Archaeologists Unearth 600-Year-Old Golden Eagle Sculpture at Aztec Temple

February 5, 2021

The artwork is the largest bas-relief engraving found at the Templo Mayor to date.

Archaeologists conducting excavations at the Templo Mayor, or Great Temple, in Mexico City (once home to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán) have discovered a 600-year-old sculpture of a golden eagle, reports Ángela Reyes for CNN en Español.

Led by Rodolfo Aguilar Tapia of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), researchers from the Templo Mayor Project unearthed the sculpture last February. The eagle—carved out of tezontle, a reddish volcanic rock commonly used in both pre-Hispanic and modern Mexico—measures 41.7 by 27.6 inches, making it the largest bas-relief (or low relief) work found at the pyramid-shaped temple to date.

“It is a very beautiful piece that shows the great secrets that the Templo Mayor of Mexico Tenochtitlán has yet to reveal to us,” says Mexican Cultural Minister Alejandra Frausto Guerrero in a statement translated by Live Science’s Harry Baker. “Thanks to [the archaeologists’] effort and dedication, we can continue to recover our history and our memory.”

As Ashley Cowie notes for Ancient Origins, the sculpture was carved into the floor on the central axis of a chapel devoted to sun and war god Huitzilopochtli and a monument honoring moon goddess Coyolxauhqui. Researchers think that craftspeople created the engraving in the mid-15th century, during the reign of Moctezuma I (1440–1469).

Workers initially constructed the Templo Mayor under Itzcoatl (reigned 1427–1440). According to Mark Cartwright of Ancient History Encyclopedia, Moctezuma I and Ahuítzotl (reigned 1486–1502) later added to the temple by building over earlier structures. Both rulers sought to create a more elaborate monument than their predecessor, using materials and labor from neighboring tributaries to construct an ornate complex that eventually constituted 78 separate structures.

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