Starfish Offering Associated with Huitzilopochtli, the Deity of War

The wide diversity of animal species in the offering dedicated to Huitzilopochtli Echinoderms from the Mexican Pacific coast is evidence of Mexica power.

Starfish Offering Associated with Huitzilopochtli, the Deity of War
During the winter solstice, the Aztecs held an important festival dedicated to Huitzilopochtli. Image: Culturas Populares

Due to its placement at the foot of the Templo Mayor, the offering found in this place is associated with Huitzilopochtli, god of war, and it seems that the context in which it is offered is to venerate him, revealed the expert of the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology (ICMyL) of the UNAM, Francisco Alonso Solís Marín.

As in few discovered so far at the site, experts from the ICMyL and anthropologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) recently found 164 starfish, of three species from the Pacific Ocean, dedicated to that deity.

It was located at the end of 2019 but due to the pandemic, its exploration was suspended. It was until this year that it was opened and numerous coral fronds, puffer fish, hundreds of shells, dozens of snails, a specimen of spatulate ibis, and the skeleton of an adult jaguar dressed as a warrior were detected.

The oblation also contains the skeleton of a female jaguar that is surrounded by numerous marine elements, including starfish of the species Nirodellia armata, Pentaceraster cumingi, and Pharia pyramidata, as well as darts, all of them symbols of a warlike environment. It is expected that when the removal of the bone remains is completed, more ornamental elements will be located.

The ancient Mexica associated the feline with the night sky and the night; and the sea stars were also related to those of the firmament and, more importantly, to the sea.

"We are working directly, reviewing the content of the offering, which is very important. It is probable that little by little we will be able to find more elements like sea urchins, that up to the moment we have not found", he commented after emphasizing the joint work that he carries out with Leonardo López Luján, head of the Templo Mayor study project, the archaeologist Miguel Báez Pérez; the students' Daniel Mireles, Alejandra Caballero, Carlos Conejeros, Belém Zúñiga, besides Tomás Ruiz, worker of the Templo Mayor.

The archaeologists dated the offering to the year 1500; that is to say, this time capsule was deposited by the ancient Mexicas when the emperor Ahuizotl or Moctezuma reigned. It is considered that the Aztec divers, without any help beyond their lungs, dived to depths of six to nine meters to collect the echinoderms, which they put in a kind of net.

The coasts are located 245 kilometers away, in the case of the Gulf of Mexico, and 290 in the case of the Pacific, almost in a straight line, which is why today, due to the characteristics observed in the specimens contained in several offerings, he and his team believe that the specimens were brought both alive and dead.

"Some specimens such as starfish have a very thin skin, I'm talking about microns, but when the animal has died after a couple of days it decomposes; but sea urchins have a more durable skin. In our work, we have taken sea urchins and our analyses have shown that they have a skin cover and elements of the dermis that make us believe that at least they were alive. If the animal was found dry it would be more fragile, it would have a very bad odor and they would not like to offer something with putrid odors," he said.

Power and glory

After remembering that in 2005 began the collaboration of ICMyL and INAH to review the oblations, the researcher exposed that it is probable that the echinoderms were given as tributes to the Mexica by the states or the Pacific zones. An example of this was the sea cucumbers found in the 126th offering of the goddess Tlaltecuhtli, goddess of the Earth.

"So far three sea species have been found, there are thousands of mollusk shells and most of them come from the Atlantic, but the stars come from the Pacific, and what the Mexica represented with the offering was the diversity they had access to, but, at the same time, it was that they were talking about their power," he added.

The oldest ones can be considered "poor" because they only contained dozens of plants and animals that could be found in the surroundings, but they never offered animals related to the Tenochtitlan basin, such as frogs or deer; they only placed exotic animals or plants, which were worthy of a deity.

As the power advanced and the empire grew in extension, they began to be more diverse, so that in 126 there were more products from both coasts of the country, which indicates to biologists the biodiversity, because even sharks have been obtained in some of them.

According to the researcher, the starfish located has an unusually large size, compared to those currently found on the Mexican coasts, which refers to a completely healthy environment for the growth and development of marine animals.

"It is important to say that sea cookies (similar to flattened sea urchins) have also been found, especially a species that was reported to exist in the mouth of the Gulf of California; we in the national collection do not have any specimens in the archives, I have more than 30 years working echinoderms and I have never found it. That is to say, it is probably extinct, but around 1500 there were specimens and we know it because they appear in the offerings of the Templo Mayor", asserted Francisco Alonso Solís.