The last offering found in the Templo Mayor: golden birds on flint knives, snakes and maguey thorns

The last offering found in the Templo Mayor: golden birds on flint knives, snakes and maguey thorns

A pair of falcons adorned with rich ornaments of gold, turquoise, shell and green stone, just like Huitzilopochtli – warlord and sun god, often depicted as an eagle warrior – were laid on a bed of flint knives, wooden sticks, snakes and mague thorns, presumably bloodied. It is the last offering found in the Templo Mayor of ancient Tenochtitlan, number 179, whose excavation was only completed a few months ago. A stunning spectacle to the trained eyes of archaeologists.

The feet of the birds are ringed with golden rattles; at the hip, the archaeologists of the Templo Mayor Project – Leonardo López Luján, director of research on the Aztec sacred underground temple of Mexico City; Alejandra Aguirre Molina, a doctor in Mesoamerican Studies, and Antonio Marín, an archeology intern – found trapezoidal leaves, a delicate necklace of pink shell beads and green metamorphic stones hanging from her chest. They also have a chest ring made of gold, which qualifies them as warrior deities. Both falcons were the subject of a lengthy and complex operation that involved attaching appendages made from the richest raw materials of the time, and the manufacture of which required great technical skill on the part of Mexican priests.

Offer 179 Sparrowhawk of the Templo Mayor
Offer 179 Sparrowhawk of the Templo MayorAntonio Marino Calvo

On their wings, the priests of the old kingdom placed two golden bracelets, as well as a shield with a flag for the individual placed in the south and a scepter for the bird placed in the north; The falcons’ heads were decorated with shell eyes and green stone, as well as Huitzilopochtli’s own insignia. The southern bird had the emblem of the cotinga azulejo (a species native to Mesoamerica) in turquoise on its forehead, while the northern one – without a skull – wore a tiny eagle, a green stone bead and a slender hummingbird beak made of turquoise gold. .

In the particular case of Tenochtitlan, the gold recovered by archaeologists is notoriously scarce; The total weight of the gold artifacts discovered in the archaeological zone is just over 500 grams, a tiny number compared to what has been discovered in archaeological contexts in Central and South America. Those numbers pale in comparison to the tens of thousands of artifacts made of greenstone, copal, obsidian, flint, and copper, to name a few. This offering – and several others of great importance, such as that of an eight-month-old wolf buried with pieces of gold, or that of a jaguar disguised as a warrior with one atl of wood in one of its claws – have appeared in an imaginary straight line cutting the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan in two.

The discovered offerings are at the geometric center of the huge circular platform, 16 meters in diameter and more than two meters high, known as the Cuauhxicalco. “It was like a small temple, a platform where the priest could see all the faithful,” explains López Luján, daring to imagine the whole scene. “A crowd gathered around the religious authorities to witness the ceremony. It smells like copal. Through one ear people can be heard speaking Nahuatl, an invocation to Huitzilopochtli; on the other hand, listen to the ritual music of the drums. You see them sacrificing these animals, designing jewelry that suits the animals, the birds, the jaguar, the puma or the Mexican wolf that are super predators, how they dress them with precious materials: gold, jade , the Shell and the Turquoise and How They Bury Them. These rituals can only build an empire,” he says.

Archaeologists Antonio Marín Calvo, Alejandra Aguirre Molina and Leonardo López Luján working on the Templo Mayor
Archaeologists Antonio Marín Calvo, Alejandra Aguirre Molina and Leonardo López Luján working on the Templo MayorMonica Gonzalez Islands

The Templo Mayor celebrated the two greatest deities of the state of Mexica: on the one hand Huitzilopochtli, associated with the dry season, the winter solstice, life and heaven; and Tláloc, associated with rain, summer solstice, death, earth and night. “It’s like yin and yang. This explains why the pyramid is double. Everything that we have unearthed in this area is in the male sphere and that of war,” explains Leonardo López Luján, pointing to Mexica’s offerings. “We must emphasize that this binary pattern was not perfectly balanced. There was a clear superiority of Huitzilopochtli over Tlaloc. For example, the chapel of the first was larger,” he continues. The ancients would walk hundreds of kilometers – between 300 and 400 – from the coasts, where some of the sea creatures found in the Templo Mayor have been found, to the highlands to be used in the rituals of the priests, where the Mexica- Empire was almost at its peak. “In addition to birds, we have marine elements that come from both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Transporting all these animals, possibly many of them alive, and then bringing them here to Mexico City, feeding them, grooming them and preparing them for the ceremonies must have been a daunting task,” explains Antonio Marín.

Archaeologists from the Templo Mayor Project have been working on the offerings since 2007
Archaeologists from the Templo Mayor Project have been working on the offerings since 2007Monica Gonzalez Islands

Archaeologists have suspected for years that the remains of Ahuitzotl, Axayacatl or Tizoc, the predecessors of Moctezuma Xocoyotzin, might be buried there, in the center of Cuauhxicalco, the 16 meter circle where Tenochtitlan’s elite held ceremonies of enormous importance. 16th-century chroniclers say that the remains of various rulers, cremated after their deaths, were deposited at the foot of the Templo Mayor, along with offerings of tremendous value, like this last one.

Unlike Leopoldo Batres (Mexico City, 1852) – pioneer of modern archeology in Mexico and famous for his excavations during the Porfiriato – who extracted, cleaned, photographed and analyzed his finds in just an hour; Now it takes months, even years, for the offerings to be dug up once discovered and then analyzed using the latest technology and under strict international protocols. Brushstroke by brushstroke, the new archaeologists slowly uncover beneath the earth Maguey thorns, bones, flowers, gold and wood… fragments of history that await the Mexica leaders.

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