Animals and the Sacred Precinct of Tenochtitlan: Biology, Archaeology, History, and Conservation

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

After eight field seasons (1978-2016) working at the sacred precinct of Tenochtitlan, the Proyecto Templo Mayor (INAH, Mexico) has recovered an amazing diversity of animal species. As a result, more than three hundred species have been identified. The resulting information has been on display to the public in a gallery devoted to fauna in the Templo Mayor Museum and has also been published in numerous studies on biological, ecological, and taphonomic aspects of the animals deposited in offerings. Among our principal conclusions regarding the faunal remains from the Templo Mayor, we can mention: a) the presence of species corresponding to six different phyla (Porifera, Coelenterata, Echinodermata, Artropoda, Mollusca, and Chordata); b) the predominance of species endemic to regions quite far away from the Basin of Mexico; c) the scarcity of edible species and the clear interest on the part of Mexica priests in those animals that were attributed with profound religious or cosmological significance; d) evidence of captivity; e) traces of cultural processes for modifying the animal cadavers, some of which may be qualified as "taxidermic" interventions; f) the use of fauna in offerings to re-create vertical tiers of the universe and with this to configure veritable cosmograms.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-14 of 14)

  • Documents (14)

  • The anahuatl pectorals from the offerings of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Belem Zúñiga Arellano. Adrian Velazquez-Castro.

    The anahuatl pectoral is one of the shell ornaments that have been found in the offerings of the great temple of Tenochtitlan. In paintings and sculptures, it is worn by Tezcatlipoca and deities that are stars and warriors, as Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli and Mixcoatl. Inside the offerings, the anahuatl are associated to items related to the underworld, sacrifice and war. This has led to propose that these pectorals represented the stars, which were the warriors during the night. The presence of the...

  • Analysis of elasmobranches from offerings 126, 141 and 165 found at the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Nataly Bolaño-Martínez. Oscar Uriel Mendoza-Vargas. Erika Lucero Robles-Cortes.

    Numerous fish from diverse species have been found inside the Great Temple offerings. These were transported from the coast to Tenochtitlan. During the seventh field season of the Templo Mayor Project, five sawfish rostra were found inside three offerings. By analyzing macro and microscopic structures, and through the comparison with modern specimens from the Ichthyology Collection of the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology, at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, these animals...

  • Conservation of sawfish rostra in the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Adriana Sanroman. Maria Barajas. Valeria Hernandez. Erika Robles.

    Throughout the explorations of the Templo Mayor Project, numerous offerings have been surveyed, most of them standing out for the large number of animal remains recovered including a great deal of sawfish, characterized by an anterior long and flat snout that has teeth on both sides. Their skeleton and snouts are chemically composed by hydroxyapatite and collagen in different crystalline arrangements. This causes the stabilization and conservation processes to be a challenge for the...

  • Crocodiles in the Offerings of the Great Temple: use and symbolism (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Erika Robles Cortés.

    The numerous animals placed in the offerings of the Templo Mayor were brought in through tributes, trade, or spoils of war from every corner of the Aztec Empire—from tropical jungles to deserts. Indeed, the largest part of the fauna included in the collection at the Templo Mayor is identified as foreign. Crocodiles are among the exotic animals on display. This presentation explains the process of how these crocodiles were acquired, from their selection, to their hunt or capture, and, later,...

  • Crustaceans as part of the Mexica worldview: case study of Offering 125 associated to the Tlaltecuhtli monolith (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Adriana Gaytán-Caballero. Belem Zúñiga-Arellano. José Luis Villalobos Hiriart.

    Tlaltecuhtli monolith was discovered over offering number 125. It was buried in the sixth stage of construction of Tenochtitlan Sacred Precinct during Ahuítzotl government (1486-1502). The offering was composed of biotic elements from Panamic and Caribbean provinces. A microcosm is reflected due the offering disposition, vertical levels represented biota and elements of underworld, terrestrial and aerial stage. The inferior level as underworld, recorded aquatic biota. Crustacean were identified...

  • First report of a dung beetle (Canthon cyanellus LeConte) found in an offering of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Mario Favila. Leonardo López Luján. Janet Nolasco Soto. María Barajas Rocha. Erika Lucero Robles Cortés.

    We report for the first time, the presence of a species of dung beetle recovered from an offering found at the foot of the staircase of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan. The dung beetle specimen was found on a copal (aromatic resin) ball and was identified as female of Canthon cyanellus, a copro-necrophagous scarab (Coleoptera: Scarabaeinae) by the presence of 4 clipeal teeth (exclusive characteristic of this species) and because its last abdominal sternite is continuous (characteristic of...

  • How Many Birds Does It Take to Make a Feathered Shield? The Resources and Techniques of Mexica Featherworkers (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Laura Filloy. Maria Olvido Moreno-Guzman.

    The Florentine Codex is an excellent source for understanding the manufacturing techniques used by Mexica featherworkers to make luxury items. It records many of the tools and steps necessary to tie feathers and produce multicolor mosaics. Historical information about the selection of the raw materials, their storage, preparation, and handling, however, is scarce. The meticulous study of two Mexica feathered shields has allowed us to understand, not only the materials used in their manufacture,...

  • Mammals in a Colonial Context (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Montserrat Morales. Edsel Robles-Martinez.

    The archeozoological studies about secondary contexts (dumps and construction fills) are important as they explain the customs of the people in a particular time. These studies, normally, are excluded from the archeological studies as funerary offerings, burials, activity areas, and so on, are the aim study of the archeology. Moreover, the secondary contexts, as they are not related to systemic contexts, are considered informatively poor. We studied the faunal remains of a Mexican colonial dump...

  • Paleopathology analysis of animal bones found inside the Templo Mayor offerings (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Israel Elizalde Mendez. Amaranta Argüelles Echevarría. Ximena Chávez Balderas.

    In the excavations conducted by the Templo Mayor Project during the last decade, more than 100 individuals –including birds and mammals- have been found. Thanks to interdisciplinary research combining biology, ecology and veterinarian medicine approaches, it has been possible to study bone anomalies produced by different diseases and trauma in several specimens, such as golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja), jaguars (Panthera onca) and wolves (Canis lupus). These...

  • Representations of fauna in mural paintings of Tenochtitlan (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Michelle Marlene De Anda Rogel. Fernando Carrizosa Montfort.

    The accelerated process of deterioration of the murals from the religious buildings of Tenochtitlan has threatened their long-term conservation. This has impulsed different activities including the creation of the project for the graphic documentation of the polychromy in the Mexica capital. It was specifically developed to recover and store, as an accurate witness, all the motives of the paintings, as well as its architectural context. Over the course of twenty years, the development of this...

  • Representing the Underworld: Manipulation and Reuse of Animal Bones from Offering 126 (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ximena Chávez Balderas. Jacqueline Castro Irineo. Karina López Hernández.

    Offering 126 was discovered during the Seventh Field Season of the Templo Mayor Project. This ritual deposit was buried in the West Plaza of the Sacred Precinct, during the reign of Ahuítzotl (AD 1486-1502). Mexica priests deposited inside a box made of stone slabs, more than 9,000 animal bones from 94 individuals, corresponding to wolves, pumas, jaguars, bobcats and birds of prey, among others. These animals were covered with a layer of marine organisms such as corals, shells, snails, starfish...

  • Starfish in the offerings of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Leonardo López Luján. Belem Zúñiga Arellano. Francisco Solís Marín. Carolina Martín Cao Romero. Andrea Alejandra Caballero Ochoa.

    Recent excavations carried out by the Templo Mayor Project in Tenochtitlan’s sacred precinct uncovered a significant number of calcium carbonate plates, which, in spite of their advanced degree of deterioration, can be identified as consisting of the endoskeletons of sea stars. These organisms belong to the Asteroidea (from the Greek aster: "star" and eidos: "in the shape of") class, most of which exhibit radial symmetry and have thin, discernibly pentagonal bodies. Sea stars inhabit marine...

  • The symbolism of the animals found inside Offering 125 of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alejandra Aguirre.

    In the seventh field season of the Templo Mayor Project, we discovered various ritual deposits in an inverted pyramidal monument located west of the monolith of the Tlaltecuhtli Goddess. We determined that this space symbolized the threshold to the underworld, or realm of the dead. In this space we made the exceptional discovery of the Offering 125, associated with the ruler Ahuítzotl (1486-1502 CE). In this offering we found three flint knives that were dressed like Ehécatl-Quetzalcóatl (God of...

  • Technological analysis of bone bloodletting instruments from the offerings of The Great Temple of Tenochtitlan (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Norma Valentin. Gilberto Pérez Roldán. Erika Lucero Robles. Israel Elizalde Méndez.

    In the seventh season of excavation at the Templo Mayor Project (2007-2014), 25 bone awls were recovered from offerings found in front of the staircase of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan. We were able to determine that the bone awls were elaborated from bones of birds and mammals, such as eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), jaguar (Panthera onca), mountain lion (Puma concolor), wolf (Canis lupus) and whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus). The bone awls were recovered from five offerings (120, 121,...