Mexico City’s Templo Mayor. Photo: INAH

By ALLAN WALL

What is now Mexico City was founded as Tenochtitlán in 1325 by the Mexica (Aztec) and subsequently destroyed by the Spaniards and their indigenous allies in 1521.

The Spaniards built a new city on the rubble. Therefore, when they dig down under the city, archeologists frequently find Aztec structures, as was the case in the renowned Templo Mayor, which was excavated in the early 1900s and now stands as testimony of the Mexica civilization next to the capital’s main plaza Zócalo, nestled between the National Palace and the Mexico City Cathedral.

The onsite Templo Mayor Museum now houses most of the artifacts that have been excavated there.

But there are still plenty of archeological remnants down below, yet to be discovered.

In one recent excavation near the steps of the Templo Mayor, offerings from the reign of Emperor Ahuizotl were found, leading to academic speculation about what might further be excavated on the site.

Ahuizotl was emperor of the Mexica from 1486 to 1502, bearing the imperial title of Huey Tlatoani in the Nahuatl language of the Aztec and kindred tribes.

This emperor put down a rebellion in the Huastec region and doubled the size of his empire, subjugating the Mixtec and Zapotec peoples, expanding the empire to the Pacific Ocean and into what is now Guatemala.

Ahuizotl died in 1502, succeeded by his nephew Moctezuma II Xocoyotzin, who was emperor when Hernán Cortés and the conquistadores arrived to Mexico’s gulf coast in 1519.

Ahuizotl was also the father of Cuauhtemoc, the last Aztec emperor, who fell in 1521.

The current excavations, under the direction of archeologist Leonardo López Lujan of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), recently unearthed five large stone boxes, the contents of which are still in the process of being explored.

The offerings found in these boxes reflect the religious beliefs of the Aztec, their artisanship and values, and have attracted the attention in the international media, including Britain’s Daily Mail, whose editors are always on the lookout for something spectacular in the world of ancient history.

The article listed the items discovered in the Mexica treasure trove, including a box of starfish, a jaguar dressed like a warrior and sacrificial eagles, all of which, the Daily Mail suggested, could lead to the emperor’s long-lost royal tomb.

Also discovered were the remains of a roseate spoonbill, a pink bird from the flamingo family that was thought by the Mexica to represent the spirits in their descent into the underworld; copal incense bars, used by Aztec priests for important ceremonies; 21 flint knives decorated with the images of warriors, including the same war god that was found on a disk with the jaguar, but made of mother of pearl; a miniature wooden spear thrower and shield; and the remains of a sacrificed boy, believed to about nine years old.

Archeologists have long known of the prevalence of human sacrifice among the Aztec, so this last discovery was sad and disturbing, but not surprising.

In one of the boxes, “a mysterious bulge” was found. Could it be the mortal remains of Emperor Ahuizotl?

Thus far, no mortal remains of any Aztec emperor have been found by archaeologists.

Lopez Lujan has stated that another full year of excavation will be required to find out if the bulge contains the remains of the emperor.

But the possibility that these bones turn out to be those of Ahuizotl is intriguing, and only time will tell.

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