Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Towering Temple Volume 54 Number 6, November/December 2001
by Colleen Popson

[image] Pico de Orizaba, home to an astronomical Aztec shrine (Scott Perkins) [LARGER IMAGE]

An Aztec shrine dating from the fifteenth century has been found some 14,000 feet up the 18,500-foot-high Pico de Orizaba (or Citlatépetl), Mexico's tallest mountain.

A team of Polish and Mexican archaeologists, led by Stanislaw Iwaniszewski of the State Archaeological Museum in Warsaw, Poland, and the Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia in Mexico, found the stone shrine, which may have been built to venerate the rain god Tlaloc. It is aligned with two nearby peaks, La Malinche and Cerro Tlaloc, suggesting it also served as part of an astronomical observatory complex. The alignment formed by the three mountains follows the rising sun on February 9 and 10 and November 1 and 2.

"The more we know about the Aztecs the more we become aware of the profound significance of mountains in their cosmic world view," says archaeoastronomer Anthony Aveni of Colgate University. "We already know the Aztecs singled out particular mountains in the landscape for the purpose of conducting rites to Tlaloc to pay the debt due him for bringing the rain.... We know that they made child sacrifices on some of these mountain peaks and that many of them figured in solar alignment schemes for the purpose of scheduling such seasonal rites."

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America