Aztec legend holds that their forefathers migrated to Mexico City from a land to the north - a land of red rocks and four rivers.

But just where the Aztec (more accurately the Mexica) homeland was located remains shrouded in myth and mystery. Two researchers now claim they have found the Aztec homeland - in Utah."For years, we thought we had pinpointed the Mexica homeland in the Phoenix area," said Cecilio Orosco of California State University, Fresno. "But there are no red rocks. We weren't looking far enough north."

Orosco and Alfonso Rivas-Salmon, a respected Mexican anthropologist at the Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara, now contend that the land of red rocks spoken of are Utah's maze of canyonlands, and the four rivers mentioned in legend are the Green, the upper Colorado, the San Juan and the portion of the lower Colorado after the confluence of the others.

Furthermore, they claim ancient paintings on Utah's canyon walls reflect many of the same symbols and figures found in the Aztec calendar.

Experts say the Barrier Canyon-style rock art in Utah is believed to date to a time well before the time of Christ. According to Orosco, the Mexica migrated from their northern homeland about 502 B.C.

History's missing link?

"Utah is sitting on a treasure, a missing link in the prehistory of man in this hemisphere," said Orosco, a professional researcher and amateur archaeologist. "It's right there on the canyon walls. Utah is the home of Quetzalcoatl."

Utah archaeologists, however, expressed skepticism at the report.

Orosco and Rivas recently returned from an expedition down the Green River to examine Barrier Canyon-style rock art. They say common symbols to both the Aztec calendar and Utah rock art include snakes with four rattles, knotted rope symbols and other figures dividing time according to the four-year and eight-year cycles of Venus.

Bug-eyed figures common to Utah pictographs have been interpreted by Orosco and Rivas as representing the duality of Venus as the morning and evening star.

The use of knots of strings to represent numbers has been attributed exclusively to the Incas of South America, but "I found this numerical representation in many of the pictographs" in Utah.

Orosco and Rivas have identified the calendrical formula symbols on pictographs at Head of Sinbad, Black Dragon Canyon, Barrier Creek and Horseshoe Canyon, all in the canyonlands area of southern Utah. They believe these sites represent celestial observatories.

Drought forced migration

Legend holds the Mexica were forced from their northern homeland by a prolonged drought, called the "Rain of Fire." A series of migrations took the ancient ones south, eventually to build Tenochtitlan more than 1,000 years later on the site of modern-day Mexico City. An eagle devouring a snake was a signal from the gods where to build their city, the legend holds.

The Mexica spoke Nahuatl, a language rooted in an Uto-Aztecan family of languages. Uto-Aztecan is a common language root shared by many different Mexican and Southwestern cultures, including all Great Basin tribes.

The Mexica migration out of Utah would have occurred before the emergence of the more advanced Anasazi and Fremont cultures in Utah. Orosco and and Rivas believe the Mexica possessed a detailed knowledge of a calendar centuries before these cultures.

"We must re-evaluate much of our thinking about the greatness and antiquity of Native American civilization," Orosco said.