Info on Aztecs
In some ways the Aztec empire was literally buried when the Spanish arrived. But Aztec artifacts continue to be found, which give us new and often surprising insights into the empire as it was. We're going to look at some of the most important artifacts that have been discovered.
Fired-clay Mictlantecuhtli Statue
Exploring the sacred precinct of Tenochtitlan (now downtown Mexico City) in 1994, archaeologists discovered a huge clay statue - almost 2 metres (6 feet) tall. The terrifying figure represented a form with much of its skin ripped off, with a liver hanging out. Holes were in its head, which many believe once held curly human hair. Some believe the worship of Mictlantecuhtli involved ritual cannibalism.
This figure, which probably dates from about 1480, was the god Mictlantecuhtli, the god of death and the ruler of the underworld. His hands are claws, held out in a menacing fashion.
Curly hair was typical of the gods of death and earth. It represented chaos. Was it the hair of victims who had been sacrificed which once adorned the head of this statue?
Cuauhxicalli Eagle Bowl (Aztec Calendar Stone)
Carved from basalt, weighing almost 25 tones, it was lost under Mexico City for over 300 years. Its discovery in December 1790 renewed interest in the civilization of the Aztecs.
This is perhaps the most familiar of the Aztec artifacts. It has become a memorable symbol of Mexico, showing the official Aztec view of the universe and its gods. Read more about this discovery and its meaning here: Aztec calendar stone
The Florentine Codex
The Codex Florentino has traditionally been one of the main sources of our information about the Aztecs. It is actually 12 books compiled by Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan who spoke the native language of the Mexica people. The codex was written with pictures, Nahuatl and some Spanish, and a complete translation out of the Nahuatl only became available in 1979.
The reliability of the codex has been hotly debated. Some feel it represents only what the Spanish wanted to see, not the real Aztec world. Others believe Bernardino de Sahagún mostly copied what was told to him by reliable sources. The continuing discoveries of Aztec artifacts in Mexico will no doubt increase our understanding of both the empire and the famous document that first introduced it to the old world.
Florentine Codex, from Book 9
The writing is Nahuatl
Aztec Feather Shield
Discovered perhaps 300 years after it was made, this was a very unusual find among other Aztec artifacts. Items like this don't usually survive long enough to be found, but this one was in incredibly good condition.
The shield is decorated with a stunning mosaic of feathers, with feather tassells hanging down, and a feather fringe around. A mysterious blue figure stands out on a red background.
The blue figure is thought to be a coyote. The coyote was a patron of elite Aztec knights, as was the eagle and jaguar.
But is it really a coyote? It has been suggested that it could be the water monster Ahuizotl of Aztec mythology. If that's the case, the shield may have belonged to the warrior ruler of the same name.
Also called the Teocalli (temple) of the Sacred War, the monument was commissioned by Moctezuma II to commemorate the New Fire Ceremony of 1507. It was discovered under Mexico City's National Palace in 1831.
Teocalli of the Sacred War (Moctezuma's Throne)
National Anthropological Museum (2009)
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