A dazzling carved relief of the golden eagle has been discovered in the heart of the capital of the Aztec Empire.
Archeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) discovered the relief carved into the volcanic rock walls of the Templo Mayor, the central temple in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, which is now Mexico City. It’s estimated the carved slab was part of the area’s floor and used during the rule of Motecuhzoma Ilhuicamina ruling between 1440 and 1469 CE.
The relief was originally discovered in February 2020 during ongoing excavations at the temple's ruins, but has since been subjected to further research that’s dug out its significance and deeper meaning.
Almost 70 similar pieces have been discovered in the Templo Mayor, but this is the largest found yet, measuring over 1 meter (3.3 feet) by 70 centimeters (27.6 inches). Along with its size, its significance is also underscored by its location within the temple complex. It was found in the central axis that crosses the “chapel” of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and the Sun, and the monumental sculpture of the goddess Coyolxauhqu, the goddess of the Moon or Milky Way.
“This floor is unique in the entire Templo Mayor as it contains bas-reliefs that allude to the dual conception of the building. On the south side, where we are exploring, there are elements like this eagle, linked to the mythical cycle of the birth of Huitzilopochtli; while to the north, the bas-reliefs located earlier – the first in 1900 by Leopoldo Batres, and the later by the PTM and the Urban Archeology Program (PAU) – contain representations associated with Tláloc, the water cycle and the regeneration of corn,” Rodolfo Aguilar Tapia, an archaeologist from the INAH's Templo Mayor Project, explains in a statement.
"It is a very beautiful piece that shows the great secrets that the Templo Mayor of Mexico Tenochtitlán has yet to reveal to us," commented Alejandra Frausto Guerrero, head of Secretariat of Culture of Mexico
As this relief clearly shows, the Aztecs had a deep cultural connection to the golden eagle. Within the city of Teotihuacan, archeologists have previously unearthed the bones of eagles, which were likely kept as captive animals and perhaps used in sacrifices to the Gods. The Aztec army also featured a special class of infantry soldiers known as the Eagle warriors who adorned themselves with eagle feathers and eagle head-shaped headgear.
Last month, archeologists at the INAH unearthed the grim story from the Spanish colonization of Mexico in the remains of an Aztec-allied town. Using their new archeological evidence and pre-existing historical accounts, they believe their discovery shows the site where women and children were slaughtered and mutilated by Spanish colonialists. The brutal attack was most likely an act of revenge after a troupe of the colonialists and their allies were cannibalized in the previous month.