Chichimeca culture: location and characteristics

Chichimeca culture: location and characteristics

Between the years 1000 a. C. and 1800 d. C., there was a civilization originating in the Mexican Republic, specifically in the north and lower-west of the nation that was called the Chichimeca Culture.

With the arrival of the Spaniards to the continent, the mention of this population began to have negative connotations, in the same way that the Romans considered the Germanic tribes as barbarians. For this reason, it is important to have knowledge about what this culture was really like, its location, origin, religion, language, and so on. If you want to know a little more about it, don’t hesitate to stay and learn in this interesting article.

What was the Chichimeca culture?

When speaking of the Chichimeca culture, reference is being made to a set of nomadic peoples from northern Mexico, which inhabited the territory between the years 1000 a. C. and 1800 d. C.

By then, civilization was divided into six different social groups: the Caxcanes, the Guamares, the Guachichiles, the Pames, the Tecuexes, and the Zacatecos. Historians classify the development of these peoples based on three individual time periods:

  • Venadito Period: it is estimated that it lasted from 1000 to 200 BC. C. It was characterized by the dominance of the hunting and gathering culture in the different tribes that made up society.
  • Huerta period: it took place from the year 200 a. Until 1200 d. During this period of time, in addition to the groups of hunters, small bands of horticulturists arose who settled on the banks of the rivers.
  • Tunal Grande Period: around 1200 AD. C., a significant demographic increase began in the territory, with which the Chichimecas found themselves in the need to change their lifestyle. All this until 1800 AD. C., when they allied with other peoples creating a new culture.

Regarding the origin of its name, many experts have established certain hypotheses. One of the most outstanding is the one that indicates that the term was used for the first time by the Aztecs and meant in the Nahua language: “those of the lineage of dogs.”

There are others that propose that such a word could come from other languages, so that it is given other quite different meanings. As a result of the arrival of the Spaniards to the American continent, every time the “Chichimecas” were mentioned it was in a derogatory way.

This is because, they were considered as a people of barbarians, for the simple fact of being nomads. Among their daily activities there was no agriculture, they had no knowledge about the existence of writing and they were very belligerent.

Location and geographic distribution

The original peoples of Chichimeca were located in the northern region of Mexico. They specifically extended from Querétaro to Saltillo and from Guanajuato to San Luis Potosí. These resided in communities that did not have an established delimitation, which is why it was quite common for conflicts to occur within the territories, especially over food issues.

The Caxcanes represented the largest number of people in the area, we got them in Aguascalientes, Jalisco and Zacatecas. Within it there was a sub-group called “Los Tezoles”. The Guachichiles were the most bellicose of all, they were based between the states of Coahuila de Zaragoza and Guanajuato. The Guamares, likewise, were in the latter state, only they often made incursions as far as Aguascalientes and Lagos de Moreno.

The population of Pames was considered the least warmongering of the extensive Chichimeca region. This is because they lived near Mexico City and Querétaro so they were very influenced by the Otomí people in religious and social matters.

As their name implies, the Zacatecos were a Chichimeco group from Zacatecas and a good part of Durango. By then, they were awarded the title of “valiant warriors and famous marksmen.” With respect to the Tecuexes, they were located east of what is now Guadalajara, it is presumed that their arrival is possibly the result of the dispersal of groups from La Quemada, Zacatecas.

Main features

Despite many people saying it, the chichimecos were a very rich culture. Of all the characteristics found on it, we could highlight the five that will be developed below:


The economy of this civilization was mainly focused on gathering and hunting. At first, they consumed any animal they managed to hunt: rodents, birds, reptiles, and so on. They could be eaten both raw and barely cooked.

It was with the arrival of the Spanish, that they chose to start hunting cattle, that is, horses and cows. On the occasions that they did not get sources of water nearby, they managed to drink agave or maguey juice to quench their thirst.

Although they could not be classified as formal farmers, they were gardeners on the banks of the rivers. They did it in order to supplement their diet, for example, with corn, squash, roots and tunas. Additionally, from time to time they bartered between groups.


The system of political organization that was used in this indigenous community was the cacicazgo also known as cacicato. In it, the supreme leader or maximum authority was the cacique, better called in the Nahuatl language as “Tlatoani”.

This was the most important civil chief of all, supreme priest and responsible for dictating the laws that maintained the peace and the necessary social structure. His house was called Caligüe and it was different from the rest of the inhabitants. Many historians assure that, within the Chichimecas, there was another authority figure similar to the caudillos, who were in charge of directing the people in the event that the cacique was needed.


Regarding their religion, like the vast majority of original cultures, the Chichimecas they were totally polytheistic, only in a smaller quantity. Their mythological systems were not as advanced as others.

The main deities they worshiped were the Sun and the Moon. In the civic-religious centers that they themselves installed, after having a brief contact with Mesoamerican peoples of the Central Plateau, they began to incorporate rituals that include various elements of worship, such as carved stone gods.

The priests or shamans were guarantors of the organization of these cults. Also, these carried out another ritual of adoration destined to the dead, in which many foods and offerings were included.


Basically, the only known artistic manifestation of the Chichimecas are the small carved figurines that they used in their rituals. These were made of ceramic and were approximately 12 inches long, with slanted eyes and paint marks around the body.

They were found in the area that corresponded to the Guachichiles in San Luis Potosí. In addition to this, vestiges of fired clay pots were also found, whose decoration was curved, very simple and usually painted in a red or similar tone. The culture focused on the production of products related to carpentry, weaving and lapidary.. This was because they had more knowledge on the subject of carving flints and knives to place on the tips of their arrows.


If one takes into consideration that the term “Chichimeca” refers to a large group of peoples, it is important to highlight that each of the social groups that made up this civilization had its own cultural traits.

For this reason, there is no specific information on how they communicated. What is presumed is that the Chichimecos spoke Uto Aztec and Ottomanguean languages, a combination that gave rise to a new language that only they understood.

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