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Dr. Alfredo López Austin

Question for November 2011

Why was the statue of the earth goddess re-buried? Asked by Holland Junior School. Chosen and answered by Dr. Alfredo López Austin.

Pic 1: Drawing of the Coatlicue statue by Francisco Agüera Bustamante,1792 (published by Antonio de León y Gama)
Pic 1: Drawing of the Coatlicue statue by Francisco Agüera Bustamante,1792 (published by Antonio de León y Gama) (Click on image to enlarge)

Español
Algunos cristianos creían que las imágenes de los dioses eran cosas del Demonio y no querían que estuvieran expuestas. Además, tenían mucho miedo de que los indios, al ver las imágenes de sus dioses, volvieran a adorarlos y dejaran el cristianismo.

English
Some Christians at the time believed that the stone images of Aztec gods were the work of the Devil, and they didn’t want them on view. Besides, they were very afraid that the local Indian people, on seeing the images of their gods, would start worshipping them again and would abandon Christianity.

Pic 2: The famous Coatlicue statue, now standing in the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Pic 2: The famous Coatlicue statue, now standing in the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

NOTE from Mexicolore:-
Two giant and hugely important Aztec monoliths (single massive stone monuments) were uncovered in Mexico City in 1790 during major drainage and reconstruction work under Spanish rule. These were the Sunstone and the statue of the earth goddess Coatlicue. Mercifully, in the words of Ignacio Bernal, leading Mexican archaeologist and the first director of Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology (where the two figures have pride of place today) ‘The viceroy the Count of Revillagigedo ordered them to be kept intact, not destroyed as they would have been only a few years before.’ However, though the Spanish kept the Sunstone on public display (for a hundred years it hung on the side of Mexico City’s cathedral!), they re-buried the fearsome-looking Coatlicue (‘She with a Skirt of Snakes’), where she stayed for over 30 more years...

Picture sources:-
• Pic 1: downloaded from http://www.dsloan.com/Auctions/A23/item-leon_y_gama-descripcion-1792.html
• Pic 2: photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

Dr. Alfredo López Austin has answered 6 questions altogether:

Why do the 20 day signs run ANTI-clockwise on the Sunstone?

Who was the first archaeologist to find out about the Aztecs?

Why was the statue of the earth goddess re-buried?

How were the stars created?

What toys did children play with?

What’s the most interesting fact you’ve come across about the Aztecs? (3)

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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: Evidentemente, Coatlicue no es un palimpsesto (o algo semejante a esta idea). Las imágenes de los dioses suelen ser muy complejas en cuanto a los símbolos que las componen; pero no era práctica conocida el utilizar unas imágenes anteriores para modificarlas y “adaptarlas” a otra simbología.
La identificación actual del monolito se hace con base firme, pues del obvio significado de su falda (compuesta por un reticulado de serpientes) deriva la atribución que hoy se le hace del nombre de la diosa, “La Que tiene Falda de Serpientes”. A esto se agregan noticias documentales suficientes para enterarnos de su significado como deidad femenina y terrestre, partícipe en la mitología como la madre del Sol, de la Luna y de las estrellas.
Al respecto, puede consultarse un artículo de Leonardo López Luján, “El ídolo sin pies ni cabeza: La Coatlicue a fines del siglo XVIII”, publicado en Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl, número 42, 2011, p. 203-232, en cuya nota 66 (p. 221) el autor habla de las pocas noticias que se tienen de Teoyaomiqui y de Teoyaotlatohua. Sobre su simbología puede consultarse el capítulo referente a este monolito, escrito por este mismo autor, en el libro de Eduardo Matos Moctezuma y Leonardo López Luján, Escultura monumental azteca.
Alfredo López Austin.

(We’re indebted to Dr. López Austin for this expert reply)
Mexicolore replies: Thanks so much for this, Tecpa! A really graphic description giving an insight into the prejudices of the time...