Editor's Blog

Mysterious Sealed Chambers Discovered In Ancient Aztec Ruins

December 2, 2015 | by Ben Taub

Archaeologists thinks they may have found the burial chamber of Montezuma I in Mexico City
Photo credit: Archaeologists think they may have found the burial chamber of Montezuma I in Mexico City. Diego Rivera via Wikimedia Commons

In the heart of modern-day Mexico City lies the great Aztec temple known as the Templo Mayor, which once served as the sacred center of the Pre-Columbian empire’s capital city of Tenochtitlán. With the recent discovery of a ceremonial platform and two sealed chambers beneath the famous landmark, archeologists believe they may have the chance to unravel a mystery that has baffled them for centuries, by finally revealing the tombs of some of the great Aztec kings.

By continuing their exploration of a hidden tunnel that was discovered in 2013, researchers have now uncovered a passageway leading to a circular structure which resembles a Cuauhxicalco – a ritual space which, according to ancient reports, was used to burn the corpses of Aztec rulers. This was accompanied by two sealed doorways, which archeologists speculate could guard the burial chambers of these sovereigns.

Announcing the discovery, researcher Leonardo Lopez Lujan explained that “from what the sources say, the Cuauhxicalco was a structure of a funerary character, so we can speculate that behind these walls there might be two small rooms that contain the incinerated remains of several leaders.” Judging by the date of the temple, excavators believe that any tombs discovered here could belong to some of the earliest Aztec rulers, including Montezuma I, who reigned from 1440 to 1469.

However, archeologists are urging people not to get too excited just yet, as excavation of these chambers will not begin until next year, meaning that for the time being their contents must remain the subject of speculation. As several observers have commented, this is not the first time that hopes have been raised regarding the possible discovery of the remains of Aztec kings, yet so far all have ended in disappointment. Consequently, the funerary traditions performed after the death of rulers in the Aztec empire remain largely unknown.

Flourishing from the mid-14th century until 1521, the empire extended across most of northern Mesoamerica, with the capital, Tenochtitlán, being founded on an island in a now-dried-up lake at the site of what is present-day Mexico City. At its center was a sacred area surrounded by a wall, within which stood two stepped pyramids that served as shrines to the Sun god Huitzilopochtli and the rain god Tlaloc.

Historical accounts and archeological digs have provided details about a number of activities that occurred here, with much of this being centered around human sacrifice. According to some reports, more than 20,000 people were slaughtered here each year, with their hearts being removed from their chests and held aloft while still beating, as offerings to the gods.

However, with no deceased rulers as yet unearthed, historians remain in the dark as to how the empire’s kings were honored, burned or buried when they died.

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