Aztec carvings tell story of cosmic battle
A total of 23 pre-Columbian stone plaques dating back over 550 years were discovered by archaeologists in front of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan in Mexico City, with carvings illustrating Aztec myths including the birth of the god of war Huitzilopochtli.
The sculpted images are carved on slabs of tezontle (a volcanic rock) and feature depictions of serpents, captives and warriors. They also feature other figures relating to the mythological origins of Aztec civilization.
The stone carvings focus on the myths of Huitzilopochtli’s birth and the beginning of the Holy War. Raul Barrera from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said they had been “placed facing what was the centre of Huitzilopochtli worship and can be dated back to the fourth stage of the Great Temple’s construction (1440-1469)”.
The Aztecs were a warlike and deeply religious people who built numerous monumental works including the famous Templo Mayor in what is now Mexico City. They ruled an empire encompassing much of modern-day central Mexico until they were overthrown by the Spanish in 1521.
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,” INAH archaeologist Raul Barrera said.
The cosmic battle
According to the myth of the God of War’s birth, the Goddess of the Earth and Fertility, Coatlicue, was magically impregnated by a ball of feathers that fell on her while she was sweeping a temple, and subsequently gave birth to the gods Quetzalcoatl and Xolotl as well as Huitzilopochtli. This pregnancy angered her other children who saw it shameful that their father was a ball of feathers, so 400 warriors from southern Mexico and the Goddess Coyolxauhqui decided to ascend Coatepec mountain where Coatlicue lived and kill her, however Huitzilopochtli springs fully armed from his mothers womb when he hears of the plot.
The legend about the beginning of this cosmic Holy War among the Mexicas says that during the journey the southern warriors made from Aztlan to Texcoco Lake (where they founded the city), star warriors from the north, called Mimixcoas , 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 moon and the stars,” The INAH spokesman continued.
One plaque 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. Another shows a captive on his knees and his hands tied behind his back. Looking closer you can see a tear falls from his eye. Another of the pre-Columbian carvings shows a the profile of a decapitated man wearing an elaborate feather headdress.
The Aztec built the great temple on the Pyramid in Tenochtitlan in his honour. At its completion ceremonies, it is said that more than 20,000 human sacrifices were offered in a four day celebration. The victim’s heads were strung as trophies on the ‘great rack’ (called Tzompantli) in the village below the temple.
Source: National Institute of Anthropology and History