Aztec Sites Discovered Beneath Modern Mexico City

An ancient temple and ball field have been unearthed.

Aztec Sites Discovered Beneath Modern Mexico City

Mexico City


The funny thing about old cities: There likely are even older ones lurking down below. This basic rule of archaeology was on full display in Mexico earlier this week, when modern-day researchers found an ancient Aztec temple and ball court buried in the heart of bustling Mexico City.

The sites, which together span the better part of a city block, were unearthed during the early stages of expansion on a 1940s-era hotel damaged in a 1985 earthquake. The find sits just off Zocalo Plaza and a stone’s throw from the city’s colonial-era Roman Catholic cathedral.

According to an article from Reuters, the sites predate the Spanish invasion, which was more than 500 years ago. That same story says the findings reveal a section of a huge circular-shaped temple dedicated to the Aztec wind god Ehecatl and a smaller part of a ritual ball court.

Many other details from the site came from the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH), which issued a press release last week. That document indicates that archaeologists believe the temple was built during the 1486-1502 reign of Aztec Emperor Ahuizotl, which preceded the arrival of Cortes.

The INAH release also quoted Aztec archaeologist Eduardo Matos as saying the top of the temple was built to resemble a coiled snake.

The temple and ball court weren’t the only major discoveries; the Associated Press said archaeologists also excavated a pile of 32 severed male neck bones. Because of the way the bones were buried together and because of the evidence of trauma, researchers believe the bones were from men decapitated in some sort of religious ceremony.

(A bizarre article in the Daily Mail links the decapitations to the ball field, saying losers were killed.)

In most cases, archaeological discoveries of this magnitude lead to the creation of a museum to celebrate (and protect) the sites, and Mexican officials suggested this site would be no exception. That museum could open as soon as next year.

This temple is only the latest vestige of yesteryear to be found beneath modern-day Mexico City; an article from Smithsonian reminded that an even older temple was discovered beneath a supermarket in 2016. Both findings are part of what archaeologists call Templo Mayor, which archaeologists consider to be a “great temple site” that underlies most of downtown Mexico City.

Given the urban area’s colorful past, there’s no doubt that additional temples and structures will be unearthed in the months and years ahead.

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Matt Villano is a writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. To learn more about him, visit
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