The Templo Mayor excavation in present-day Mexico City has unearthed an exciting site; in March 2019, archaeologists found a cache of sacrifices and offerings that may indicate the burial of royalty. The trove was discovered near the holiest temple in the Aztec world, Templo Mayor, which has been described in historical accounts as the resting place of the Aztec kings. Archaeologists have never found an Aztec royal burial despite decades of excavations, but this recent discovery may lead to the first.
Due to a combination of Spanish post-conquest histories, which describe the cremation and burial of three emperors from 1469-1502 CE at the Templo Mayor, and a nearby monolith with an inscription dated 1502, the archaeologists theorize the offerings were for the emperor Ahuitzotl, who ruled from 1486-1502 CE.
The cache was found to have many items known to be associated with Aztec emperors and the god Huitzilopochtli, including animals, emblems, and the remains of a child, possibly a human sacrifice. Only part of the cache has been excavated thus far, and more testing is necessary to obtain details on the sacrifices. The presence of this trove and the items found in it, however, suggest the emperor's remains may be discovered later in the excavation.
One of the most impressive offerings in the tomb was a jaguar dressed as a warrior. The jaguar had its heart ripped out as part of a ritual sacrifice. Jaguars were highly honored in Aztec culture, used as a symbol of power and prestige. They were associated with royalty and acted as a protective animal, or nahual, for emperors; the presence of a jaguar sacrifice indicates the tomb may have belonged to an individual of high royal status, likely the emperor.
Furthermore, the jaguar was the symbolic animal of the elite jaguar warriors of the Aztec military. The warrior adornments on the jaguar may have connected the emperor to the strength and bravery commonly associated with them.
The tomb also contained a human sacrifice: a young boy of approximately 9 years old, dressed to resemble the sun god Huitzilopochtli; wings made from hawk bones were attached to his shoulders. The boy's heart may have been removed in ritual sacrifice, similar to the jaguar, but more tests will be needed before this can be confirmed.
Human sacrifice played a vital spiritual role in Aztec society. The Aztecs believed Huitzilopochtli was engaged in a never-ending fight against darkness, where the fate of the world hung in the balance. As Huitzilopochtli was the god of the sun, they needed to feed the deity with human hearts and blood to keep the sun moving and preserve the world.
In the large stone box containing the remains of the jaguar, there were several other offerings, including a spear thrower. The spear thrower, also known as an atlatl, is an ancient device that propelled darts and was usually associated with the Aztec gods.
In common representations of the god Huitzilopochtli, he is holding an atlatl; this is because in Aztec myth the god himself brought the tool to the Aztec people. It was more than an instrument of conflict; it was a knowledge ordained by the heroic god of combat.
The remains of the jaguar found among the trove had a carved wooden emblem of Huitzilopochtli placed on its back, and another of these wooden disks was placed with the remains of the boy. Huitzilopochtli was the god of combat and the sun, associated with warriors and rulers.
His symbolism ties in with the overwhelming emphasis on warriors and royalty in the tomb, and as the god who fought against the darkness and was powered by blood, he was the intended beneficiary of the jaguar and human sacrifices in the tomb.