MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A large cache of Aztec ritual offerings has been discovered below downtown Mexico City on the steps of what would have been the empire’s holiest shrine, providing new insight into pre-Hispanic political and propaganda religious rituals.
The contents of a box sealed in stone chests five centuries ago at the base of the temple, at the exact center of what was once a ceremonial circular stage, broke records for the number of sea offerings from the Pacific and off the Gulf Coast. Mexico. , including more than 165 bright red starfish and more than 180 full branches of coral.
Archaeologists believe Aztec priests carefully placed these offerings in a box on an elevated platform for a ceremony likely to be watched by thousands of angry onlookers amidst the beating of drums.
“Pure imperial propaganda,” said Leonardo López Lujan, chief archaeologist for the Proyecto Templo Mayor at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in Mexico, who is overseeing excavations of the potential scene.
In the same box, archaeologists previously found a sacrificial tiger dressed as a warrior associated with Aztec patron Huitzilopochtli, god of war and sun, before the COVID-19 pandemic halted excavations for more than two years.
Previously unreported details include the discovery of an eagle sacrificed last month in the clutches of a jaguar, as well as miniature wooden spears and a reed shield found next to the west-facing cats, which had brass bells tied around their ankles.
The half-engraved rectangular box, which dates to the reign of the Aztec’s greatest emperor, Ahuitzotl who reigned from 1486 to 1502, shows a weak bulge in the middle below the jaguar’s skeleton, suggesting that there was something solid underneath.
“Everything under the Jaguar is something very important,” Lopez-Logan said.
“We expect a great discovery.”
López Lujan, who is leading excavations at what is now the Templo Mayor, believes the chest may have contained an urn containing the cremated remains of Ahuitzotl, the emperor whose military campaigns expanded his empire into modern-day Guatemala. Gulf coasts. . . But he says at least another year of drilling will be needed to sort things out.
AZTEC WORLD VIEW
To date, no Aztec royal tomb has been found despite more than 40 years of excavations around the Templo Mayor, where more than 200 offering boxes have been found.
The temple rose to a 15-story building before being demolished in the years following the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521, and the ruins hide many recent finds.
Besides the center display containing the Jaguar, two additional trunks were placed next to it recently, and both trunks are expected to be opened in the coming weeks.
Perhaps the fiercest of the animals, dressed as warriors, they were decked out in jade, turquoise, and gold.
Offerings of water covering jaguars may represent a watery underworld where the Aztecs believed the sun would set each night, or perhaps part of a king’s journey into the afterlife.
Joyce Marcus, an archaeologist specializing in ancient Mexico at the University of Michigan, says the newly discovered offerings illuminate “the Aztec worldview, ritual economy, clear connections between imperial expansion, war and military prowess and the role of the ruler” in ceremonies that sanctified conquests and allowed tribute to flow into the capital.
“Each loan fund adds another piece to the puzzle,” she said.
Finally, the skulls of dozens of sacrificed children between one and six years old were discovered in a nearby pit, dating from several decades earlier but also related to Huitzilopochtli.
According to Diana Moreras, an Aztec researcher at the University of British Columbia, the information gleaned from the fossils goes beyond accounts of the incomplete colonial era that were also colored by European conquerors’ justifications for the conquest.
“We really get to know the Aztecs on their own terms,” she said, “because we’re actually looking at what they did, not what the Spanish thought of them.”
(Reporting by David Aller Garcia) Editing by Stephen Eisenhammer and Josie Kao
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