In the heart of downtown Mexico City, an exhibition opened its doors, shedding light on intricate Aztec ritual offerings excavated from beneath the bustling streets. This unparalleled showcase offers visitors a deeper understanding of pre-Hispanic art and religious customs, redefining our perceptions of this ancient civilization.
Crafted meticulously from wood, the artifacts include carved masks that highlight the artisans’ incredible attention to detail. There are also sculpted scepters, which historical accounts believe might have been held by deities in ancient rituals. Among the collection, weapons hold a special place as they were buried alongside animals, which were ritualistically dressed as both male and female deities and warriors.
The showcased artifacts have their origins in the ruins of the Aztecs’ most sacred shrine, which today lies in close proximity to the Templo Mayor Museum. Many of these priceless relics were discovered in sealed stone containers, having been ensconced in the earth for over half a millennium.
Maria Barajas, the exhibit’s curator, highlighted the delicate nature of the artifacts, particularly the small carved masks. “A lot of them symbolize warriors who perished in battle. The half-open eyes, even the slightly agape mouth, tells a story,” she observed. The fleeting nature of wooden artifacts, which decay quickly unless preserved in specific temperature and humidity conditions, makes this exhibit even more extraordinary.
To ensure the artifacts remain intact, preservationists replace the moisture within the wood with synthetic sugars, preventing disintegration. This intricate procedure can span an entire year. Furthermore, the exhibition employs strict humidity controls to guarantee the artifacts’ longevity. On closer observation, one can still discern traces of original paint on several artifacts. An intriguing piece carved from copal resin stands out, adorned with blue wooden embellishments that represent an assistant to the Aztec rain god, Tlaloc. This artifact portrays a serpent scepter on one side, symbolizing lightning, while the other side features a diminutive water jug.
Adriana Sanroman, another curator of the exhibit and also the head of restoration for the ongoing Templo Mayor excavations, explains its significance. “The ritual involved breaking the jars with the scepter, symbolizing the release of rain,” she mentioned. Sanroman also drew attention to a pair of scepters showcasing miniature, lifelike hands. These, she believes, were associated with Mictlantecuhtli, the god of death. “This deity is frequently depicted in varying states of decomposition, often carrying disjointed body parts,” Sanroman elucidated.
The exhibit doesn’t limit itself to newly discovered pieces. It also boasts renowned Aztec wooden masterpieces borrowed from other prestigious museums. Among these are a meticulously carved drum and a life-sized sculpture representing the god of pulque, a cherished alcoholic beverage of the Aztecs.
Despite the Aztecs’ reputation as formidable warriors, only a single original Aztec sword has survived the ravages of time. This sword, also part of the exhibit, features a wooden flat club design with a groove for embedding razor-sharp obsidian, a type of volcanic glass.
Patricia Ledesma, the museum’s director, emphasized the rare and delicate nature of the artifacts. “This exhibition offers a window into a bygone era where wood was artistically elevated,” she said. “We can only marvel at the vast array of stunning artifacts created by pre-Hispanic hands.”