Courtesy of Mary Pye, Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation.

While open water swimming continues to become more and more popular in contemporary times, swimming in oceans, seas, lakes, rivers and bays has been around for a long, long time – not for competition, but more for fishing, navigation and enjoyment purposes.

One example were the Aztecs who lived in central Mexico between the 14th to the 16th centuries. They included different ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language in the states of Puebla, Morelos, Veracruz, and Guerrero.

The language of the Aztecs had lots of different terms that were used to describe swimming in the Nahuatl language.

The Nahuatl words [see some examples below*] were used before the Conquest of Mexico when Hernán Cortez fought against Montezuma and the Tenochtitlan in 1519. The abundance of words describing swimming is logical because the capital of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan, was located in the middle of a lake, so swimming was a necessary skill.

To swim under the water: apopoti
To kick (swim with the feet): icxiuitequi
To swim with the hands: mauitequi
To swim quickly: netlaminaliztli
Swimming with feet: tlacxiuitequiliztica
Swimmer: tlacxiuitequini
Swimmer who uses their hands: tlamaneloani
Swimming: tlamaneloliztli
A place to swim: tlamaneloloyan
Swimming quickly while raising the head: tlamina

The International Swimming Hall of Fame historians have written more about swimming in ancient Mexico. The History of Swimming In Pre-Columbian Mexico is posted here.

The artwork above is the El Mirador limestone panel depicting the swimmers of the Mayan creation myth.

* From the Diccionario de la Lenga Nahuatl o Mexicana 14th edition 1997 by Remi Simeon. Siglo Veintiuno, Mexico.

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