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Aerial view of Nahualac lake when dry. Image: Arturo Cruz, Terrasat Cartografía.

Has a Millennium Old ‘Floating’ Replica of the Aztec Cosmos Been Found In Mexico?

Mexican archaeologists claim to have unearthed a stone sanctuary in a small lake on the side of a volcano east of Mexico City that may have been created as a miniature model of the universe.

Stone "Tetzacualco” is a Miniature Model of the Universe

Phys Org reported that the stone "tetzacualco" (shrine) or sanctuary was excavated at Nahualac, a site at the foothills of the Iztaccihuatl volcano. According to the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), the stone shrine wasn’t the only find as ceramic fragments, lithic materials, lapidaries and organic remains were also found nearby, and which appear to be associated with the Aztec rain god Tlaloc.

Aerial view of the lake at Nahualac, Iztaccíhuatl, thought to represent the universe. Source: Isaac Gómez, courtesy of Archaeological Project Nahualac,

Aerial view of the lake at Nahualac, Iztaccíhuatl, thought to represent the universe. Source: Isaac Gómez, courtesy of Archaeological Project Nahualac, SAS-INAH.

The archaeologists speculate that the positioning of the stones is designed to depict a miniature model of the mythical universe as it was imagined by the ancient Aztec peoples. Additionally, experts suggest that the placement itself creates the effect of making it seem like the stones are ‘floating’ on the water's surface rather than lying on the pond bed. "The existence of a tetzacualco (shrine) in the middle of a natural pond and the optical effect that occurs when the water mirrors, from which it seems that the structure emanates, suggests that the place is the representation of a primeval time and space, a miniature model of the universe," the researchers stated as the International Business Times reported.

The small lake is situated in the foothills of Iztaccihuatl volcano. (Image: Isaac Gómez, courtesy of Archaeological Project Nahualac,

The small lake is situated in the foothills of Iztaccihuatl volcano. (Image: Isaac Gómez, courtesy of Archaeological Project Nahualac, SAS-INAH.)

Origins of the Universe According to Aztec Religion

In Ancient Aztec religion, the five suns were the key to the rebirths of the world. The story of creation is a story of birth, death and rebirth. It is said that when the world is destroyed, it’s born again through the sacrifice of one of the gods, resulting in a new sun. This is where the legend of the Five Suns came into existence, which is the five births of the world.

According to Aztec folklore, in the beginning was the void.  It was at some ancient time in the Aztec creation story that the dual god, Ometecuhtli/Omecihuatl, created itself. This god was good and bad, chaos and order, male and female.  Being male and female, it was able to reproduce with itself.  It had four children, which came to represent the four directions of north, south, east and west.  The gods were Huizilopochtli (south), Quetzalcoatl (east), Tezcatlipoca (west), and Xipe Totec (north).

The directions were very important to the Aztecs, since their empire was believed to be at the very center of the universe. The four gods created water and other gods, as well as the sea monster Cipactli.  Cipactli was a massive creature of indefinite gender and it was said to be part fish and part crocodile. It became the source of the cosmos in a very odd way.

Representation of Cipactli. In Aztec creation story, Cipactli was held to have created the cosmos.

Representation of Cipactli. In Aztec creation story, Cipactli was held to have created the cosmos. (Public Domain)

As the gods continued to create, they had a problem; their creations would fall into the water and be eaten alive by the bloodthirsty Cipactli.  The four gods attacked the sea monster, pulling it in four directions.  Cipactli fought back, biting Tezcatlipoca and tearing off his foot.  However, Cipactli was eventually destroyed. From this enormous creature the universe was created.  All the thirteen heavens of Aztec religion stretch into its head, the earth was created in the middle, while its tail reaches down to the nine underworlds (Mictlán).

Primitive but Impressive Natural Visual Effects

To conclude, one could say that according to the Aztec creation story the world is on the back of this mythical sea monster, floating in the water of space, just like the newly discovered stones are ‘floating’ on the water's surface. Archaeologist Iris del Rocio Hernandez Bautista from the Subaquatic Archeology Subdirectorate (SAS) of the INAH, also pointed out that according to Mesoamerican folklore and religion, the world was devoid of any land. She notes that Cipactli floated on the primitive waters and from the monster’s body the sky and the earth were created. She suggests that there was a ritualized command of the water coming from nearby springs to irrigate the pond in order to create a visual effect in which it seemed that the structure and the hills of stone floated on the water mirror, which in turn reflected the surrounding passage.

"These visual effects, in addition to the characteristics of the elements that make up the site and the relationship they have with each other, make us suppose that Nahualac could represent a microcosm that evokes the primitive waters and the beginning of the mythical time-space," she stated as the International Business Times reported.

The night sky reflected in the lake.

The night sky reflected in the lake. (Image: Isaac Gómez, courtesy of Archaeological Project Nahualac, SAS-INAH.)

Nahualac Site’s Rich History

Bautista went on explaining that the Nahualac site is split into two sections, with the first being the pond and the tetzacualco, while the second being detected around 150 meters southeast of the structure, over a wide valley which has several natural springs. Ceramic pieces with ornamental components closely linked with Tlaloc have also been uncovered at the site, "In this area, ceramic materials were identified on the surface, some of them identified as Coyotlatelco (750-900 AD), Mazapa (850 to 900 AD) and Tollan Complex (900-1150 AD). Altogether, the archaeological evidence covers an approximate area of ​​300 by 100 meters," Bautista said as the International Business Times reports.

The project has recovered numerous fragments of ceramics, stone tools and other objects at the site.

The project has recovered numerous fragments of ceramics, stone tools and other objects at the site. (Image: Isaac Gómez, courtesy of Archaeological Project Nahualac, SAS-INAH.)

Ultimately, she noted that there were also discovered several tripod bowls arranged as an offering, and that all the newly found materials are currently being examined and analyzed.

Top image: Aerial view of Nahualac lake when dry. Image: Arturo Cruz, Terrasat Cartografía. (INAH)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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