Among Anglos, no name reminds them more of Mexico than Montezuma, the first Aztec to encounter Europeans and whose death during the Spanish conquest led by Hernán Cortés spawned the legendary curse of diarrhea on gringo travelers to Mexico to avenge the slaughter and enslavement of the Aztec people by Cortés. What’s less known is that this was Montezuma II. Montezuma I (also known as Moctezuma I and Moteuczomatzin Ilhuicamina) was the second Aztec emperor and the fifth king of Tenochtitlan (Montezuma II was the ninth king) and his name popped up in the news again this week, nearly 500 years after his death in 1520. Archaeologists have discovered a secret Aztec tunnel world believed to have been built by Montezuma I in honor of Tlaloc, the Aztec god of water and fertility. What mysteries does this pre-Hispanic tunnel hold?
“The most surprising thing is that we found a wooden hatch, which is a unique find in all that are the levee systems of the basin of Mexico, because in general, these types of elements are hardly preserved.”
Raúl García Chávez, coordinator of the archaeological salvage and enhancement project for the Mexican Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), told Turquesa News that the tunnel found underneath the city of Ecatepec de Morelos, north of and second in size to Mexico City, was densely decorated with inscriptions, carvings and paintings as well as this well-preserved wooden hatch which indicated that the tunnel was used to control the waters of the nearby lakes of Zumpango and Xaltocan, a task associated with the god of water, who was also blamed for floods and storms. (Photos of the excavation can be seen here.)
According to García Chávez, the excavation project has been going on for fifteen years – far longer than it took the people of the 15th century to build the tunnel, which he estimated to be eight months to dig this 4 km (2.5 mile) structure. It’s not clear if the decorations and artifacts were completed in the same timeframe. Those include petroglyphs depicting a chimalli (war shield), the head of a bird of prey and a flint point. The wall carvings show a temple and raindrops that “indicates that the size and the temple it represents, have a link with Tlaloc.”
The west end of the tunnel was the access point to the waterways and there the excavators found four iron nails, two wooden beams 6.50 meters long and organic material that may be a decomposed gate attached to the dike holding back the waters.
The wall coverings and stuccos are more interesting to archeologists. García Chávez believes they show that inhabitants of the pre-Hispanic towns of Ecatepec and Chiconautla worked together on the project with indigenous people in the region to build the dike – cooperation that was unheard of in those times.
The discovery of this tunnel is important to archeologists because it will help discover more of the unwritten history of the pre-Hispanic era, whose history has been inaccurately rewritten by the post-Hispanics. It’s also important to modern Mexicans because they’re struggling with water shortages, pollution and flooding – problems which their ancestors worked together to solve.
Can today’s Mexicans cooperate to solve their current water problems like their ancestors did? If that happened, both Montezumas would be pleased.