You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.
Click here to download Adobe Flash Player
General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 24 Mar 2017/11 Jaguar
Text Size:

Screen with scenes from the conquest of Mexico - Aztec musicians and dancers in a canoe

Click to see the latest Artefact in the Spotlight!

link of the month button
‘Call the Aztec Midwife’ - National Geographic feature

Dr. Caroline Dodds Pennock

Did they allow divorce? asked Ibstock Place School. Read what Dr. Caroline Dodds Pennock had to say.

Search the Site (type in white box):

Article more suitable for mature students

News report of archaeological discoveries at the Templo Mayor

IN THE NEWS: latest excavations...

Early in October 2006 news reports started flooding out from Mexico City that a major new archaeological discovery had just been made at the Templo Mayor site in the heart of the capital. (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: The Guardian, London, 18/11/06
Pic 1: The Guardian, London, 18/11/06 (Click on image to enlarge)

The two British newspaper cuttings above and left come from The Observer, Sunday 15th. October 2006, and The Guardian, Saturday November 18th. 2006, which named the monolith as Tlaltecuhtli (Earth Deity). Reuters reported at the time ‘Mexican archaeologists [have] unveiled the largest Aztec idol ever discovered on Friday and said it could be a door to a hidden chamber at a ruined temple under the heart of Mexico City.’ To any student of the Aztecs this was riveting news. Now finally (July 2007) we can add considerable flesh to this bony but hugely important skeleton.

Pic 2: Dr. Leonardo López Luján, Clore Education Centre, British Museum 14/7/07
Pic 2: Dr. Leonardo López Luján, Clore Education Centre, British Museum 14/7/07 (Click on image to enlarge)

On Saturday July 14th., the British Museum hosted an extraordinarily revealing and highly informative lecture by Dr. Leonardo López Luján, Senior Researcher and Director of INAH’s (Mexico’s National Anthropology and History Institute) Templo Mayor Project in Mexico City, entitled ‘From the Sun Stone to the Earth Goddess monolith (1790-2007): Archaeology in the Aztec Capital, Tenochtitlan’. Dr. López Luján, who is on our ‘Ask the Experts’ Panel, illustrated his presentation beautifully with slides both of the excavations themselves and of archaeological and iconographic evidence supporting the identification of the monolith as Tlaltecuhtli.

Pic 3: The Tlaltecuhtli monolith. Photo: Leonardo López Luján. Courtesy PTM-INAH, Mexico
Pic 3: The Tlaltecuhtli monolith. Photo: Leonardo López Luján. Courtesy PTM-INAH, Mexico (Click on image to enlarge)

The giant rectangular stone monolith, thought to weigh in at some 13 tons, and measuring 4m x 3.57m (making it even larger than the Sunstone, at 3.58m x 3.58m), was found, lying just 10 feet away from the Templo Mayor on the North side, on October 2nd. 2006, by members of INAH’s Urban Archaeology Team exploring the foundations of the Casa de las Ajaracas (on the corner of Argentina and Guatemala streets in central Mexico City) (Pic 3). The next day Drs. López Luján and Eduardo Matos Moctezuma - two of Mexico’s most eminent archaeologists - were on the scene.

Pi 4: López Lujan and Matos Moctezuma describe the discovery of the Tlaltecuhtli monolith, Arqueología Mexicana, no. 83 (2007), pp.22-23; note its comparative size!
Pi 4: López Lujan and Matos Moctezuma describe the discovery of the Tlaltecuhtli monolith, Arqueología Mexicana, no. 83 (2007), pp.22-23; note its comparative size! (Click on image to enlarge)

Broken into four pieces, still with traces of red, ochre, white, blue and black paint, and discovered face upwards, the figure was made of andesite stone, quarried by the Aztecs from the shores of Lake Texcoco, some 6 miles from the centre of Tenochtitlan. Clearly female - giving-birth posture, wearing a skirt and sporting alternating skulls and bones in the fashion of Coatlicue, the Aztec Earth Goddess - the deity’s immediate identity was uncertain, and the experts ended up with a group of six (including Coatlicue), all known as ‘tzitzimime’, on their ‘short list’...

Pic 5: Stone sculpture of Tlaltecuhtli, Templo Mayor Museum, Mexico City
Pic 5: Stone sculpture of Tlaltecuhtli, Templo Mayor Museum, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

Tlaltecuhtli (’Lord of the Earth’ in Náhuatl) (Pic 5) took both male and female forms - though could never be bisexual. (S)he played a classic dual role in Aztec beliefs: both generative (life-giving) and devorative (life-consuming) of humans. Most Aztec images of Tlaltecuhtli were sculpted on the bottom of artefacts (stressing ties to the underworld), whereas this colossal sculpture is believed to have had its frontal view facing skywards - the lower surface is visibly irregular, suggesting that the sculpture could have formed the lid or cover of a chamber...

Pic 6: Adapted from a drawing of the Tizoc and Ahuízotl Dedication Stone in ‘Aztec Art’ by Esther Pasztory, New York, 1983, p. 150
Pic 6: Adapted from a drawing of the Tizoc and Ahuízotl Dedication Stone in ‘Aztec Art’ by Esther Pasztory, New York, 1983, p. 150 (Click on image to enlarge)

The long spurt of blood streaming from the deity’s tongue (Pic 7) is a powerful visual representation of Tlaltecuhtli’s devouring role, and a symbol of the divine link between human sacrifice and providing sustenance [food] to the Aztecs’ gods. In the top half of a beautifully sculpted greenstone plaque commemorating the completion of the Temple of Huitzilopochtli in 1487 (now in the Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City) rulers Tizoc (L) and Ahuítzotl (R) pierce their ears with bones to offer streams of blood to Mother Earth (along the bottom) (Pic 6).

Pic 7: Blood streams from Tlaltecuhtli’s mouth
Pic 7: Blood streams from Tlaltecuhtli’s mouth (Click on image to enlarge)

A major clue to the monolith’s likely role came from the location where it was found: the works of Spanish and Aztec historians, such as Sahagún, Durán and Alvarado Tezozómoc, have all pointed to the fact that several Aztec emperors, including Axayácatl, Tizoc and Ahuítzotl, were cremated and buried in or beside the building known as the ‘Cuauhxicalco’, between the Templo Mayor and the ‘tzompantli’ (skull rack) (Pic 8).

Pic 8: The Florentine Codex (Book 12) depicts an Aztec ruler’s cremation in the ‘Cuauhxicalco’, right in front of the Templo Mayor
Pic 8: The Florentine Codex (Book 12) depicts an Aztec ruler’s cremation in the ‘Cuauhxicalco’, right in front of the Templo Mayor (Click on image to enlarge)

Tellingly, right in the bottom left-hand corner of the newly discovered monolith, within one of Tlaltecuhtli’s claws, is carved (Pic 9) the date sign ‘10 Rabbit’ - the year (1502) in which the emperor Ahuítzotl died (by an odd coincidence he was also crowned in another 10-Rabbit year, 1486).

Pic 9: The calendrical sign 10-Rabbit
Pic 9: The calendrical sign 10-Rabbit

The year sign 10-Rabbit can be seen (Pic 10) attached to Ahuítzotl’s name glyph and death bundle, alongside the figure of his nephew Moctezuma II (who succeeded him) in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis. [There is another possible reading of this glyph, as 12-Rabbit (oddly, there are a further two dots located on the other side of the incomplete rabbit glyph), linked to a famous eclipse in the year 1478].

Pic 10: Ahuítzotl dies in the year 10-Rabbit (1502), Codex Telleriano-Remensis, facsimile edition by Eloise Quiñones Keber, 1995, folio 41r
Pic 10: Ahuítzotl dies in the year 10-Rabbit (1502), Codex Telleriano-Remensis, facsimile edition by Eloise Quiñones Keber, 1995, folio 41r (Click on image to enlarge)

As Dr. López Luján explained (Pic 11) in his British Museum lecture, the Tlaltecuhtli monolith was found - just on the northern side of the Templo Mayor associated with Tlaloc - exactly where the historical record suggests are buried the ashes of Emperor Ahuítzotl.

Pic 11: Dr. López Luján explains the Ahuítzotl connection...
Pic 11: Dr. López Luján explains the Ahuítzotl connection... (Click on image to enlarge)

This in turn suggests that the monolith may actually have been the funerary slab for the emperor, one of the more successful Aztec rulers, whose name means ‘Water Beast’ and whose glyph can be seen clearly in a stone plaque at the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City (Pic 12)

Pic 12: Plaque with an image of an ‘ahuízotl’, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Pic 12: Plaque with an image of an ‘ahuízotl’, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

Tantalisingly, in recent weeks (June-July 2007) ground-breaking radar scans of the spot where the monolith was found have revealed up to 4 hollow chambers. Are archaeologists on the point of excavating the entrance to a royal tomb in the heart of Mexico City/Tenochtitlan...? As Dr. López Luján asked his audience to bear constantly in mind the fact that something like only 0.2% of the archaeological remains of Tenochtitlan have so far been excavated, we’re in for plenty more exciting finds...!

Acrobat logo Download the full article in ‘Arqueología Mexicana’, Jan-Feb 2007 (in Spanish)

Learn more about the ahuizotl

‘Arqueología Mexicana’ online, issue no. 83

Initial National Geographic News report

Latest news (Guardian 6/8/07)

Slow progress! Latest news (Darmouth.com, Feb ‘09)

Templo Mayor website (in Spanish)

Feedback button

Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: You’re right, there isn’t much authoritative material around on Tlaltecuhtli. The one item we would most recommend is the chapter on Tlaltecuhtli by Leonardo López Luján in the book he co-wrote with Eduardo Matos Moctezuma Escultural Monumental Mexica (Fundación Conmemoraciones 2010, Mexico, 2009). It’s in Spanish, though!
Mexicolore replies: Thank you for this interesting observation, Barney. Leonardo raised the high possibility, in his lecture at the British Museum at the end of 2009, that the elaborately-decorated canine could indeed have been the Emperor’s chosen companion to the next world: something roughly equivalent, in the United Kingdom, to a royal corgi?! We hope to ask Leonardo to elaborate on this in a future article...
Mexicolore replies: MANY thanks for this clarification, Leonardo! We’re all the wiser for it...
Mexicolore replies: Thanks for this, your point’s well made. We feel a little out of our depth here. We’ll ask Leonardo López for a clarification of this point. We understood Tlaltecuhtli to be one of the manifestations of the Tzitzimime...?
Mexicolore replies: This point is touched on above, Chaya: all these supernatural beings were closely related...
Mexicolore replies: Compartimos contigo la misma admiración por Leonaro y su trabajo tan distinguido. Nos sentimos honrados de tenerlo en nuestro ‘Panel de Expertos’...