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The feathered serpent, shown here in a carving from the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City), was a prominent deity in Mesoamerican mythology. Known to the Aztecs as Quetzalcoatl and to the Maya as Kululcán, he was believed to have brought the arts of civilization to the people. Some versions of the legend say that he departed across the ocean, promising to return. The Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés told the Aztec ruler Moctezuma that King Carlos V of Spain was Quetzalcoatl, and that the conquistadors were returning to reclaim the god's kingdom.

Photograph by Wemer Forman/CORBIS


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