An extensive cache of Aztec ritual offerings found underneath downtown Mexico City, off the steps of what would have been the empire’s holiest shrine, provides new insight into pre-Hispanic religious rites and political propaganda.
Sealed in stone boxes five centuries ago at the foot of the temple, the contents of one box found in the exact centre of what was a ceremonial circular stage has shattered records for the number of sea offerings from both the Pacific Ocean and off Mexico’s Gulf Coast, including more than 165 once-bright-red starfish and upwards of 180 complete corral branches.
Archeologists believe Aztec priests carefully layered these offerings in the box within the elevated platform for a ceremony likely attended by thousands of rapt spectators amid the thunderclap of drums.
“Pure imperial propaganda,” said lead archeologist Leonardo Lopez Lujan when describing the likely spectacle.
In the same box, archeologists previously found a sacrificed jaguar dressed like a warrior associated with the Aztec patron Huitzilopochtli, the war and Sun God, before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a more than two-year pause on excavations.
Previously unreported details include last month’s discovery of a sacrificed eagle held in the clutches of the jaguar, along with miniature wooden spears and a reed shield found next to the west-facing feline, which had copper bells tied around its ankles.
The half-excavated rectangular box, dating to the reign of the Aztec’s greatest emperor Ahuitzotl who ruled from 1486 to 1502, now shows a mysterious bulge in the middle under the jaguar’s skeleton, indicating something solid below.
“Whatever is underneath the jaguar is something enormously important,” said Lopez Lujan.
“We’re expecting a great discovery.”
Lopez Lujan, who heads excavations at what is today known as the Templo Mayor, thinks the box could contain an urn holding the cremated remains of Ahuitzotl, the emperor whose military campaigns expanded the empire to modern-day Guatemala while linking Mexico’s Pacific and Gulf coasts. But he says at least another year of digging is needed to settle the question.