Saturday, December 29, 2007

Early Aztec Pyramid Found in Tlatelolco, Central Mexico City

Known locally as the Plaza de los Tres Culturas, a dismal setting for tourists, and a lethal one back in 1968, when 300 students were gunned down during a demonstration there, this location in Mexico City, known in the past as Tlatelolco, has something of a chequered past, with the bloodbath of 1968 becoming a faint echo of an even worse atrocity which took place there back in 1521, when it is estimated that 40,000 inabitants were slaughtered in a single day at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors, led by Hernán Cortés.

On a slightly brighter note comes news of the discovery of a pyramid there, described for us here by Reuters...

Archeologists have discovered the ruins of an 800-year-old Aztec pyramid in the heart of the Mexican capital that could show the ancient city is at least a century older than previously thought.

Mexican archeologists found the ruins, which are about 36 feet (11 metres) high, in the central Tlatelolco area, once a major religious and political centre for the Aztec elite.

Since the discovery of another pyramid at the site 15 years ago, historians have thought Tlatelolco was founded by the Aztecs in 1325, the same year as the twin city of Tenochtitlan nearby, the capital of the Aztec empire, which the Spanish razed in 1521 to found Mexico City, conquering the Aztecs.

The pyramid, found last month as part of an investigation begun in August, could have been built in 1100 or 1200, signalling the Aztecs began to develop their civilization in the mountains of central Mexico earlier than believed.

"We have found the stairs of this, much older pyramid. The (Aztec) timeline is going to need to be revised," archaeologist Patricia Ledesma said at the site on Thursday...

...Ledesma and the archaeological group's coordinator, Salvador Guilliem, said they will continue to dig and study the area next year to get a better idea of the pyramid's size and age.

The archeologists also have detected a sculpture that could be of the Aztec rain god Tlaloc, or of the god of the sky and earth Tezcatlipoca.

In addition, the dig has turned up five skulls and a series of rooms near the pyramid that could date from 1431.

"What we hope to find soon should tell us much more about the society of Tlatelolco," said Ledesma.

Mexico City is littered with pre-Hispanic ruins. In August, archeologists in the city's crime-ridden Iztapalapa district unearthed what they believe may be the main pyramid of Tenochtitlan.

One of the great losses to archaeology, and indeed the Aztecs, was the complete destruction of the ancient city of Tenochtitlan, as can be gathered from this description...

"Tenochtitlan," as the Aztecs called the metropolis at the heart of their tribute empire, has always had the capacity to astonish outsiders. The first Europeans to see it were the small band of Spanish adventurers led by Hernan Cortès who were to become its conquerors. As they crossed a snowy pass into the shallow cup of a wide valley in central Mexico late in November 1519, they saw a sight they could not easily believe.

A great white city, lightly moored to the shores by three long causeways, floated on a shimmering lake. The last city they had seen was Seville, the largest in Spain, sheltering more than sixty thousand souls. This lake-borne city was almost four times as large, with thousands more people clustered in the "suburbs" fringing the mainland.

And this city, unlike the cramped muddle of houses, streets, and byways that made up medieval Spanish towns, had been planned. Its habitations were neatly packed within a ruler-straight grid of canals and footpaths, so Cortès and his men could see four processional ways converging on a central precinct where temples and pyramids rose in the morning air like man-made mountains.

No encrustations of smoke or dirt sullied these fairytale structures: they were brilliant with colored stuccos, and even the humblest dwellings, some of them crested with roof-gardens, shone with whitewash.

In old age, Bernal Diaz, a Spanish foot-soldier in that long-ago campaign and still our best and most engaging witness, remembered the impact of the "enchanted vision" of the magical city, with its "pyramids and buildings rising from the water . . . Indeed, some of our soldiers," he reported, "asked whether it was not all a dream."

For the inhabitants of Tenochitlan, the arrival of the Europeans turned out to be a terminal nightmare from which they never awoke.

image : El Mercado de Tlatelolco - Mural de Diego Rivera, from here

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