HISTORY

Archeologists in Mexico City unearth Aztec temple under supermarket

Well-preserved circular site in Tlatelolco is dedicated to wind deity and dates back nearly 700 years

The INAH's Eduardo Luna at the excavation site.
The INAH's Eduardo Luna at the excavation site.INAH

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The circular platform, approximately 11 meters in diameter and 1.2 meters high, was found three meters below ground level during the construction of a shopping mall in Tlatelolco, a city that was once a rival to nearby Tenochtitlan.

“The structure is very important because it was part of the sacred area of Tlatelolco," said Pedro Francisco Sanchez Nava, national archaeology coordinator at the INAH.

During the excavation, archaeologists have discovered some 43,000 objects. These include at least 20 graves of adults and children, as well as the remains of animal offerings and of censers and ceramic figurines used to prey to Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl who was thought to have the power to create rainfall with the wind during periods of drought.

The temple, located just across from the Plaza of the Three Cultures, where Mexican security forces gunned down dozens of students and protesters in 1968, is a “glimpse into the past, a place that opens up for us, from the archeological side, to understand the development of the cities that preceded us,” said Sánchez.

Archeologists have been working on the site since 2014 and expect to finish this month

Given the archaeological potential of the area, officials from the INAH worked closely with the mall developers during each step of the demolition and excavation process.

The relevance of the discovery in the context of the Mexica-Tlatelolca culture was such that the construction company ceded to INAH the 300-square-meter piece of land where the pyramidal base was found.

“We weren’t expecting to find this pyramidal structure. Given its magnitude and degree of preservation, it was decided to leave it exposed, giving the community a chance to get a glimpse of our past,” said Sánchez.

The INAH says it will protect the area with an “archaeological window.”

“In order to protect the pyramid, a wall will be built around it . . . a ramp and a railing will also be set up, allowing the public to see at least half the temple,” explained Villegas.

Almost 70 pyramidal structures have been found at the Tlatelolco Ceremonial Center, with around 40 more detected under nearby streets.

The INAH says that the temple was built in three phases. The first would have been around 1337, the second between 1376 and 1417, which is the best-preserved part, and the final would have been constructed around 1427, of which little remains.

The wind deity Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl was thought to be able to provoke rainfall during times of drought

The temple may well have been damaged during the construction of the supermarket above it, during the 1950s, said Eduardo Luna, the project’s supervisor. The team of 12 archeologists has been working on the site since 2014 and expect to finish by December.

Tenochtitlán, located in and around what is today downtown Mexico City, was a political and religious center, while Tlatelolco was one of the most important trading points in Mesoamerica. When Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortes arrived in 1519, he wrote about Tlatelolco, which by then had been taken over by Tenochtitlan.

When the Spanish launched their attack on Tenochtitlan, many residents fled to Tlatelolco, which became one of the last areas to hold out against the conquistadores.

English version by Nick Lyne.