Photograph courtesy Héctor Montaño, INAH

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A museum exhibits the bones of crocodiles once offered to Aztec gods.

Photograph courtesy Héctor Montaño, INAH

More Than 400 Animals Offered to Aztec Gods

Archaeologists reveal details of bones from sacred precinct in Mexico City.

Archaeologists have identified more than 400 species of animals among offerings found at the site of Tenochtitlan, the ancient capital of the Aztecs.

In this great city, the pyramid now known as the Templo Mayor towered above a ceremonial precinct. Beginning in the 14th century, the Aztecs made offerings to their gods there, ritually interring the bodies of animals that held great symbolic meaning for them.

Today the ruins of this holy space lie in the heart of Mexico City. Archaeologists have labored there for more than three decades, uncovering a wealth of information about the culture that Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés encountered when he marched into central Mexico in 1519.

Some 160 offering deposits have come to light so far, according to a recent report from Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). About 60 of these included animals, some native to the area and others probably acquired through tribute or trade. The offerings, experts believe, were made between 1440 and 1520, likely to mark new construction phases of the Templo Mayor and nearby sacred buildings. They were dedicated to the two deities whose shrines stood beside each other atop the pyramid—Tlaloc, the god of rain, and Huitzilopochtli, the god of war.

Here's a rundown of the creatures—finned, feathered, fur-covered, shell-dwelling, and scaly—described by INAH biologist Norma Valentín Maldonado in a recent lecture at the Museum of the Templo Mayor:

Fish and Shellfish

Mollusks were deposited in the greatest numbers. Experts have identified more than 300 species, from both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Fish, mostly from reefs in the Atlantic, were the second most numerous at 60 species. These creatures likely represented the underworld, a watery domain in the Aztec cosmos.