Rediscovering the Aztecs

Lecture transcript

Dr Antonio González, 22 May 2014

Adrienne:  Good evening everyone. Welcome to this evening's lecture, which is co‑hosted by the University of Melbourne and Museum Victoria as part of the Aztec's exhibition, which features over 200 cultural treasures from Mexico's major museums. Before we begin I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we gather this evening, the people of the Kulin Nation, and we pay tribute to their elders past and present.

In this series of specialist lectures showcasing at Melbourne Museum and also at the University of Melbourne until the end of July, the University of Melbourne and Museum Victoria, two of our most iconic, and important educational and cultural institutions, have combined their expertise and experience to provide a background to the Aztecs exhibition.

Tonight's lecture, "Recovering The Aztecs," will be presented by Dr. Jose Antonio González Zarandona, known as Antonio González. He was born in Mexico in 1980. He did his postgraduate studies at the University of Melbourne, where he now also works as a lecturer, tutor, and researcher on topics ranging from indigenous rock art to the conservation of cultural heritage.

Antonio has presented his work on heritage theory in prestigious international congresses as well as for Australian scientific associations. He has also worked for the National Gallery of Victoria as a multimedia designer. Without further ado, please join me in welcoming Antonio to the stage.

Dr. Jose Antonio González Zarandona:  Before I start the lecture, I want to dedicate this lecture to my wife, who is here in the audience tonight. Gracias, bombón.

This is the outline of my lecture tonight. I'm going to set the context first. I'm going to talk about Mexico City and Tenochtitlan or Tenochtitlan and Mexico City.

I'm going to talk also about the first discoveries of Aztec heritage in the 18th century; about the creation of the National Museum in Mexico; the visit of Alexander von Humboldt, which was a landmark in the history of Mexico; some other Aztec exhibitions that have happened around the world; the project of Templo Mayor; and the uses and abuses of heritage. If we have the time, we might be able to have a look at Aztec heritage overseas.

This is Mexico, what it looks today; a lot of color, a lot of buildings, food. It's a little bit a stereotype. Today, I'm going to talk about a different Mexico City.

Where is actually Mexico City located? The city is in the center of Mexico. It is limited by mountains within the remains of an ancient lake. It is 2,300 metres above sea level. It is the third largest city in the world, just after São Paulo in Brazil and Shanghai in China, with 20 million inhabitants.

Like other capital cities, such as Canberra or Washington D.C., Mexico City is also located within a capital territory or, as we call it, Distrito Federal. I want to show you this map to set the context.

The Inca Empire developed in South America, whereas the Aztec empire developed in North America. It should not be confused with the Mayan empire, here, which was mainly located in the Yucatán Peninsula.

The story I'm going to tell you all tonight starts far away from Mexico city and hundreds of years before the Spanish conquistadors arrived to the Aztec capital. This story starts when a large group of nomads, the Aztecs, after a long pilgrimage, settled down in the middle of the lake where Mexico City currently sits on.

At the height of its peak, the Aztec Empire spread throughout the center of the Mexican territory. It stretched until Central America. The great Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Mexica or Aztec Empire was founded in 1325. It was established on an island that belonged to the Valley of Mexico, formed by the lakes Xochimilco, Chalco, Xaltocan and Texcoco.

The city was built on chinampas, small islands made of piles of wood, and their surface made of dirt. Walkways, channels, and streets, were also build. Four walkways constituted the radial axis of its structure; towards the South, to Iztapalapa, today known as Calzada de Tlalpan; to the West, Cayuga and Chapultepec; towards the North, to the Tepeyac. To the East, the walkway was directed to the Texcoco deity.

These walkways had cross‑cuttings to give way to canoes and close access to the city. The walkways also divided the city in four different suburbs, these divisions remaining ‘til colonial times. Symbol of cosmic order and destiny, Tenochtitlan was the center of the world, also known as the Cemanahuac. This is how Aztecs called their world. Tenochtitlan was the center where celestial powers and the underworld joined together.

Tenochtitlan was a lake‑system city united by big walkways and thousands of canoes, made of wood that acted as means of communication. Aztecs built an aqueduct that transported drinkable water from the Chapultepec spring to Tenochtitlan. At the peak of the Aztec Empire, the population of the capital numbered 175,000 people. It was a city larger than any other city in Europe and the largest in the American continent. The Aztec society was deeply marked by social classes.

When Hernán Cortés and his small army arrived to the Valley of Mexico in 1519, crossing through the two volcanoes, this is what they saw. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a soldier who was part of Cortés' army, wrote the following, "This great city of Tenochtitlan is situated in this salt lake, and from the mainland to the denser parts of it, by whichever route one chooses to enter, the distance is two leagues. There are four avenues or entrances to the city, all of which are formed by artificial causeways two spears' length in width."

"The city is as large as Seville or Cordova. Its streets ‑ I speak of the principal ones ‑ are very wide and straight. Some of these, and all the inferior ones, are half land and half water and are navigated by canoes. All the streets at intervals have openings, through which the water flows, crossing from one street to another, and at these openings, some of which are very wide, there are also very wide bridges, composed of large pieces of timber, of great strength and well put together. On many of these bridges, 10 horses can go abreast."

"Foreseeing that if the inhabitants of this city should prove treacherous, they would possess great advantages from the manner in which the city is constructed, since by removing the bridges at the entrances and abandoning the place, they could leave us to perish by famine without our being able to reach the mainland. As soon as I had entered it, I made great haste to build four brigantines, which were soon finished and were large enough to take ashore 300 men and the horses, whenever it should become necessary."

"This great city contains a large number of temples or houses for the idols, very handsome edifices, which are situated in the different districts and the suburbs. In the principal ones, religious persons of each particular sect are constantly residing, for whose use, besides the house containing the idols, there are other convenient habitations."

"Among these temples, there is 1 which far surpasses all the rest, whose grandeur of architectural details no human tongue is able to describe, for within its precincts, surrounded by a lofty wall, there is room enough for a town of 500 families. Around the interior of this enclosure there are handsome edifices, containing large halls and corridors, in which the religious persons attached to the temple reside. There are a full 40 towers, which are lofty and well‑built, the largest of which has 50 steps leading to its main body, and is higher than the tower of the principal church at Seville."

About the market, he said, "This city has many public squares, in which are situated the markets and other places for buying and selling. There is one square twice as large as that of the city of Salamanca, surrounded by porticoes, where are daily assembled more than 60,000 souls, engaged in buying and selling, and where are found all kinds of merchandise that the world affords, embracing the necessaries of life, as, for instance, articles of food, as well as jewels of gold and silver, lead, brass, copper, tin, precious stones, bones, shells, snails, and feathers."

"They sell everything by number or measure. At least so far, we have not observed them to sell anything by weight. There is a building in the great square that is used as an audience house, where 10 or 12 persons, who are magistrates, sit and decide all controversies that arise in the markets and order delinquents to be punished."

"When we saw all these cities and villages built in the water, and other great towns on dry land, and that straight and level causeway leading to Mexico, we were astounded. These great towns and cues, meaning temples, and buildings rising from the water, all made of stone, seemed like an enchanted vision from the tale of Amadis.

Indeed, some of our soldiers asked whether it was not at all a dream. It is not surprising therefore that I should write in this vein. It was all so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen, or dreamed of before."

"When we had taken a good look at all this, we went to the orchard and garden, which was a marvelous place both to see and walk in. I was never tired of noticing the diversity of trees and the various scents given off by each, and the paths choked with roses and other flowers, and the many local fruit trees and rose bushes, and the pond of fresh water."

"I say again that I stood looking at it and thought that no land like it will ever be discovered in the whole world. But today all that I then saw is overthrown and destroyed; nothing is left standing."

Once it was conquered, on August 13, 1521, Tenochtitlan was razed and Mexico City founded. Cortés decided, even with some opposition, to build a city on top of the ruins of the Aztec capital in order to demonstrate his power and dominion and secure the conquered place to further control, organize, and colonize the rest of the Aztec territories.

The colonial city was organized according to segregation and separation principles, making emphasis on the differences between winners and losers. The city was separated by three powers; the military, the historical, and the religious.

It was Alonso García Bravo who drew the city from the former Aztec ceremonial center where the two axes from north to south and east to west ran. The crossing of the axis generated the wide and open square, limited by the most important buildings.

Wide and rectilinear streets were drew, taking into account the former Aztec walkways and channels. The new streets formed 75 rectangular blocks of 250 metres by 83 metres. These dimensions were also applied to other Mexican cites. They are still visible in many of them.

In 1535, arrived in Mexico the viceroy Antonio de Mendoza, who had knowledge of urbanism, as he had read the works by Italian Leon Battista Alberti. Concerned to give to the city a new order, he commanded a new series of measures that made more emphasis than the vision between winners and losers, adhering to the original plan of the city.

Towards the end of the 17th century, the city had approximately a population of 50,000 people. In the 18th century, the Bourbon Dynasty started a series of economic, political, and administrative reforms that tried to put order, control, and receive the benefits from the colonial territories.

As part of these reforms, the city became the capital of twelve states, the New Spain. In addition, public spaces, the lease and use of the land, were closely monitored as a result of the reforms that the Enlightenment thought proclaimed in relation to urbanism.

With the Spanish conquest, Aztec monuments and buildings that formed the political and religious center of the Aztec capital were dismantled stone by stone. This urbicide effected the desacralisation and profanation of the Aztec heritage, leaving it dispersed and abandoned to its own faith.

This is a topic for tonight's lecture. By showing you four key discoveries of Aztec heritage, they will allow me to talk about the history of Mexican archaeology and broadly consider the rediscovery of Aztec heritage. I hope you'll enjoy it.

The first of these discoveries occurred on 13 August, 1790, 269 years after the fall of the Aztec empire. After the viceroy of New Spain, the Revillagigedo Count, orders to level the main square of the city, where the cathedral currently sits aside, and performed construction work to build adequate drain pipe, a colossal sculpture is found depicting the mother of gods, that of Coatlicue, with her skirt made of serpents.

The Coatlicue sculpture represents a decapitated deity from which two streams of blood sprout in the form or serpents that stand as her head. Coatlicue has claws in her feet and hands. Underneath her is the image of Tlaltecuhtli, another terrestrial version of this deity.

This is one of the most important discoveries of Aztec heritage ever made after the conquest inaugurating a new period in the history of Mexico, that of the discovery of the ancient past. After its discovery, the Coatlicue sculpture was moved to the, then, Royal and Pontifical University, where it stood for a long time.

Nevertheless, the friars who were in charge of the university building decided to bury it again because the local population used to visit the sculpture and kneel in front of her. This was, of course, not an initial site in first years after Mexico City was founded as a colony.

For the European friars, these monuments were repositories of idolatry and worship practices that convey diabolical messages, which had to be destroyed. It remained buried in the university courtyard for many years, until it was then put into a corner where it remained hidden from the public sight.

According to the Mexican historian Enrique Florescano, this episode also unveils a drama; the moment when the European population of the New Spain turns an ancient monument into an archaeological and scientific object, while also rejecting the living culture and the religious traditions of their contemporary indigenous population.

Then, in December 1791, another monument was discovered in the atrium of the Cathedral, only 42 centimetres above the surface and facing down, the Tizoc Stone. Today, we know that this stone commemorates the conquest of the Tlatoani, the Aztec emperor, Tizoc, who governed the Aztec empire between 1481 and 1486.

On top of this stone, a ritual was performed. A prisoner of war was tied to the center of the stone. He was given harmless weapons to fight against a proper‑armed Aztec warrior. The end was predictable. The captive was defeated and sacrificed. The stone bears the imperial Mexica engraving style.

The sun is conventionally represented on top, while the side surface contains a sequence fifteen scenes, each one composed by a warrior overcoming a deity who personifies the god from enemy tribes. The sequence is limited by two horizontal belts at the top and bottom that depict a sky night and a terrestrial reptile. It bears a central and deep concavity that disrupts the fine engraved work on the top surface, and one of the conquest scenes on the sideline.

The history behind this monolith after it was discovered also epitomizes the fate for many other Aztec monuments after they were discovered, stones which were neglected and feared, so they were reburied. They were moved from one building to another, and only a few men studied them in detail.

Today we know the importance about these monuments, but when they were discovered in the 18th century, there was no concept of heritage or the protection of the ancient past. Hence, the importance to study them under these new lights.

Although the Tizoc Stone was rediscovered in 1791, it was known to historians and chroniclers in the 16th and 17th centuries, as the image from the Florentine Codex can attest. Many other contemporary sources talk about it and provide the exact spot of its location. In fact, it remained visible for more than sixty years to visitors and walkers on their way to the cathedral. It is not known if the stone was intentionally buried again in the 17th century, or due to the 1629 flood that affected the city, as one chronicle claims.

In any case, the Tizoc Stone was rediscovered in December 1791, but not for long. The city authorities allege there was no proper place to put the stone, and so it was reburied again, two years after it was discovered.

A number of scholars and travelers did notice the stone at different times after this. One of the first scholars was the Mexican antiquarian and astronomer Antonio de León y Gama, who published in 1792 the first study of the Aztec vestiges that were found in the previous years, "Descripción histórica y cronológica de las dos piedras." It is considered the first book on Mexican archaeology. This book was later republished in 1832, after Mexico regained its independence from Spain in 1821.

León y Gama's analysis is groundbreaking because rather than comparing the Aztec conception of time to other cultures, noticing the differences and the similarities between them, his analysis tried to explain a system of ideas using the monuments themselves.

Then, in 1823, the Englishman entrepreneur, William Bullock, traveled to Mexico. In one of the sketches he produced, we can see the Tizoc Stone. He also organized a big exhibition in London for which the Mexican government allowed Bullock to make copies of the three most impressive monuments; the Coatlicue, the Tizoc Stone and, of course, the Aztec Calendar.

For this purpose, the Coatlicue was exhumed from the university courtyard, and the surroundings of the Tizoc Stone were excavated. Because the Aztec Calendar was built in one of the cathedral's towers, there was no problem in obtaining a copy of it.

The Tizoc Stone was later moved to the building that housed the national university in 1824, where the Coatlicue was buried, and where a year later the same building would house the National Mexican Museum after it was founded following orders by the first president of independent Mexico, Guadalupe Victoria.

In this painting by the Italian traveller and painter, Pietro Gualdi, we can see the Coatlicue on top of the Tizoc Stone behind the fence. Other travelers like Edward Thornton, Mark Beaufoy, and George F. Lyon also confirm this new location.

The second individual to have recorded the stone was the Flemish Colonel Guillaume Dupaix, who had the opportunity to analyze the stone and even made a drawing. He later, in 1803 or 1804, gave it as a gift to another explorer and student of Aztec monuments, the German Baron, Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt's interest in Mexican art and culture represents a landmark in the history of Mexican archaeology but before moving on to Humboldt, there are other ideas that we need to consider.

The positive evaluation of ancient Aztec monuments did not begin until much later. According to archaeologist Leonardo López Luján, at the end of Mexico's colonial period a newfound interest in pre‑Columbian civilisations emerged due to the spread of the Enlightenment ideas among the native‑born population, fitting the spirit of independence and promoting a reevaluation of the past for academic as well as political purposes.

This interest was also a result of Charles III and Charles IV support for archaeology and to the science in general. These monarchs, well‑known for promoting the first archaeological explorations at Herculaneum and Pompeii, Italy, were also responsible for a number of scientific expeditions and establishment of institutes, academies, botanical gardens and museums in their overseas colonies. In fact, Charles III was also responsible for motivating archaeological exhibitions in 1784 in Palenque, southeast Mexico, where the Mayan culture flourished.

Although there was a genuine interest in studying the past, the prehispanic cultures that previously inhabited the American territory were still unknown. Many of them were believed to be the descendants of Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, and even Egyptians, following the diffusionist school of thought that tried to explain the origin of ancient civilisations by connecting them to distant cultures, as was previously mentioned.

The diffusionist theories were not only influential in Mexico but also in Australia and other parts of the world, where the colonial narratives and the stories of the local population were in constant strife to write the history of the new country.

Despite the ideas from the Enlightenment that recognize a grandiosity in these newly discovered cultures through the analysis of their monuments, they also acknowledge an exotic element in their curiosity, with some historians still being skeptic as to the grandiosity of the prehispanic cultures. For example, in the 18th century, Scottish William Robertson affirmed that the Mexican and Peruvian cultures could not be considered civilized since no monuments had been found before the Spanish conquest.

As archaeologists Jaime Litvak and Sandra Lopez Varela claim, the rejection towards American cultures and the fate that their monuments suffered were destruction and neglect in order to implant a colonial power over the ruins of the prehispanic cultures.

The idea that a Mexican museum would provide the new nation with a national identity was shared by the newly formed independent government in 1821. Putting together the collections of the National University, the Museum of Natural History, created in 1790, and the many documents collected by scholars, dilettantes, and travelers, the National Museum opened its doors in 1825.

In this lithograph by Casimiro Castro, for example, we can see the many objects that by 1857 were housed in the national museum. The Coatlicue and Tizoc Stone were moved inside the museum to protect them from the natural elements, as they stood in the museum courtyard for a while.

The framework provided by the museum turned the stones into symbols of the Mexican identity and a proud indication of the creativity and cultural development of the Mexican nation throughout its history. By looking at the Aztec remains, the people of Mexico will not only be educated but they will also feel proud of their ancestors. The National Museum then acted as a powerful symbolic tool that could generate a population spiritually and culturally since, economically speaking, it was a highly unequal society.

As a result of the fortuitous discoveries between 1790 and 1791 of Aztec monoliths, the perception and understanding of ancient Mexican cultures like the Aztecs became a scientific concern in the late 19th century. Exploration, rescue, conservation, and diffusion of archaeological heritage were incorporating the methods and techniques of the natural science.

According to Enrique Florescano, one cannot understand the foundation of the Mexican Museum in 1825, and as a consequence, the rediscovery of Aztec heritage, without the influence of the European conception of a natural history museum, the interest shown by Mexican and foreign collectors in Mexican antiquities either as pictographic documents or archaeological documents, and finally, the conjunction of the Enlightenment ideas and the national sentiment by the local population to unearth their indigenous path.

A national museum was then created in order to safeguard the ancient monuments, but the real meaning behind this action, as in many other countries, was none other than the creation of a past for the new nation. The museum was thus in charge to create a national identity by neglecting its colonial past. It is not coincidence that the Mexican republic was built parallel to the construction of the museum. Between them, the national identity acted as a symbol of both.

As a result, the national museum in Mexico, from its early origins, is considered a state institution. In 1865, the Museum of Natural History, Archaeology and History was first established. In 1909, the museum was renamed National Museum of Archaeology, History and Ethnography. In subsequent years, the name of the national museum would continuously change, reflecting new governments and their operating ideologies. Today it is known as the National Museum of Anthropology.

The third most important discovery of the Aztec heritage is none other than the Aztec Calendar, or the Sun Stone, which was discovered in 1790 on December the 17th. The sunburst on its surface, the conception of time for the Aztecs. On it we can see the suns, or ages, which humankind had gone through. According to this conception of time, the Aztec calendar was composed by 18 months of 20 days each in a cycle of 52 years.

It is perhaps the most reproduced and photographed Aztec monument. If you live in Mexico, it's possible to find it everywhere, from tattoos on people to commercial brands, as souvenirs, and even on the national soccer team uniform. It is one of the most interesting monuments to study because its afterlife is almost as interesting as its original meaning.

According to many experts, the Sun Stone is a complex astronomical object that, due its elaborated carving, sometimes is considered a work of art. I'm not going to talk about its symbols and their meanings, because this is not the topic of tonight's lecture. Instead I will show you different aspects of its rediscovery.

Like the other two monuments I talked about so far, the Sun Stone suffered similar displacements. Made in the 15th century, after the destruction of the Tenochtitlan it remained in open air beside the newly built main square until 1559, when a new cycle, according the Aztec calendar, was just beginning. The Spanish authorities then decided to rebury it in order to avoid the excitement of the local population, with its face down.

After being rediscovered in 1790 it was attached to one of the cathedral's towers until 1887 when it was transferred to the Gallery of the Monoliths in the National Museum.

In 1964 it was relocated to the then newly‑created Museum of Anthropology and History where it is the main attraction of the Aztec Gallery. But the history of its discovery tells us more.

On the right photograph we can see the man who transformed Mexico for good or bad, depending on your view, the dictator, Porfirio Diaz who ruled Mexico for over 30 years. He stands with the stone in 1905 in the National Museum in the Gallery of the Monoliths, which he inaugurated in 1887.

This photograph is very important because it reveals an aspect of the Mexican nation at the turn of the 20th century. Diaz, who had an indigenous background, became the President of Mexico in 1876 in a coup d'état.

For over 30 years Diaz tried to diminish his indigenous background and in fact he promoted the European immigration to Mexico after he famously defeated the French army during the foreign intervention into Mexico in the 1860s.

After becoming one of the fiercest generals in Mexico, by the time he became President, he firmly believed that by introducing European immigrants to Mexico the indigenous race would eventually disappear and with it the progress of Mexico would be a reality.

It is telling then that one of the most impressive Aztec monuments is bigger than his small figure. The Sun Stone still sits in the National Museum in Mexico City whereas Diaz's tomb is in the Montparnasse Cimetière in Paris where he was exiled five years after this photograph was taken.

On the left lithograph, the Sun Stone is revered by a young indigenous kid. Whereas the modern couple representing the modern Mexico in the 1880s look at the kid but not to the stone. The couple seems to look to the future disregarding the past. Modernity, it seems to say this lithograph, is not the stone, which represents a past.

Only an indigenous population will see back to the past. Perhaps for this reason the fate of the Coatlicue and the Sun Stone took different trajectories. Whereas the Coatlicue was buried and reburied in the university courtyard, the Sun Stone remained visible to the population and visitors.

According to Matos Moctezuma this is because the Coatlicue represented the dark side of the ancient past, a monstrous deity revered by a barbarous culture. For this reason it had to remain hidden from sight.

Whereas the Sun Stone could be seen by everyone, because it is a beautiful example of the high achievements that an ancient civilisation produced in terms of cultural heritage.

This is also evident, Matos Moctezuma believes, in the fact that the Coatlicue was revered by the local population as we have seen, whereas the Sun Stone was hardly visited by the indigenous population. Instead it was actually admired by the colonial authorities and the native‑born population as a product of civilisation and progress.

This is also a reflection of the scientific ideas of the time where ancient civilisations resulted in an enigma, and ambiguous attitudes of admiration and hatred towards them were common. One could in fact say that because the Coatlicue symbolizes death and the Sun Stone symbolizes life that the fate for each monolith was decided on this basis.

One of the many scholars who studied these two monoliths was none other than Alexander von Humboldt who devoted many pages to the Stone of the Sun and ordered the Coatlicue to be exhumed so that he could examine it.

If Europe had Darwin, America found in Alexander von Humboldt a scientist and long admirer of the Pre‑Hispanic cultures. In fact he was granted Mexican citizenship in 1827, 13 years after he left Mexico to continue his trip in America. The role that von Humboldt plays in the history of Mexico and the history of Mexican archaeology is invaluable.

The general ignorance about the American civilisations moved Humboldt to undertake the first systematic and scientific examination of the indigenous cultures in America.

According to Jaime Labastida, the study of American ancient civilisations finds in Humboldt its great scientist willing to undertake a radical renovation of the perspective and analysis from which the Pre‑Hispanic reality could be studied without having to resort to supernatural or divine interventions.

In short words, the humanistic study of history based on human endeavours.

A man of his time, he was both fascinated and confused about the New Spain. He wrote, "Perhaps there is no city in Europe more beautiful than Mexico. It has the elegance, the regularity, the uniformity of the beautiful buildings of Turin, of Milano, of the most beautiful neighborhoods of Paris and Berlin."

At the same time he did not appreciate the Coatlicue noting its rude manufacture and the lack of knowledge about the proportions of the human body of the ancient Mexicans.

Before talking about the last discovery it is important to also acknowledge the role that exhibitions had in the creation of Aztec heritage and its discovery. One of the first exhibitions, if not the first one, was presented in the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly in London.

As we can see in this illustration not only the Tizoc Stone was exhibited but also the Coatlicue and the Stone of the Sun. William Bullock who organized it was able to obtain a plaster cast of the monoliths and brought them to England for his exhibition, "Ancient and Modern Mexico."

He was given permission to replicate the stones by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lucas Alaman. Bullock traveled to Mexico with the aim to find ancient objects that he could then exhibit in London.

The Mexican government saw this exhibition as an opportunity to showcase the rich past of the new‑born country after it was neglected for centuries under Spanish colonialism. That first exhibition in London gave cue for others to follow in subsequent years. I'm only going to mention few of them.

"Mexican Art," which attracted about 120,000 visitors in 1953 in the Tate Gallery in London. "Mexique d'hier et d'aujourd'hui, Découverte du Templo Mayor de Mexico," in the Petit Palais in Paris in 1981. Two years later, the "Art of Aztec Mexico: Treasures of Tenochtitlan," opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

"Glanz und Untergang des Alten Mexiko, die Azteken und ihre Vorläufer," in Hildesheim, Germany in 1986. "Azteca‑Mexica, las culturas del Mexico antiguo," in Madrid in 1992 to commemorate the 500 years after the discovery of America.

"Aztecs," at the Royal Academy of Arts, in London in 2003. "Moctezuma, Aztec Ruler," which opened four years ago at the British Museum, and of course the exhibition that is currently now at Melbourne Museum.

The last discovery that I am going to talk about happened in February, 1978, more than 200 years after the first discoveries. This does not mean that other discoveries were not important, but due to a lack of time it is impossible for me to talk about all of them tonight.

In 1978 the Coyolxauhqui had been found. A colossal monument that represents the sister of Huitzilopochtli. This monument depicts the moment when after battling with her brother, which was Huitzilopochtli, to prevent her from killing her mother, Coatlicue, Coyolxauhqui is defeated and thrown down from a hill.

Her head is decapitated and her whole body is dismembered. This was later enacted in the Templo Mayor with the sacrifices of prisoners of war. In March, 1978 began one of the most important archaeological projects ever taken on a global scale, that of Templo Mayor.

The aim of this project under the direction of Eduardo Matos Moctezuma is to unravel the mysteries behind the most important Aztec building, Templo Mayor, or in English, the Great Temple, a reconstruction of which you can see here at Melbourne Museum in the exhibition.

Templo Mayor not only was the center of Tenochtitlan but it is also the place where many victims were sacrificed and many rituals in honor of Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc were carried out. The building was considered the fundamental center of the universe and within it there was the sacredness of the Aztec folk.

The Spanish conquistadors climbed up the temple as soon as they arrived to Tenochtitlan, and after the conquest was accomplished the building was destroyed. A colonial house was later built on top of its ruins. Later on, this house was destroyed.

The place was known as the, "Island of Dogs," because these animals used to gather there when the city was flooded, which occurred regularly and still happens. It was also here that the Coyolxauhqui was found in 1978.

The Templo Mayor was founded in 1325 and then rebuilt and successively enlarged by later rulers with a total of seven major construction stages. Each phase included two giant staircases that led to twin temples at the top of the Great Temple.

The twin temple to the south was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, the patron deity of the Aztecs and the deity who had led them on their journey to Tenochtitlan.

In front of his temple was placed the Coyolxauhqui. Enormous stone serpents run along the balustrades and in front of the platforms on both Huitzilopochtli's sides of the pyramid and around the Templo Mayor.

The temple on the northern side of the twin temples was dedicated to Tlaloc, a deity associated with rain and agricultural fertility. Mirroring the sacrificial stone of Coyolxauhqui on Huitzilopochtli's side of the pyramid was a chacmool on Tlaloc's side.

Tlaloc's temple held the seeds of cultivated plants. Instead of the serpents that decorated the opposite side of the pyramid, frogs decorate Tlaloc's half, probably referencing his associations with water and fertility. Again we can see that the mission of life in that.

The uses and abuses of Aztec heritage around the world and in Mexico is still a hotly debated issue. Here we can see a still from a very famous film called, "The Sign of Death," in which the most famous actor in the history of Mexico starred in it, Cantinflas.

Then we can see an example of bank notes which were used and are used that were decorated with Aztec designs. In the center, we can see, for example, how an opera that was performed by the Deutschen Oper in Berlin a few years ago based on the history of Moctezuma.

As we can see sometimes there is the use and abuse of heritage which sometimes is allowed and sometimes is not a very good thing to do.

To finish I just want to give a glimpse of what happened with Moctezuma's headdress in terms of cultural heritage. Scholars have not decided yet if this beautiful headdress which sits in the Ethnographic Museum in Vienna belonged to Moctezuma or not.

However it is one of the most contested items in the history of cultural heritage in Mexico. To this day Mexicans say that this headdress belonged to Moctezuma. The Austrian authorities say it is not.

A little bit like the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum, this Aztec work of art made of feathers of quetzal it's still something that divides people when we talk about in terms of cultural heritage.

That's it for me. Thank you very much for coming.

Adrienne:  I'd like you to thank Dr. González and also thank you very much for coming tonight.

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