Ixmiquilpan : Land of the Obsidian Arrow Quelite

Ixmiquilpan, equivalent to Nahuatl Itzmiquilpan, from itzmīquilitl (purslane/verdolagas) +‎ -pan (locative suffix), from Mezquital Otomi Nts’u̱tk’ani, from tsꞌu̱tkꞌǎni (purslane).

Ixmiquilpan is a city and one of the 84 municipalities of Hidalgo. It is located in the central west part of the state of Hidalgo in central-eastern Mexico.

The first ethnic group to settle in the Mezquital Valley in Hidalgo state were a group of Otomies (1), who called themselves Hñahñus. They named this area Ntsʼu̱tkʼani, which means place of verdolagas or pigweed. The Otomí were firmly established in the valleys of Toluca, Tula, and Mexico before the first Nahua invasions. Theirs was a sedentary life-style, and they lived in peaceful coexistence with the Olmec and other peoples of the area. The first Nahua who arrived were the Toltec who established themselves by force toward the year 800, founding the city of Tula (Tollan). These Otomies would be subjugated by the Toltecs (2) then later by the Aztec Empire (3). Under Aztec rule, the Otomí became tributaries. Both the Olmec and Aztec peoples spoke Nahuatl and renamed the area Itzmiquilpan (later spelled Ixmiquilpan), which means “place where the verdolagas cut like flint knives.”

  1. The Otomi are an indigenous people of Mexico inhabiting the central Mexican Plateau (Altiplano) region. Currently, the Otomi inhabit a fragmented territory ranging from northern Guanajuato to eastern Michoacán and south-eastern Tlaxcala, with most being concentrated in the states of Hidalgo, Mexico State and Querétaro. According to the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, the Otomi ethnic group totalled 667,038 people in the Mexican Republic (in 2015), making them the fifth largest group of indigenous people in the country.
  2. The Otomí were incorporated into the Toltec Empire as a subject people. In the twelfth century hunting peoples (generally known as Chichimec) invaded the highlands; they destroyed the Toltec capital of Tula around the year 1200. After the fall of Tula, the Otomí settled in Xillotepec and Chiapan in the Valley of Toluca. In 1220 they moved east and founded the city-state of Xaltocan to the north of the Valley of Mexico.
  3. In 1395 their territory was conquered by the Tepanec. From then on, many Otomí emigrated northeast and east, settling in the provinces of Meztitlan, Tutotepec, Cempoala, and Tlaxcala. The Tepanec peoples became part of the Triple Alliance, which commonly became known as the Aztec Empire. Itzcóatl ruled the Aztec Empire from 1428 to 1440. Under his rule, Tenochtitlán formed a triple alliance with the neighbouring states of Texcoco and Tlacopan. With this alliance the Aztecs expanded their empire and became the dominant power in central Mexico.

Another version

The primitive name of Ixmiquilpan was “Zectccani” (1). A word of Otomi origin which means “Purslane”. Later, in the Nahua language it was called “Izmiquilpan”. However, another version explains the meaning of “Itzmiquilpan”, to be derived from “Itztli” (2) which means “razor”; and “milli” which means “cultivated land” (3), plus the word “quilitl” (4), which means “edible herb”, and finally “pan” (5) whose meaning is “about” (5). So it means: “Town located on grass crops whose leaves are razor-shaped.”

  1. seen elsewhere as Zutcani or Zetcat
  2. a sharp-bladed instrument of obsidian
  3. Milli : Principal English Translation: cultivated field, a land parcel under cultivation typically, a maize field (although now we might use the word “milpa” instead)
  4. the word “quilitl” signifies more than just “edible herb”. See Post Quelites : Quilitl for a more in-depth look at this word. This word lies at the very heart of this blog.
  5. -pan : Principal English Translation: in the time of; or a locative meaning on, at or in-place; over, on top of; with, by means of; for, in favour of; about

Urbina (1904) offers a slightly different interpretation

Itzmiquilitl. lt. Itz-mi-quilitl: ítztli, obsidian; mitl, arrow; quilitl,
yerba (herb): “grass like obsidian arrows”. The leaves, due to their colour and thickness, look like fragments of obsidian like the one on the arrows. It is a kind of tender purslane.

Pre-Columbian obsidian arrowheads

According to Urbina (1903) Itzmiquilitl has a couple of synonyms including Tlaliztaquilitl and Iztaquilitl each of which are indicated as being Portulaca oleracea. I searched for the word Iztaquilitl in several Nahuatl dictionaries and came up with the following.

Now the last one was most interesting as it indicated a different plant, an amaranth species plant, as being Iztaquilitl. Amaranth is often called huauhtli, quintonil or bledos. This is not the only place Iztaquilitl is identifies as A.cruentus. Castillo (etal 2020), Osorio (2020) and Alfaro (etal 1995) all identify the plant specifically as A.cruentus (I have no doubt that others do too).

Other plants have also been identified with the Nahuatl “Iztaquilitl”. Estrada Lugo (1989) notes that within the Florentine Codex the name (1) refers to either Portulaca oleracea, Suaeda suffrutescens or S.torreyana (2). McClung de Tapia (2014) also notes that Sahagun identified itzaquilitl as being a Suaeda species plant. “The romerito (Suaeda mexicana) occurs in the sites of Xaltocan, Michpilco, Cuanalan and Temamatla. It was known as iztaquiltic or iztaquilitl, it is a small plant, very salty and eaten raw and cooked.” (Sahagún 1982). Romeritos are quite different to verdolagas (2), they are semi-succulent plants that can grow in saline environments and themselves have a salty flavour. This makes some sense as the Náhuatl word for salt is “iztatl” so (itza)(quilitl) could easily translate to salt(y) quelite (3). So if we take all this into consideration it would be fair to say that Itzaquilitl is likely a regional/common name for verdolagas in some areas but that in general it refers to another plant (even though A.cruentus is most commonly the identification put forward it seems more likely that it is the Suaeda species plants that are being referred to particularly if we are taking the “salty” nature of the herb) (4).

  1. also iztaquilitic
  2. See Post : Quelites : Romeritos for further information on the Suaeda species
  3. Romeritos is also called quelite salado (salted quelite)
  4. it could also refer to “iztac” = “white” (the colour). Alfaro (etal 1995) notes one translation of A.cruetus as being Quintonile blanco (white quintonil)

The town of Ixmiquilpan is noted for its parish church, the Church of San Miguel Arcangel (Saint Michael the Archangel), which contains a large series of murals done in the 16th century by native artists which are ripe with pre-Hispanic imagery and which depict Eagle and Jaguar warriors in battle.

Hidden for centuries beneath layers of yellow paint, these murals only came to light in the 1960s.  The figures are drawn in a vivid graphic style and enhanced with red, brown and ochre. The foliage is blue-green against a rich apricot background. The use of flat colour washes have a modern look, reminding some observers of the work of Picasso.

According to historian Richard Perry several explanations for these murals have been proposed.

For the friars they may have embodied the perennial Christian struggle between good and evil, between damnation and salvation—an obsession of the Augustinians during the turbulent 1570s.

The largely prehispanic imagery indicates that the murals were intended primarily for a native audience. While on one hand they may commemorate an historic, regional triumph of the Otomís over the invading Chichimecs, on a more covert level the murals may also have been viewed as celebrating the supremacy, both physical and spiritual, of the imperial Aztecs over their traditional enemies.

 Even fifty years after the Conquest, conflict with marauding native warriors was still an immediate concern rather than a distant memory. Ixmiquilpan itself was attacked by fierce mounted tribesmen as late as 1569—an assault successfully repulsed by the Otomí in a celebrated local victory.

The pictorial sign of Itzmiquilpan in the Mendoza Codex presents a high degree of stylization. In the Nahuatl variant that it is spoken in Acatlán, Guerrero, the compound noun itzmitl is recorded with the meaning “purslane”. The fact that the place name Itzmiquilpan has as an Otomi equivalent Nts’otk’ani (or Nts’utk’ani), with the meaning “purslane”, reinforces the identification of the Nahuatl toponym with this plant. (Wright-Carr 2017)

The toponym of Ixmiquilpan as it appears in the (tribute lists of the) Codex Mendoza is composed of a sprig of itzmiquilitl with one leaf in the form of an itzli flint knife (1), it appears to be configured in the position of a human body prepared for sacrifice. The “trunk”, or stem of the plant, complete with leafy “head “ and “limbs”, is bent over on its “back” with the sacrificial “flint” leaf occupying a place between the two “arms” – the chest of the human victim. (Wake 2009)

  1. itztli. Principal English Translation: a sharp-bladed instrument of obsidian; also, Itztli (“Obsidian Blade”) was a deity that was part of the Tezcatlipoca Complex of deities that relate to power, omnipotence, often malevolence, feasting and revelry. Also called a tecpatl. Principal English Translation: flint, obsidian; flint-knife, obsidian-knife; twenty; also, a calendrical marker
Priest offering the heart taken from a living human victim to the Aztec sun god and god of war, Huitzilopochtli. Print of facsimile from Aztec Codex, published 1904. Human Sacrifice (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

As you can see in the image of the sacrifice above the person being sacrificed by being bent backwards over the sacrificial stone. The tecpatl blade is entering the chest of the sacrifice in exactly the same position as it is placed in the toponym glyph of Ixmiquilpan. (shown above the image of the sacrificial scene)

(above) : Images of an obsidian itztli (tecpatl) blade

(below) : A modern day tecpatl

A modern day tecpatl

This Tecpatl is a fixed blade push dagger designed by Michael R. Rodriguez, a combat veteran who served 21 years in the United States Army and retired as a Green Beret. Michael (of Fayetteville, North Carolina – originally from Las Cruces, NM) designed the Tecpatl as a part of the CRKT Forged by War program. The laser markings on the sugar skull are a reflection of Michael’s heritage, as well as a chronicle of his own personal story. Close examination reveal the horns, the Crusader’s Cross and the Office of Strategic Services Symbol. The engraved 7 above the blade recognizes the 7th Special Forces Group with which Michael served. Above the 7, the arrow is reminiscent of the crossed arrows of the Special Forces. The three lightning bolts honour the Green Berets and their shoulder patch. Michael’s Tecpatl was designed to also honour the traditional Aztec obsidian close-quarter knife used by the Aztec Jaguar warriors. Although you may not find yourself in combat with Aztecs, the Tecpatl is intended as a last-resort self-defence weapon.

Fine blades made from obsidian also have use in surgery. The use of scalpel for surgical incisions dates back to at least 2100 BC. Obsidian scalpels have been found in a Bronze Age settlement in Turkey (Nagargoje etal 2019) and ancient Egyptians made incisions for embalming with scalpels of sharpened obsidian. Studies have shown that cuts made by obsidian blades are finer and heal with less inflammation and scar tissue thickness than steel blades.(Disa etal 1993)

Fine obsidian blades
A comparison of the edges of steel and obsidian scalpels

Diana Cazadora : Diana the Huntress

Ixmiquilpan is also famous (or should be) for being the home of a well-known cultural icon of Mexico City. That of the (original) statue of Diana Cazadora (Diana the Huntress).

The Fuente de la Diana Cazadora (the Fountain of Diana the Huntress) is a monumental fountain of Diana located in the roundabout at Paseo de la Reforma and Río Misisipí and Sevilla streets, on the border of the Colonia Cuauhtémoc and Colonia Juárez neighbourhoods of Mexico City.

In Roman mythology, Diana was the goddess of the hunt, mythologically similar to the Greek goddess Artemis. The daughter of Jupiter and Latona, Diana was born with her twin brother Apollo on the island of Delos.
A goddess of both chastity and fertility, and also of the moon, Diana’s cult became popular throughout the ancient Roman empire, both among the nobility and the lower classes. She was the patron of slaves, who could find sanctuary in her temples, and of women seeking to conceive healthy children. Eternally young and beautiful, she was known to possess a quick temper and fiercely defended her virginity.
Often portrayed with bow and arrow and accompanied either by a deer or hounds, Diana was the goddess of both wild and domestic animals. Her temple in Ephesus was one of the wonders of the world.

Fuente de la Diana Cazadora
Image by * CliNKer * from Mexico City, Mexico – Diana La Cazadora (De Aviones), CC BY-SA 2.0

This bronze sculpture is 7 meters tall and weighs 4 tons. It was made by the artist Juan Fernando Olaguibel in 1942. The original Diana sculpture (this one) was placed on the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City. In 1944, a group known as the “League of Decency” headed by Soledad Orozco de Avila Camacho, wife of president Manuel Ávila Camacho, decided that the Diana statue was indecent due to the fact that it was nude. It was removed from Reforma and put in Chapultepec Park before it came to Ixmiquilpan and was placed atop the fountain there in 1970. In 1968 the original statue located in the roundabout of Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City was replaced by a replica also cast by Olaguibel.

Helvia Martínez Verdayes , who modelled for the sculpture died this year (2022) at the age of 100.

During the 1940s, the then president Manuel Ávila Camacho had the intention of giving the city a new image and requested the regent of the then Federal District, Javier Rojo Gómez, the creation of several colossal fountains. Instead of a Greek or Roman goddess, Ávila Camacho wanted a symbol of Mexican femininity, so he commissioned it from Guanajuato sculptor Juan Fernando Olaguíbel and Mexican architect Vicente Mendiola.

The young Helvia Martínez Verdayes (then only 16 years old) (1) modelled nude for the artist. Helvia was studying to be a secretary at the Miguel Lerdo de Tejada school and worked as a secretary in the offices of Pemex (2). Helvia refused any financial remuneration in exchange for keeping her participation as the image of the statue a secret.  This secret remained for years until in 1992 she revealed her identity in her book El Secreto de la Diana Cazadora (The Secret of Diana the Huntress).

  1. Which is actually kind of creepy
  2. Pemex (a portmanteau of Petróleos Mexicanos, which translates to Mexican Petroleum in English; is the state-owned petroleum company managed and operated by the Mexican government.

On October 10, 1942, the bronze sculpture was inaugurated in La Puerta de Los Leones. Her original name was: “La flechadora de las estrellas del norte” (“The Arrow of the North Stars”) and her impact on society at the time was such that they ordered her to wear a loincloth.

Soledad Orozco, leader of the League of Decency, considered that the sculpture was a bad example for the children who visited Chapultepec, so she campaigned for it to be decently covered and in 1944 the sculptor added a bronze skirt

In 1968, Alfonso Corona del Rosal (1) ordered the loincloth to be removed, however, when it was removed, the sculpture was damaged. As a result of this damage Corona donated the statue to his native town of Ixmiquilpan, in Hidalgo. And for the Paseo de la Reforma roundabout, an exact replica of the original was made, based on the model made with Helvia. (The replica of) Diana came to her current location in 1992.

  1. Who, in 1958, was appointed President of the Institutional Revolutionary Party

The disappearance of Diana’s arrow dates back (according to some versions) to its inauguration in 1942. There are those who maintain that it was stolen shortly after the statue was revealed. Since then, the statue remains only with her bow. This missing arrow has been remembered by the placing of a “monument” nearby along with a plaque that reads: “Se creía perdida y sólo estaba escondida, reservando su buena suerte a quien su deseo aquí pida”. (“She thought she was lost and was only hidden, reserving her good luck to whomever her wish here asks for.)

Now, back to the quelites and the very one this town is named for.

Itzmīquilitl : The Obsidian Arrow Quelite

I have previously Posted on the nutritional, culinary and medicinal uses of this herb (1). That Post contains several recipes (including one from India) and has WARNINGS regarding a potentially toxic look-a-like plant that are important if you are a wildcrafter (2).

  1. See Post Quelite : Verdolagas : Purslane for more detail
  2. Wildcrafting (also known as foraging) is the practice of harvesting plants from their natural, or ‘wild’ habitat, primarily for food or medicinal purposes. It applies to uncultivated plants wherever they may be found, and is not necessarily limited to wilderness areas.


  • Alfaro, Miguel Angel Martínez, Virginia Evangelista Oliva, Myrna Mendoza Cruz, Gustavo García, Guadalupe Toledo Olazcoaga and Alfredo Wong León. “Catálogo de plantas útiles de la Sierra Norte de Puebla, México.” (1995).
  • Castillo, Ana María; Alavez, Valeria; Castro-Porras, Lilia; Martínez, Yuriana; Cerritos, René (2020): Table_1_Analysis of the Current Agricultural Production System, Environmental, and Health Indicators: Necessary the Rediscovering of the Pre-hispanic Mesoamerican Diet?.XLSX. Frontiers. Dataset. https://doi.org/10.3389/fsufs.2020.00005.s002
  • Disa, J J et al. “A comparison of obsidian and surgical steel scalpel wound healing in rats.” Plastic and reconstructive surgery vol. 92,5 (1993): 884-7.
  • Estrada Lugo E. I. J. (1989). El códice florentino : su información etnobotánica (1a. ed.). Colegio de Postgraduados Institución de Enseñanza e Investigación en Ciencias Agrícolas. Retrieved October 31 2022
  • Martínez García, Raymundo C. et al. Piedras y papeles, vestigios del pasado : temas de arqueología y etnohistoria de Mesoamérica. Ed. Raymundo C. (Raymundo César) Martínez García and Miguel Angel Ruz Barrio. Primera edición. Zinacantepec, México: El Colegio Mexiquense, 2017.
  • McClung de Tapia, Emily; Martínez Yrízar, Diana; Ibarra Morales, Emilio; Adriano Morán, Carmen Cristina (2014). Los orígenes prehispánicos de una tradición alimentaria en la cuenca de méxico. Anales de Antropología, 48(1), 97–121. doi:10.1016/S0185-1225(14)70491-6
  • Nagargoje GL, Badal S, Mohiuddin SA, Balkunde AS, Jadhav SS, Bholane DR. Evaluation of Electrocautery and Stainless Steel Scalpel in Oral Mucoperiosteal Incision for Mandibular Anterior Fracture. Ann Maxillofac Surg. 2019 Jul-Dec;9(2):230-234. doi: 10.4103/ams.ams_158_18. PMID: 31908999; PMCID: PMC6933970.
  • Nelly Valladares Osorio (2020) Estudio Etnobotánico de Plantas Alimentarias no Convencionales en las Comunidades de Tlamacazapa y Huixtac de Taxco de Alarcón, Guerrero, México
  • Peña Sánchez, Edith Yesenia & Hernández Albarrán, Lilia (2014) Tradiciones de la cocina hñähñu del Valle del Mezquital : Cocina Indigena Y Popular #63 : Primera edición en Cocina Indígena y Popular, 2014 : Dirección General de Culturas Populares CONACULTA : ISBN: 978-607-8423-67-5
  • Urbina, POR EL SR. DR. D. MANUEL (1903) : Planta Comestibles de Los Antiguos Mexicanos (Edible plants of the Ancient Mexicans.) Annals of the National Museum of Mexico. No. 8 Volume I (Second Period (1903-1908)
  • Wake, E. (2009). Sacred books and sacred songs from former days: sourcing the mural paintings at San Miguel Arcángel Ixmiquilpan.
  • Wright Carr, David Charles (2014) : Traducción de la descripción de una planta: Itzmiquilitl
  • Wright-Carr, David. (2017). Ixmiquilpan: estudio filológico, iconográfico y etnobotánico de los nombres de un señorío otomí.



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