Aztec Pyramid, Elite Graves Unearthed in Mexico City

January 4, 2008

A structure believed to be an 800-year-old Aztec pyramid has been discovered in central Mexico City and could drastically revise the early history of the ancient empire, officials announced.

The structure was found inside a larger pyramid known as the Grand Temple at the site of the Aztec city of Tlatelolco.

If the age of the edifice is confirmed, the discovery could push back the age of Tlatelolco—as well as that of its nearby "twin city" Tenochtitlán—by a century or more, said Salvador Guilliem of Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History.

Guilliem, who is leading an archaeological effort to study Tlatelolco, said the structure's construction suggests it could have been built as early as A.D. 1100 or 1200, at least a century earlier than historical accounts suggest the city was founded.

While Guilliem's team continues to work on determining the new pyramid's age, the researchers have already uncovered new insights into the Grand Temple.

"Until now we thought Tlatelolco's Grand Temple had seven phases of construction," Guilliem told National Geographic News.

"Now we know that there are eight."

The team also used ground-penetrating radar to locate a series of other structures near the Grand Temple containing human remains and grave offerings.

"We dug 2 meters [6.5 feet] and found an offering of green stones and five skulls," Guilliem said.

The remains—belonging to four adults and a child—appear to have been positioned with heads turned toward the north and bodies to the south, he added.

"We will explore more next season, but we think this building corresponds to the military elite," he said.

(Read related story: "Aztec Ruler's Tomb Found Under Mexico City" [August 9, 2007].)

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