Starfish at Tenochtitlán

Archaeologists find largest-ever starfish offering at Templo Mayor in Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlán, today's Mexico City.

The Templo Mayor, the imposing temple dedicated to the Aztec sun god Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc, the deity of rain, stood at the centre of Aztec world, its precincts the hub of their capital Tenochtitlán, today's Mexico City.


Decades of excavations, notably by Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, have revealed the two stepped pyramids that stood side by side on a huge platform. The first structure on the site was built in 1325, but the Templo Mayor grew to an impressive size, commemorating the power of successive rulers, most spectacularly in the year 1 Rabbit (AD 1454) under the rule of the tlatoani (ruler) Moctezuma 1. The eighth ruler was Ahuizotl, who came to the throne in 1486, rebuilt the Templo Mayor, and expanded the Aztec empire to more than double its original size. His reconstruction added a sixth layer to the temple, with only one more to follow. ‘Thanks’ to the Spanish conquistadors, Ahuiztol’s is the last well preserved layer.


It was here that the archaeologists recently unearthed a remarkable offering to the sun god Huitzilopochtli, left in a circular building called the Cuauhxicalco, where the remains of rulers were cremated.


The offerings included sea-shells and pufferfish, also a jaguar holding an atlatl (spear-thrower), and 164 starfish – the largest number ever found so far. All came from the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans that lapped Ahuitzotl’s domains. Many of them are larger than modern examples, on account of overfishing and global warming. Almost all of the starfish remains were scattered – and what seems to have been one of the first in the offerings sank into a potential layer of fibre below the jaguar, thereby preserving the remains of its internal organs.


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Image: An Aztec offering discovered at the Templo Mayor in today’s Mexico City.

Credit: The Mexican National Institute of Anthropology.