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Uncovered: Ancient Aztec Temple And Sacrificial Ball Court in Mexico City

Buried beneath Mexico City streets for 500 years or so, archaeologists have uncovered the remains of an ancient Aztec temple, a ball court, and what seems like a sacrificial area. The remains are thought to date back to the Spanish conquest; this will help the team map out a more detailed picture of the metropolis of Tenochtitlan before it fell to the conquistadors.

Despite its ruinous end, the ancient temple is preserved in great detail, with white stucco still visible on some of the walls. The building may have been topped with a structure that resembled a giant, curled serpent, which the priests entered via a doorway made to look like its nose. It was located in the center of the ancient city, placed in the most sacred ceremonial region of the Aztec empire.

View of the archaeological site of the ancient Aztec temple of Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl and ritual Ball Game recently discovered in downtown Mexico City on June 7, 2017.

 

Archaeologists have also uncovered the partial remains of a ball court alongside the temple. Participants of the Mesoamerican ball game would only use their hips to hit a rubber ball around the court. These games often involved human sacrifice, with archaeologists finding 32 severed male vertebrae nearby.

“It was an offering associated with the ball game, just off the stairway,” archaeologist Raul Barrera said. “The vertebrae, or necks, surely came from victims who were sacrificed or decapitated.”

The uncovered structures are thought to have been built during the time of Aztec emperor Ahuizotl, who reigned between the years 1486 and 1502 and who was eventually toppled by the Spanish.

Archaeologists believe that the ball court may have been where the infamous conquistador Hernán Cortés watched a Mesoamerican ball game when he was welcomed into the city by Moctezuma, as described in the chronicles recounting the Spanish invasion and destruction of the Central and South American Aztec and Inca civilizations.

At the time of Cortés’ arrival in 1519, Tenochtitlan is thought to have been not only the largest city in the Americas, but one of the largest in the world. With a population estimated between 200,000 and 300,000, it would even have eclipsed London under Henry VIII during the same period. An astonishing feat of engineering, the city was built on an island and connected to the mainland by immense causeways running in all directions.

There are now plans to build a museum on the site and open it up to the public, although the date of this is still unknown.

Photo credit: ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images) | IFLscience

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