A teocalli, or temple, was found etched into the central stone of the arch entrance dedicated to the rain god Tláloc. (Edith Camacho, INAH)


Archaeologists in Ecatepec, México state, have found a centuries old tunnel with symbolic imagery. The tunnel in Ecatepec is part of a 17th-century colonial dike system called the Albarradón de Ecatepec and archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History ( INAH) have found 11 pre-Hispanic symbols detailed on the side walls of the tunnel.

According to an article in Mexico News Daily , an INAH spokesperson said in a statement that among the images discovered on the walls of the 8.4-meter-long (27.6 ft.) tunnel were petroglyphs, stucco relief panels, a war shield, a bird of prey’s head, and a “paper ornament.” Furthermore, a  teocalli, or temple, was found etched into the central stone of the arch entrance dedicated to the rain god Tláloc , according to the INAH archaeologists.

A teocalli, or temple, was found etched into the central stone of the arch entrance dedicated to the rain god Tláloc. ( Edith Camacho, INAH )

Aztec/Spanish Water Wars

The meaning of some of the carved and embossed images is yet unknown and Raúl García, coordinator of a project to preserve the archaeological dike system, said that the images might have been executed by the indigenous people who lived in the pre-Hispanic towns of Ecatepec and Chiconautla. Supporting this hypothesis, archaeologists know that indigenous residents from both of these towns had worked on the construction of the dike.

The tunnel is part of a 2.5-mile-long (4 km) network of dikes upon which construction began in the 15th century by Moctezuma I to control the flow of water into what is today Mexico City, which stood on an island at the center of a complex system of inland lakes. Moctezuma I was the second Aztec emperor and fifth king of Tenochtitlan who ruled between 1440 to 1453 AD and is credited by historians as having consolidated the Aztec Empire and set in motion a major social expansion program which thrived with 11,000,000 people until the arrival of the Spanish.

The tunnel is part of a 2.5-mile-long network of dikes. (Edith Camacho, INAH)

The tunnel is part of a 2.5-mile-long network of dikes. ( Edith Camacho, INAH )

The dike was eventually destroyed by Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and later reconstructed to control flooding. Dr. García explained that the tunnel in which the images were discovered is in a section of the dike known as the Patio de Diligencias , or ‘courtyard of diligence’.

Heirs Of Aztec Cultural Heritage

Among the other less symbolic artifacts found within the ancient tunnel were four iron nails, two wooden beams, and a pile of organic material that is thought to have perhaps been part of a gate leading to the 17th-century dike. The glyphs and stucco panels have been damaged by hundreds of years of rain and changing environmental conditions, and after they have been carefully covered for protection, México state INAH director Antonio Huitrón said these special stones will be transferred to the Casa Morelos Community Center in Ecatepec and that the originals would be replaced with replicas at the site.

Ecatepec is Mexico’s second most populous municipality located just north of Mexico City and is part of the Valley of Mexico metropolitan area. The Albarradón de Ecatepec was declared a historical monument in 2001 and will now be incorporated into a public park. It is hoped the opening of this new park will allow people to enjoy the “cultural heritage to which they are heirs.” The tunnel where the images were discovered will also be open to the public where they can photograph identical replicas.

The tunnel where the images were discovered will also be open to the public where they can photograph identical replicas. (Edith Camacho, INAH)

The tunnel where the images were discovered will also be open to the public where they can photograph identical replicas. (Edith Camacho, INAH )

Collapse of a Thriving Empire

When the Spanish conquistadors arrived, led by Hernán Cortés , they initially befriended the leader of the Aztecs, Motecuhzoma II, and valuable gifts were exchanged. But on June 30, 1520 AD, in what became known as the  Noche Triste, Cortés besieged the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan on the western shore of Lake Texcoco but was repelled by the Aztec warriors.

10 months later, in 1521 AD, Cortés returned with allies and again laid siege to the Aztec capital city and lacking resources and having been ravaged by disease, the Aztecs, now led by Cuauhtemoc, finally collapsed on August 13, 1521 AD. Tenochtitlan was destroyed and from the ashes rose the new capital of the colony of ‘New Spain’ and the ancient lineage of Mesoamerican people with heritage and traditions originating with Olmec cultures came to a sharp, bloody, and quick end.


Top Image: A war shield and a bird of prey’s head are two of the Pre-Hispanic symbols discovered in the Mexican tunnel. Source: Edith Camacho, INAH

By Ashley Cowie



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