The Monolith of Tlaloc: Did Moving This Massive Stone Statue Incite the Fury of the Aztec God?
The Monolith of Tlaloc is a giant stone carving of the Aztec god of rain, water, lightning, and agriculture, Tlaloc. This monolith was once located near the town of Coatlinchan (which translates as ‘home of the snakes’). Today, however, the Monolith of Tlaloc is located at the entrance of the National Museum of Anthropology in the capital of Mexico, Mexico City.
Who was Tlaloc?
Tlaloc was one of the most important deities in the Aztec pantheon. The name of this deity is said to be a combination of two Nahuatl words, thali and oc, which mean ‘earth’ and ‘something on the surface’ respectively. According to Aztec belief, Tlaloc was a god primarily connected with meteorological phenomena that were related to water. One the one hand, Tlaloc could be a benevolent figure, as he would send rain, which was essential for agriculture as well as for human and animal life, to the earth. On the other hand, this deity could be a force of destruction, as he could also send storms or droughts to disrupt people’s lives.
Tlaloc, from Codex Rios p. 20R. (Public Domain)
As Tlaloc was such an important, and potentially fearsome, god, the ancient Aztecs placed great importance on his worship. The Great Temple of Tenochtitlan (known also as the ‘Templo Mayor’), for example, was dedicated to two deities, one of whom was Tlaloc. The other was Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war. The steps leading to Tlaloc’s shrine were painted blue and white. The former is the color associated with water, the god’s element. Additionally, offerings found in the deity’s shrine include objects connected to the sea, including coral and seashells. Once again, these connected Tlaloc with water.
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A drawing of Tlaloc, one of the deities described in the Codex Borgia. (Public Domain)
Monuments Honoring Tlaloc
Nevertheless, Tlaloc was worshipped in other parts of the Aztec Empire as well. In 2011, for example, it was reported that an 8th century AD monolith depicting an Aztec god was discovered in Mexico’s south-central state of Morelos. This monolith was engraved on its sides. These engravings included agricultural images, as well as the image of Tlaloc. Archaeologists have speculated that this monolith was used for ritual purposes, specifically for requesting rain from Tlaloc.
Another splendid artifact associated with Tlaloc was discovered in 2006 at the ruins of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan in Mexico City. This was an altar which is thought to be around 500 years old. It was uncovered in the western side of the temple site. The altar is made of stone and earth and covered with stucco. Tlaloc and another agricultural deity are depicted on the altar in the form of a frieze.
Chacmool, Tlaloc Temple platform, Templo Mayor. (Steven Zucker/ CC BY NC SA 2.0)
Still, arguably one of the most impressive depictions of Tlaloc is the Monolith of Tlaloc. Like the monolith unearthed in Morelos in 2011, this stone carving has also been dated to the 8th century AD. (Another source suggests that the monolith dates to the 5th century AD) Whilst the former was reported to weigh around 60 tons, the Monolith of Tlaloc is estimated to weigh around 152 tons. Due to its weight, as well as its height of 7 meters (22.97 ft), it has been reckoned that this is the largest known monolith in the Americas. It has also been observed that the monolith was never actually completed by its creators.
A historical photo of the Monolith of Tlaloc in Coatlinchan, Mexico. (Rodney Gallop, courtesy Nigel Gallop)
Moving the Monolith of Tlaloc
The Monolith of Tlaloc was rediscovered around the middle of the 19th century, and remained in the place where it was found (on a dry stream bed near the town of Coatlinchan) until the 20th century.
In 1963, the National Museum of Anthropology was being built in Mexico City and it was decided that this monolith be placed at the entrance of the museum. The people of Coatlinchan eventually agreed to this request, on the condition that certain facilities, such as a government road, a school, and a medical center, be built in their city. This was granted, and on the 16th of April 1964, the monolith began its journey to Mexico City. The Monolith of Tlaloc was transported on the back of a giant purpose-built trailer over a distance of about 48 km (29.83 miles).
When the monolith arrived in the capital, it was greeted by a crowd of 25,000 people, who were awaiting its arrival in the Zocalo, as well as an unusual storm, as the monolith arrived during the dry season. The out of season storm seems an appropriate coincidence for the upheaval of the giant idol.
The monolith of Tlaloc. (Jaontiveros/ CC BY SA 4.0)
The Monolith of Tlaloc has been standing before the museum since then and exposure to the elements has caused it to deteriorate. Therefore, in 2014, experts began to assess the condition of the monolith, so as to prepare it for restoration work.
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Mural section with Aztec deity, probably the Monolith of Tlaloc, on the outside wall of Millan Primary School in Mexico City (Thelmadatter/CC BY-SA 3.0)
Modern artists have drawn inspiration from Tlaloc and Aztec mythology, incorporating these ancient themes into their works to explore cultural heritage, spirituality, and the intersection of the past and the present. From fashion to urban graffiti, contemporary artists have created stunning paintings, sculptures, and installations that depict Tlaloc and Aztec mythology. They often blend traditional Aztec artistic elements with modern techniques and styles, providing a unique fusion of ancient traditions and contemporary aesthetics.
Top image: The Monolith of Tlaloc. Source: Public Domain
By Wu Mingren