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Is this the urn with Ahuitzotl’s ashes?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Tecpaocelotl: I have a book which claims that this stone box contained the ashes of Ahuitzotl - but now Archaeology magazine suggests the urn with his ashes was actually dug up in 1900 by the Mexican archaeologist Leopoldo Batres. Can you help me get closer to the answer? (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: Snaps and quote taken by the questioner from the book ‘The Lost History of the Aztec & Maya’, with the cover and quote from ‘Archaeology’ magazine
Pic 1: Snaps and quote taken by the questioner from the book ‘The Lost History of the Aztec & Maya’, with the cover and quote from ‘Archaeology’ magazine (Click on image to enlarge)

The box in question is the stone casket, now in the British Museum, that was reunited for the first time in hundreds of years with what many believe to be its lid (held in the State Ethnological Museum in Berlin) a few years ago for an exhibition on the Aztecs in London. The book in question is The Lost History of the Aztec & Maya by Charles Phillips and David M. Jones (2004), and the issue of Archaeology magazine is the July/August 2014 special issue on the Aztecs.
This famous stone casket - tepetlacalli in Náhuatl - was, according to the entry in the British Museum online catalogue, acquired by the BM in 1872, which rules out the possibility that it was found by Batres in 1900. It has traditionally been associated with the Mexica ruler Ahuitzotl, as the lid has the carving of a water opossum-like creature with the same name (learn more from the link below...)

Pic 2: Late fifteenth century Mexica stone casket, British Museum
Pic 2: Late fifteenth century Mexica stone casket, British Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

Why would a respected journal such as Archaeology decide to write: ‘The greatest Aztec conqueror of them all, Ahuítzotl, was cremated upon his death in 1502 and his ashes placed in an urn at the base of the temple, according to sixteenth-century accounts. Archaeologists thought they might be close to finding his remains in 2006 when they excavated a stone inscribed with the year 10 Rabbit in the Aztec system (which corresponds to A.D. 1502) along with artifacts suggesting an elite burial. They now think that the urn with Ahuítzotl’s ashes had actually been dug up in 1900 by Mexican archaeologist Leopoldo Batres, who did not know he’d struck the Templo Mayor. At that time, the neighborhood around the buried ruins had few houses and a reputation for bad omens and ill spirits, likely a remnant of the site’s bloody history, says archaeologist Raúl Barrera.’?
We consulted leading Mexican archaeologist of today, Leonardo López Luján (member of our Panel of Experts). Ever helpful, he solves the puzzle...

Pic 3: Photograph of Leopoldo Batres at the beginning of the 20th century, Templo Mayor Museum, Mexico City
Pic 3: Photograph of Leopoldo Batres at the beginning of the 20th century, Templo Mayor Museum, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

‘It was the German Eduard Seler who proposed, at the beginning of the 20th century, that the tepetlacalli or stone caskets might have been funerary urns, based on various 16th century documents. However NONE of the tepetlacalli found over the years by archaeologists in the Tlalmanalco region and in present-day Mexico City have been found to contain the ashes of cremated bodies. In every case they’ve contained jade pieces, symbols and images of the tlaloque and ehecatontin, that is, symbols of rain and wind, all offerings in aid of good harvests and fertility. (There’s more on this in the Mesoweb article, below...)
’In the case of the tepetlacalli in the British Museum, remember that it’s covered with images of tlaloque flying among the clouds, sending down rain and corn cobs... The lid that now resides in Germany has on it an ahuítzotl, representing, as the informants of Sahagún tell us, the “animal companion of the tlaloque” and NOT the Mexica ruler.
’As for Ahuítzotl, several historical sources hint that his ashes might be found in ceramic or stone urns or wrapped in cotton capes...
’As for our excavations [at the Templo Mayor], we began the search for Ahuítzotl’s remains in March 2007. We called a halt in August 2013 in order to study the tens of thousands of objects found in offerings at the base of the Templo Mayor. We will re-start excavations at the end of 2014, in the belief that his remains are still to be discovered... What Batres found in 1900 was probably the grave of a high-level noble but, based on the objects found so far, I don’t believe it was that of Ahuítzotl...’

Pic 4: One of the many ‘ofrendas’ (offerings) found at the Templo Mayor, containing Tlaloque figurines; Templo Mayor Museum, Mexico City
Pic 4: One of the many ‘ofrendas’ (offerings) found at the Templo Mayor, containing Tlaloque figurines; Templo Mayor Museum, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

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El alemán Eduard Seler propuso a principios del siglo XX que los tepetlacalli o urnas de piedra podrían haber servido como urnas funerarias, esto basado en varios documentos del siglo XVI. Sin embargo, los tepetlacalli encontrados a lo largo del tiempo por los arqueólogos en las cercanías de Tlalmanalco y en la actual ciudad de México, NO contenían cenizas de cadáveres cremados. En todos los casos, todos contenían jades, símbolos e imágenes de los tlaloque y los ehecatontin, es decir, como símbolos de la lluvia y el viento, todos nos remiten a la fertilidad y las buenas cosechas.
En el caso del tepetlacalli del BM, recuerda que tiene las imágenes de los tlaloque voladores entre nubes y haciendo llover y enviando mazorcas... La tapadera que hoy se encuentra en Alemania tiene un ahuítzotl que, a mi juicio, nos remite a este “animal compañero de los tlaloque” según los informantes de Sahagún y NO al tlatoani mexica...
En cuanto a Ahuítzotl, de acuerdo con las diversas fuentes históricas, sus cenizas pueden estar contenidas en urnas de cerámica, piedra o dentro de mantas de algodón...
En cuanto a nuestra excavación, comenzamos a buscar los restos de Ahuítzotl en marzo de 2007. Hicimos un alto en agosto de 2013 para analizar las decenas de miles de objetos ofrendados en esa área al pie del Templo Mayor. Comenzaremos nuevamente a excavar a fines de este año de 2014. Creemos que sus estos todavía no han sido hallados y que nos están esperando aún... Lo que encontró Batres en 1900 fue seguramente el sepulcro de un dignatario de alto nivel, pero no creo que se trate de Ahuítzotl al analizar bien los objetos que contenía.

Picture sources:-
• Pic 2: Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum
• Pix 3 & 4: Photos in the Templo Mayor Museum by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.

‘Water-Dog Detective’

Read Archaeology feature...

Article by Leonardo López Luján on the water-related offerings found at the Templo Mayor; Mesoweb PDF, in Spanish

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