Aztec monks at Tenochtitlán supplied an entire galaxy of starfish to the conflict god Huitzilopochtli 700 years in the past, together with a trove of different objects from the distant edges of the Aztec Empire. Archaeologists from Mexico’s Nationwide Institute of Anthropology and Historical past (INAH) just lately unearthed the providing on the positioning of the Templo Mayor, the primary temple within the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, in what’s now Mexico Metropolis.
Ahuizotl, coast to coast
The providing included 164 starfish from a species known as Nidorella armata, identified much less formally because the chocolate chip starfish as a result of it’s principally the colour of cookie dough, but it surely has darkish spots. (It shares the nickname with the different chocolate chip sea star, Protoreaster nodosus, which offers a wonderful argument in favor of scientific names.) Nidorella armata lives alongside the Pacific shoreline from Mexico south to Peru, the place it hangs out on shallow-water reefs of rock and coral.
For Tenochtitlán, the closest supply of chocolate chip starfish would have been practically 300 kilometers away from the Aztec capital. Chunks of coral present in the identical providing got here from about the identical distance away however in roughly the other way—the western finish of the Gulf of Mexico. On the time, these things got here from the farthest japanese and western edges of the Aztec Empire, locations that the Aztec ruler Ahuizotl had solely just lately conquered.
Ahuizotl took the throne in 1486, and he jumped straight into two main tasks: renovating the capital, together with the Templo Mayor, and increasing the borders of his empire. His campaigns practically doubled the scale of the Aztec Empire, stretching Aztec rule west to the Pacific coast of Mexico and southeast to Guatemala. All that conquest meant that the Aztecs might simply convey starfish from the Pacific and corals from the Gulf of Mexico, together with an assortment of marine shells (and even pufferfish) to Tenochtitlán to put earlier than their gods.
Conquistadors smash the whole lot
Again within the capital, Ahuizotl ordered the reconstruction of huge components of the town. His efforts included increasing the Templo Mayor, which in Aztec phrases meant constructing a brand new, larger outer layer excessive of the earlier temple. (The prior development was typically ritually “killed” earlier than the brand new one may very well be consecrated.) That’s handy for contemporary archaeologists, who can date every layer of development on the Templo Mayor.
The oldest a part of the temple dates to round 1325, when a gaggle of individuals known as the Mexica migrated into the world surrounding what’s now Mexico Metropolis. There, based on Mexica lore, their leaders noticed an eagle perched on a prickly pear and consuming a snake; it was the signal their monks had advised them to count on from Huitzilopochtli, and it’s a picture you would possibly acknowledge from the fashionable Mexican flag. On the website, the Mexica constructed a metropolis known as Tenochtitlán, and from there, they dominated the Aztec Empire.
Huitzilopochtli shared the Templo Mayor with the rain and farming god Tlaloc; every god had his personal shrine on the high of the pyramid, reached by separate staircases. Ahuizotl’s enlargement, the place archaeologists discovered the starfish providing, is the sixth layer of the Templo Mayor. Just one extra layer can be added earlier than the temple’s destruction.
Ahuizotl was the eighth ruler of the Aztec Empire and the final to rule earlier than the Spanish conquistadors, led by Hernán Cortés, arrived and altered the whole lot. Cortés arrived throughout the reign of Ahuizotl’s nephew, Moctezuma II, who died combating the invaders. Moctezuma’s brother, who took the throne subsequent, died of smallpox, a illness introduced by the Spaniards. The throne handed to Ahuizotl’s son, Cuauhtémoc, who surrendered to Cortés in 1521, solely to be tortured for the whereabouts of principally nonexistent gold and silver. Cortés had Cuauhtémoc, the final ruler of the Aztec Empire, executed in 1525.