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Leonardo Lopez Lujan delivers the Annual William Fagg Lecture on the Templo Mayor at the British Museum

‘In Search of Mexica Kings’

The Annual William Fagg Lecture at the British Museum was delivered (29/10/09) by Dr. Leonardo López Luján, co-curator of the exhibition Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler, Director of the Proyecto Templo Mayor, one of the country’s greatest living archaeologists, prolific author, member of our Panel of Experts - and good friend... (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

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After our last news update (summer 2007) on the all-important discoveries of recent years at the Templo Mayor site in Mexico City, exciting progress has been made but, as Dr. López Luján has stressed, such progress has moved forwards at a snail’s pace...

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When the latest monolith - rivalling the Sunstone in size - was unearthed, now nearly 4 years ago, archaeologists first suspected it was an image of Citlalicue (‘Star Skirt’): one of several deities with male and female forms; the fine quality of the sculpture indicated it had been made during the Aztec/Mexica imperial era, and traces of the colours red, ochre, blue, black and white, as well as of blood, were found on the figure. Soon the clues - curly hair, skulls, hair banners and stream of blood coming from the tongue - began to point towards the female aspect of the earth deity Tlaltecuhtli at her most voracious...

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Late in 2007, after the slab was temporarily removed for cleaning and analysis, a spectacular entrance was found, east of the spot where the monolith was discovered, with an inverted step pyramid shape, leading to speculation that the tomb of the emperor Ahuitzotl was about to be revealed. Aided by ultra-modern non-intrusive techniques such as 3D computer modelling and terrestrial scans, 7 superimposed entrances were pinpointed, going ever deeper underground. As a result of these new excavations, last June, the richest find of all was made, slightly to the west of the monolith’s resting place...

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... a rectangular stone box (with its seals still intact) containing the largest collection of artefacts in 32 years of archaeological work in the area (‘Offering 125’). Apart from dozens of gold ornaments and sacrificial knives, the casket was rich in sea offerings and well preserved organic materials. These included the pelt of a spider monkey, skeletons of golden eagles, and the skeleton of a dog bearing turquoise earplugs, a jade necklace and gold bells: clearly the Aztec equivalent of a royal corgi!

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In his superbly illustrated lecture, Dr. López Luján stressed the many unique risks and challenges associated with undertaking major archaeological work in the Templo Mayor zone, in the centre of a UNESCO World Heritage site, hindered by the instability of the clay subsoils, by the presence of countless electricity and ‘phone cables, drains and water mains, and by interminable bureaucratic red tape... It remains hard to believe that, after a century of systematic archaeological research, a mere 0.3% of the 5 square miles of the Sacred Precinct has so far been excavated!

Dr. López Luján concluded his lecture with a timeline linking the key discoveries made in the area since the famous unearthing of the Sunstone back in 1790 when, under Spanish rule, workers prepared for the laying of cobble stones in the Zócalo. The Templo Mayor itself was found in 1913 by Manuel Gamio (though it wasn’t until 1987 that the Templo Mayor Museum was opened), and in 2006 the Tlaltecuhtli monolith was only discovered after an engineer working on the new ethnographic extension of the Museum began drilling outside the legally prescribed area!

Made of pink andresite, sourced some 6 kilometers from Tenochtitlan - whence it was dragged to the lakeside and transported to the Sacred Precinct by a huge balsa raft - the monolith has so far only revealed one of its two sides. Who knows how much more will be visible in another two years...?

Picture sources:-
• All photos courtesy of Leonardo López Luján, except photo of his lecture by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

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