December 18, 2012
The Tlaltecuhtli Monument
Ancient Mesoamerican art possesses the ability to inform, inspire, and awe any person that has the opportunity to look upon it, particularly the art of the Aztecs. Aztec art gives historians today a major clue into the rituals, beliefs, and daily lifestyle of this ancient civilization. Although many Aztec artifacts have been found in Mexico over the years (and are still being found to this day), one of the most prolific discoveries made of ancient Aztec art is that of the Tlaltecuhtli monument found less than a decade ago, which has provided important clues to further knowledge of the Aztec. In my paper, I plan to explain the Tlaltecuhtli monument’s important historical relevance, and the process in which I have worked to recreate a much smaller replica of this monument, which will hopefully accurately depict the power and beauty of the original. The Tlaltecuhtli monument was discovered in 2006 by Leonardo Lopez Lujan, the leader of an archaeological expedition that aimed to discover new artifacts around the great pyramid-like structure of the Templo Mayor in Mexico City. The monument was discovered while work on a new foundation was being done at the foot of the Templo Mayor, and Tlaltecuhtli was sadly found split into four separate pieces. The enormous Tlaltecuhtli is approximately fourteen by twelve feet, weighing in at a colossal twelve tons! It was carved with pink andesite, and in its renovation traces of the original pigments used in the carving (including red, black and blue) have been found. Regrettably, the missing middle piece of the monument has not been located. The Tlaltecuhtli monument is not simply informative of the Aztec culture in and of itself; it was more or less a beacon for archaeologists, showing them exactly where to look for more artifacts. The other artifacts found near the monument, along with information carved into the monument itself, helped in unearthing clues to the existence of a well-known Aztec ruler, Ahuitzotl. A large number of elaborate artifacts were found soon after the discovery of the Tlaltecuhtli monument: “López Luján and his crew have discovered, in a deep pit beside the monolith, some of the most exotic Aztec offerings ever found. Removing a stucco patch in the plaza floor, the excavators came upon 21 white flint sacrificial knives painted red: the teeth and gums of the Aztec earth monster, her mouth open wide to receive the dead. They dug deeper and found a bundle wrapped in agave leaves. It contained an assortment of sacrificial perforators made of jaguar bone, used by Aztec priests to spill their own blood as a gift to the gods. Alongside the perforators were bars of copal--priestly incense, another spiritual purifier. The perforators and incense were carefully arranged inside the bundle, along with feathers and jade beads.”1 1. Draper, Robert. “Unburying the Aztec.” National Geographic 218, no. 5 (2010): 110-135. When the Tlaltecuhtli monolith was found, López Luján noticed that the god depicted held a rabbit, with ten dots above it, in its clawed right foot. In the Aztec writing system, 10-Rabbit is 1502--the year, according to the codices surviving from the era, that the empire's most feared ruler, Ahuitzotl , was laid to rest amid great ceremony.2 The Tlaltecuhtli monument itself clearly illustrates all the physical attributes the goddess Tlaltecuhtli is known for: a splayed, frontal figure with curly hair, an open-fanged mouth, and personified joints.3 I keep referring to Tlaltecuhtli as a “her”, but in reality Tlaltecuhtli is dual-sexed, historically referred to both as a male and/or a female. Because Tlaltecuhtli seems to be wearing a skirt-like piece of clothing in this particular monolith, I will continue to refer to Tlaltecuhtli as a she. Tlaltecuhtli’s function is an important one to the Aztec culture; she is a goddess that needs blood to quench her thirst. To quench such a thirst, the...
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