Mexican Earthquake Reveals Secret Temple in an Aztec Era Pyramid
The 7.1-magnitude earthquake which hit Mexico in September 2017 took hundreds of lives and caused considerable damage. At the Teopanzolco pyramid archaeological site, two temples were hit particularly hard. But as the foundations were shaken to their very center, a fascinating find was also made – a previously unknown temple was revealed. However concerns for the main structure’s safety means the temple might not see the light of day for very long.
BBC News reports that the discovery of the hidden temple was made when Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) were checking the Teopanzolco pyramid for structural damage. It is at the very heart of the Pyramid of Tlaloc, a building created to honor the Aztec rain god . The temple would have measured 6 meters by 4 meters (20 ft. by 13 ft.)
The Aztec temple would have measured 6 meters by 4 meters (20 ft. by 13 ft.). ( Melitón Tapia/INAH )
The Teopanzolco site is located in Cuernavaca in Morelos state, 70 km (43 miles) south of Mexico City. According to Televisa.news Teopanzolco was rediscovered about 100 years ago and it is one of the two oldest temples in the zone and it provided inspiration for the Templo Mayor .
Architectural characteristics, the location, and the ceramic materials found within enabled the archaeologists to date the temple to approximately 1150 AD. That means the temple was probably built by members of the Tlahuica culture, a group of Aztec (Mexica) people who lived in central Mexico at that time. Barbara Koniecza, an archaeologist from the INAH Morelos Center, said “it was not unusual for the Tlahuica to build on top of older structures.”
Nonetheless, Isabel Campos, an INAH director in Morelos, said the discovery of the temple was a surprise, “There was no news, until now, of the existence of a substructure within the pyramidal structure. What we found could correspond to Teopanzolco's oldest temple.”
INAH’s Georgina Yris Bravo told Televisa.news that the conditions are not great for the recently discovered temple. Humidity has taken away the paint, no offerings were found, and any artifacts that have been found are in pieces. While not much to look at, the fragments are still useful for carbon dating. Nonetheless, one interesting object which scientists are analyzing is a possible incense burner that was found in the temple.
Examining the walls of the newly found Aztec era temple. ( Melitón Tapia/INAH )
Although it provided them with a glimpse at the temple, for which the INAH are thankful, Koniecza said that the earthquake also caused severe damage Teopanzolco, especially to two temples. “The pyramid suffered considerable rearrangement of the core of its structure,” she said .
However, the worst damage was at the top of the pyramid, where two temples were already known to exist - one dedicated to the Mesoamerican god of the sun and war, Huitzilopochtli, and another to Tlaloc. Koniecza said, “The floor of both shrines sank and bent, which also put their stability in danger.”
The worst damage is at the top of the pyramid. ( Melitón Tapia/INAH )
Because the temple was found at the heart of the fragile pyramid, it cannot remain open. Isabel Campos, an INAH delegate in Morelos, told Televisa, “It has to be covered because it is the base and sustains the structure. All of the information has to be taken and then it has to be strengthened and closed up so we can keep the current structure.”
The INAH has already begun work to close the heart of the pyramid.
Because the temple was found at the heart of the fragile Aztec pyramid, it cannot remain open. ( Melitón Tapia/INAH )
There are seven known archaeological sites in Morelos and two of them are currently with restricted admission due to the earthquake last September: Teopanzolco is closed while conservation work is underway, Xochicalco is partially closed, and the other five are open to tourism.
Top Image: The temple was discovered when archaeologists were analyzing the damage in Teopanzolco pyramid. Source: ( National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH)