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Tlaltecuhtli monolith below Tenochtitlan’s Great Pyramid

Exhibition photos from el Museo del Templo Mayor

On January 15, 2017, I was privileged to make a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and onsite museum in Mexico City’s Historic Center. I was doubly privileged in receiving a guided tour from Johannes Neurath, Carlos Mondragón, and Anahí Luna.

This blog post touches on the contents of a single room, that dedicated to the massive sculpture depicting the Aztec Earth Lord and a selection of the offerings placed beneath.

The monolith was an important part of Tenochtitlan’s public architecture. It was prominently displayed at the base of the Tlaloc/Huitzilopochtli pyramid which dominated the Templo Mayor. Investigators currently believe that it served to mark the location used for the ritual deposition of the Mexica emperors’ cremains.

There appears to be very little currently available in the way of English language literature related to the find. This post is a modest attempt at providing accessibility for non-Spanish readers. The photos of the monolith are meant to demonstrate its monumental nature—the publications listed in the Bibliography below include helpful in situ photos and an artist’s rendering of the monolith and Tlaloc/Huitzilopochtli pyramid prior to the Spanish Conquest. The photos of the artifacts and faunal remains are intended to demonstrate the elaborate nature of the offerings deposited beneath.

The Tlaltecuhtli monolith

Tlaltecuhtli monolith (3)

When in use, the monolith lay horizontal as here. This would have been the view from the steps of the Tlaloc/Huitzilopochtli pyramid. (López Luján and Chávez Balderas 2010, fig. 91)

Tlaltecuhtli monolith (2)

Dimensions: 4.17 x 3.62 x 0.38 meters;  weight: ~ 12 tons. (López Luján and Chávez Balderas, “Al pie del Templo Mayor,” p. 297)


A door behind Tlaltecuhtli’s head accommodated the deposition of offerings into the chamber beneath. (López Luján and Chávez Balderas, “Al pie del Templo Mayor,” figs. 92, 93)

Offerings recovered beneath and near the monolith


Articulated female eagle offering wearing a pectoral crafted from Pinctada mazatlanica. (López Luján, et al, “Un portal al inframundo,” p. 27)


In addition to the shell pectoral, the female eagle wore copper bell bangles around both tarsometatarsi. (López Luján, et al, “Un portal al inframundo,” p. 27)


Flint sacrificial blade as Ehécatl. Clothing and ornament materials: spider monkey fur, green stone, obsidian, gold leaf, copper, and shell. Dimensions: 23 x 12.5 x 3.5 cm. This type of artifact was unknown to archaeologists prior to its recovery in an offering box with 25 others just west of the Tlaltecuhtli monolith. (López Luján and Chávez Balderas, “Al pie del Templo Mayor,” p. 320)


Polychrome Aztec censor with bird of prey handle. Dimensions: 18.8 x 45 x 25.6 cm. Found just east of the Tlaltecuhtli monolith. (López Lujan, Humo aromático, figs. 10–11; López Luján and Chávez Balderas, “Al pie del Templo Mayor,” p. 314)


López Lujan, Leonardo, ed. Humo aromático para los dioses: una ofrenda de sahumadores al pie del Templo Mayor de Tenochtitlan. [México, D.F.]: Museo del Templo Mayor, INAH, 2012.

López Luján, Leonardo, Ximena Chávez Balderas, Belem Zúñiga-Arellano, Alejandra Aguirre Molina, and Norma Valentín Maldonado. “Un portal al inframundo. Ofrendas de animales sepultadas al pie del Templo Mayor de Tenochtitlan.” Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl, no. 44 (2012): 9–40.

López Luján, Leonardo, and Ximena Chávez Balderas. “Al pie del Templo Mayor: excavaciones en busca de los soberanos mexicas.” In Moctezuma II: tiempo y destino de un gobernante, edited by Leonardo López Luján and Colin McEwan, 294–320; chapter Notes, p. 332; consolidated volume Bibliography, pp. 333–40; consolidated volume Image Credits, p. 341. México, D.F.: INAH, 2010.


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