Aztec Temple, Ball Court and 32 Neck Bones Discovered in the Heart of Mexico City
Archaeologists announced on Wednesday that important remains of a significant Aztec temple and a ceremonial ball court have been discovered in downtown Mexico City. According to the experts, the finds will shed new light on the holy spaces of the metropolis that Spaniard conquistadors invaded five hundred years ago.
Structural Finds Corroborate Spanish Chronicles
The discoveries took place on an undistinguished side street behind the city's colonial-era Roman Catholic cathedral off the main Zocalo plaza, on the grounds of a 1950s-era hotel. The underground excavations exposed a segment of what was the foundation of an enormous, circular-shaped temple in honor of the Aztec wind god Ehecatl, and a smaller part of a ritual ball court. The find matches with chronicles of the first Spaniard historians to visit the Aztec imperial capital, Tenochtitlan. "Due to finds like these, we can show actual locations, the positioning and dimensions of each one of the structures first described in the chronicles," said Diego Prieto, head of Mexico's main anthropology and history institute as Reuters reports.
Small detail of a reproduction of a mural at the Tepantitla complex of Teotihuacan depicting a ball player (CC BY 2.0)
Researchers also uncovered a ghastly offering of thirty-two severed male neck vertebrae discovered in a pile just off the court. "It was an offering associated with the ball game, just off the stairway. The vertebrae, or necks, surely came from victims who were sacrificed or decapitated," tells Reuters archaeologist Raul Barrera.
Impressive Temple Dominated All of Mexico’s Buildings
Some of the original white stucco remains are still visible on parts of the temple, which was constructed during the 1486-1502 reign of Aztec Emperor Ahuizotl, predecessor of Moctezuma, who conquistador Hernan Cortes defeated during the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
Accounts from Spaniard historians, mention how a younger Moctezuma disrespected and played against an elderly allied king on the ceremonial court and lost, a fact that was seen as an omen that the Aztec Empire's days were numbered.
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The Spanish invade Tenochtitlan, Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire (Public Domain)
The fall of Tenochtitlan is an important event in the history of the Americas as it marks the end of the Aztec Empire. This event took place on August 13, 1521 and was the result of a three-month long siege. However, it may be said that the Spanish were not really the masters of Mexico yet, and they would only achieve this status some decades later.
Despite the Aztec Empire coming to an end, local resistance continued outside Tenochtitlan, which would take the Spanish about 60 grueling years to completely suppress. Hence, the fall of Tenochtitlan is often regarded as the end of the first phase of the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
According to Aztec archaeologist Eduardo Matos the top of the temple was constructed in a way to resemble a coiled snake, with priests entering though a doorway made to look like a serpent's nose.
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Previously excavated ruins at the nearby Templo Mayor site in Mexico City (CC BY-SA 4.0)
More Discoveries Are Expected
According to local authorities, when excavations finish, a museum is planned to be constructed on the site, next to the modern buildings of the capital.
As Eduardo Matos claims, Mexico City, including its many colonial-era buildings with their own protections, was built above the razed ruins of the Aztec capital, and more discoveries are expected to take place, "We've been working this area for nearly 40 years, and there's always construction of some kind ... and so we take advantage of that and get involved," he tells Reuters on a positive and optimistic note for the near future.
Top image: Drawing of what part of Tenochtitlan city (now Mexico City), location of the temple and ball court, may have looked like, based on the Spanish chronicles. (Public Domain)