A total of 23 pre-Columbian stone plaques dating back approximately 550 years, with carvings illustrating such Aztec myths as the birth of the god of war Huitzilopochtli, were discovered by archaeologists in front of the Great Temple of Tinochtitlan in downtown Mexico City, the National Anthropology and History Institute, or INAH, said.
Bas-relief sculptures on slabs of tezontle (volcanic rock) relate the mythological origins of the ancient Mexica culture through representations of serpents, captives, ornaments, warriors and other figures, the INAH said in a statement.
The pre-Columbian remains are of great archaeological value because this is the first time such pieces have been found within the sacred grounds of Tenochtitlan and can be read “as an iconographic document narrating certain myths of that ancient civilization,” archaeologist Raul Barrera said.
The Great Temple was the most important center of the Mexicas’ religious life, built in what is today the great square of the Mexican capital known as the Zocalo.
The stone carvings focus on the myths of Huitzilopochtli’s birth and the beginning of the Holy War. They were placed facing what was the center of Huitzilopochtli worship, which means that, like the flooring of pink andesite and slabs of basalt, they date back to the fourth stage of the Great Temple’s construction (1440-1469), Barrera said.
According to the myth of Huitzilopochtli’s birth, the goddess of the earth and fertility, Coatlicue, was impregnated by a feather that entered her womb as she was sweeping. But the pregnancy angered her children, so the 400 warriors from southern Mexico and the goddess Coyolxauhqui decided to go up Coatepec mountain where Coatlicue lived and kill her, Barrera said.
The legend about the beginning of the Holy War among the Mexicas says that during the journey the southern warriors made from Aztlan to Texcoco Lake in the Valley of Mexico, where they founded the city, star warriors from the north, called Mimixcoas in Nahuatl, descended from the heavens.
“Both myths include the concept of a star war, in which the god of war and the sun Huitzilopochtli defeats the 400 warriors from the south and Coyolxauhqui, a clash that left in its wake the stars and the moon,” Barrera said.
Archaeologist Lorena Vazquez Vallin, for her part, said that another of the images carved on the stone slabs is a dart with smoke along its sides, in front of which an obsidian arrowhead was found.
Another shows a star warrior carrying his chimalli (shield) in one hand and in the other a weapon for shooting darts, the same that Huitzilopochtli used to conquer Coyolxauhqui.
One stone slab is sculpted with a figure of a captive on his knees and his hands tied behind his back. A tear falls from his eye and he might be speaking, Vazquez Vallin said.
On another of the pre-Columbian pieces is the profile of a man wearing a feather headdress with an earflap. He has been decapitated.