in Stone: All About Maya Hieroglyphs. She lives in Toronto.

Martha Newbigging has illustrated many books, including Research Ate My Brain, Attack of the Killer Video Book and two other books in this series: Cowboys and Coffin Makers and Archers, Alchemists and 98 Other Medieval Jobs You Might Have Loved or Loathed. She lives in rural Ontario.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Who Was Who in Mesoamerica
Society's Pyramid
Borrowers and Transformers
A Very Crowded Cosmos
Early Job Training

Chapter 1. City-State Jobs
Calpulli Governor
Tribute Collector
Latrine Boatman
Aqueduct Builder

Chapter 2. Pyramid-Temple Building Jobs
Chief Architect
Mural Painter
Quarry Worker

Chapter 3. Palace Jobs
Great King

Prime Minister
Royal Historian

Chapter 4. Food and Drink Jobs
Hill Farmer
Landless Farm Laborer
Chinampa Farmer
Farmer's Wife
Pulque Maker
Salt Maker

Chapter 5. Everyday Crafts Jobs
Blade Maker
Maguey Worker
Adobe Brick Maker
Clay Figurine Maker
Rope Maker
Paper Maker
Metate and Mano Maker
Rubber Ball Maker
Mat Maker
Broom Maker

Chapter 6. Luxury Crafts Jobs
Bell Maker
Feather Artist's Apprentice
Wood Carver
Mosaic Mask Maker
Shell Worker
Flower Worker

Chapter 7. Trade and Market Jobs
Long-Distance Merchant
River Boatman
Chocolate Seller
Sandal Seller
Fruit and Vegetable Seller
Dye Maker and Seller
Market Officer
Slave Dealer

Chapter 8. Temple Jobs
High Priest
Student Priest
Day-Count Reader

Chapter 9. Ceremonial

Professional Ballplayer
Master of Cremation Ceremony
Conch-Shell Player
Deity Impersonator

Chapter 10. Military Jobs
Weapons Maker
Eagle Elder
Student Warrior
Jaguar Warrior
Stone Slinger

Chapter 11. Health and Beauty Jobs
Tooth Filer

Chapter 12. Beast, Bird, and Bug Jobs
Dog Breeder
Bug Farmer
Aviary Keeper

After the Spanish Conquest
Recommended Further Reading

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"Meso" means "middle," so Mesoamerica means Middle America. Today we use the term "Middle America" to describe ordinary people living in the United States. But there was nothing ordinary about the Aztecs, Maya, and other ancient Mesoamericans. Even where they lived is extraordinary -- a region of sandy seacoasts, tropical rainforest lowlands, and dry highland basins surrounded by towering volcanoes. Is it any wonder that Mesoamerica was one of only six areas on the planet where civilizations popped up all on their own?

You can't just decide one day that you're going to be "civilized." (Unless, of course, your parents have had enough of your "uncivilized" behavior and are giving you an hour to think about it.) It takes an extremely long time for people to build cities, produce enough food to feed everybody, put snobby kings and nobles in charge of them, trade goods and ideas with other groups of people, and figure out how to run governments, armies, and schools. It's a big job, and the Mesoamericans did it very well.

These accomplished people were made up of many different cultural groups, who, like people today, moved from place to place in search of a better life. This search began when the truly ancient ancestors of the Mesoamericans began traveling from Asia to the west coast of North America at the end of the last Ice Age. They made their way south. Slowly. Eventually, they settled down, started to grow food and make things, and did a lot of thinking. (Imagine not just learning to read and write, but inventing those things in the first place!) Today, the cultural area where all these amazing things happened is the southern half of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and neighboring parts of Honduras and El Salvador.

Learning about ancient peoples involves a great deal of guesswork. Archeologists study ruins and artifacts to find out what they can learn about a culture's architecture, art, and way of life. Ethnologists look at the way today's native people do certain tasks, such as tapping rubber trees, and try to figure out how their ancestors did the same jobs. This book focuses on the work people did in what archeologists call the Late Postclassic period in Mesoamerica, from 1350 to 1521 CE. Of all the Postclassic peoples, most is known about the Aztecs, which is why they dominate this book in the same way they dominated their world. Their empire was built by the Triple Alliance, made up of the Mexica people (based at the imperial city of Tenochtitlan), the Acolhua people (based at Texcoco), and the Tepaneca people of Tlacopan.

When the Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés marched into Tenochtitlan in 1519 with his army, he overcame the Aztecs with help from other Mesoamericans who were tired of being under Aztec rule. After the conquest, the Christian invaders destroyed almost all of the native people's "pagan" books. The few that remain, however, give us a taste of the remarkable cultures that thrived in this part of the world in the Postclassic period. We can also hear these people's voices through the books of Spaniards who worked and lived among them. One of these was Spanish friar Bernardino de Sahagún. He interviewed Aztec elders about their culture and wrote 12 books, called the Florentine Codex, on everything from plants and animals to rituals and proverbs.

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