The centuries-old burial site of a wolf that was ceremonially sacrificed and adorned with remarkable gold jewelry survived the pillaging and destruction of the Aztecs’ capital city and public works projects carried out at the turn of the 20th century.
The discovery was made last April in the heart of Mexico City, a few steps behind the Metropolitan Cathedral, on the spot where centuries ago a staircase began and led up to the top of the Huey Teocalli, the Great Temple of Tenochtitlán, known today as the Templo Mayor.
The remains of the wolf cub, about eight months old when it was killed, were found in a stone vault, buried over a bed of flint blades and facing west. A belt made with seashells and an assortment of fine gold ornaments adorned the body, which represented the Aztec deity Huitzilopochtli.
In the Aztec, or Mexica, culture, Huitzilopochtli was the god of the sun and war, and also served as a guide across the river of the underworld for fallen warriors.
The gilded wolf was buried during the rule of Aztec emperor Ahuízotl, between the years 1486 and 1502.
Archaeologists in charge of the excavation believe the jewelry is among the finest ever made by the Aztecs.
The quality and quantity of ornaments is uncommon, and includes 22 complete pieces that include pendants, a nose ring and a disc-shaped pectoral armor, all manufactured with thin gold sheets, chief archaeologist Leonardo Náuhmitl López Luján told news agency Reuters.
“These are, without a doubt, the largest and most refined pieces discovered so far,” he said. Forty years’ worth of excavations in downtown Mexico City have resulted in 205 distinct offerings, 16 of which contained objects made of gold.
The vault where the gilded wolf was found measures 0.34 cubic meters, and included other layers with remains of land, sea and air animal species, all loaded with spiritual significance in the Aztec culture.
These animals “communicated with the different levels of the environment where they lived, because they knew they had received the gift of life,” said religious historian Davíd Carrasco of the Harvard Divinity School.
Archaeologist López added that the experts’ preliminary theory is that the wolf cub’s heart was removed as part of the ceremonial sacrifice, which should be confirmed after the animal’s ribs are analyzed in a laboratory.
Captured warriors were sacrificed in a similar manner, but Carrasco remarked that this violence was not gratuitous.
The Mexica people “not only killed these creatures, or these people, and got rid of them. They cared for them in an elaborate and symbolic manner, because they honored their gods that way.”
The discovery of the gilded wolf’s vault was fortuitous, as are many recent discoveries in Mexico City’s Centro Histórico. This time, the demolition of two buildings made the discovery possible.
López told Reuters that the vault was damaged in the year 1900 when a water line was installed next to it. The workers at the time didn’t find the structure remarkable, but “if they had glimpsed the gold objects, they would have looted it immediately.”
Source: El Sol de México (sp)