Archaeologists announced this week that the remains of an Aztec ball court and a temple erected to the god of the wind, Ehécatl, have been found on a street behind the Metropolitan Cathedral, a few steps from the Mexico City zócalo.
It was seven years ago that surface work revealed a section of the ruins on the construction site of a hotel on the central Calle Guatemala.
Archaeological work in the intervening years by the city’s Urban Archaeology Program (PAU) has revealed parts of the temple and the ceremonial ball game court, which will soon be part of a subterranean museum.
Once open to the public, the museum will be located under the hotel, whose construction has also progressed. Since the land belongs to a private citizen, an agreement was reached with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and past and present will coexist.
While INAH has yet to announce an opening date for the museum, one of its emeritus researchers, Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, said construction of the hotel will in no way affect the ruins.
Further archaeological assessment has indicated that both Aztec buildings were in use for less than 40 years, from about 1481 AD until the arrival of the Spanish conquerors in 1519.
When in use, the Temple of Ehécatl was a 34-meter-long and four-meter-high structure that combined rectangular and circular architectural shapes.
According to chronicles written in the 16th century, the open maws of a snake had to be crossed to enter the temple proper.
Archaeologists have so far revealed the back of the temple.
Likewise, of the ceremonial ball court, called an ollamalitzli, only a set of staircases has been unearthed, arguably used centuries ago by combatants to access the tlachtli, the court proper.
The Calle Guatemala is aligned east-west, just as the ball court — with all the related solar symbolism — was in pre-Hispanic times.
There was another grisly discovery as well: 32 severed neck vertebrae belonging mostly to young men, some still attached to skull fragments, were found in that part of the dig. Specialists have inferred that these remains are linked to ball game-related human sacrifices.
“It was an offering associated with the ball game, just off the stairway,” said archaeologist Raul Barrera. “The vertebrae, or necks, surely came from victims who were sacrificed or decapitated.”
Matos told the news agency EFE that the bones will be part of the future museum’s exhibit.
The prominent archaeologist, who directed the excavations at the Templo Mayor between 1978 and 1982, added that the discovery of the ball court and the Temple of Ehécatl have ratified historical accounts written by early colonial-era chroniclers such as Fray Bernardino de Sahagún about Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire.
“Due to finds like these we can show actual locations, the positioning and dimensions of each one of the structures first described in the chronicles,” INAH chief Diego Prieto Hernández told Reuters.
“We’ve been working this area for nearly 40 years and there’s always construction of some kind . . . and so we take advantage of that and get involved,” added Matos.