Volcanology and archaeology don’t always combine, but when they do, the results are spectacular. Remember that volcano-like temple built in Peru that was probably designed with eclipses in mind? How about those 19,000-year-old footprints preserved in volcanic ash over in Tanzania?
Now we head to Mexico, where outlets have reported that a volcano just east of the capital has something rather curious sitting next to it: a model of the universe dating back perhaps a millennium or so. The source of the reports appear to be the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), whose explorations near the volcano of Iztaccihuatl led to the discovery of the stone-based microcosm of the cosmos.
First, let’s take a look at Iztaccihutal, whose name, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program, means the “Woman in White”, apparently because the volcano’s profile from the Valley of Mexico looks like a snoozing lady. It’s 5,230 meters (17,154 feet) high, and a stratovolcano, with an extremely quiet recent history, geologically speaking.
It’s an impressive site, and one that clearly had an impact on the Mesoamerican populations that inhabited the area back then.
As explained in the INAH press release accompanying the latest revelation, one such creation myth suggests that a fellow name Cipactli – the “monster of the Earth” – created the sky and the earth from his body. At the base of this particular volcano, the so-called Nahualac site is thought to depict such a myth in some form, especially now the stone shrine has been excavated from the area’s seasonal pond.
The shrine, or tetzacualo, was found in the center of this pond, whose position and topography allow for a glorious reflection of the sky and the surrounding landscape. Both the shrine and the lake are collectively thought to represent the model of the universe – a “representation of a primeval time and space,” according to the INAH.
The site of Nahualac itself was first referenced in modern times by a French explorer back in the 19th century, but it was only described in detail for the first time in 1957. Since then, increased amounts of archaeological evidence has made its way to the appropriate experts.
The stone shrine, found within the pond itself, is the latest piece of the puzzle to emerge.