for National Geographic News
Archaeologists working in the heart of Mexico City have discovered an altar and a monolith that date back more than 500 years to Aztec times.
The finds may be one of the most significant Aztec discoveries in years.
The altar depicts the Aztec rain god Tlaloc and was uncovered last weekend at the Aztec main temple, Templo Mayor, near mexico City's central Zocalo Square.
The 11-foot (3.5-meter) monolith, which is still mostly buried, is potentially the more important discovery. Some archaeologists speculate the stone slab could be part of an entrance to an underground chamber.
"This is a really impressive and exceptional Aztec monolith," said Leonardo López Luján, an archaeologist at the Museo del Templo Mayor.
The Aztec empire encompassed much of modern-day central Mexico. It reached its height about 500 years ago.
The Aztec were a deeply religious people who built monumental works. Templo Mayor, or the Great Temple, was the biggest pyramid of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan.
Spanish conquistadors destroyed the temple when they razed the city in 1521. Mexico City is built on top of the ruins of Tenochtitlan.
The temple was first excavated in 1978 after electricity workers found a giant carving of an Aztec goddess at the site. Remains of the lower portions of the temple complex, buried underneath the city, have since been unearthed.
A team of archaeologists led by Álvaro Barrera discovered the altar and monolith on the western side of the temple site.
The altar, which probably dates back to the kingdom of Motecuhzoma I (1440-1469), is made of stone and earth and covered with stucco. It has a frieze of the god Tlaloc and another figure depicting an agricultural deity.
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