A recent archaeological find could offer insight into how ancient people viewed the world. At Nahualac, a site in the Iztaccíhuatl volcano foothills near Mexico City, Mexican archaeologists identified what’s called a tetzacualco, or shrine, in a seasonal pond, and according to the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), “the optical effect that occurs in the water mirror, from which it seems that the structure emanates, suggests that the place is the representation of a primeval time and space, a miniature model of the universe.”
Some Mesoamerican creation myths say the sky and earth were created from the body of crocodile monster Cipactli floating on the primitive waters. Nahualac could represent that origin story. Archaeologist Iris del Rocío Hernández Bautista of INAH, who led the research, said in a statement, “The intention of water surrounding specific ritual architectural elements seems to have been an important part of Mesoamerican thought.”
Related: 2,000-year-old pre-Aztec ancient palace complex found in Mexico
There are two areas at Nahualac: one is the seasonal pond. A rectangular temple comprised of stacked stones not held together by any kind of cement was erected there in pre-Hispanic times, according to Hernández Bautista. They found the corners of the 11.5 by 9.8 meter, or around 38 by 32 foot, tetzacualco, as well as some surrounding stone mounds.
The second area is around 150 meters, or around 492 feet, southeast of the shrine. There archaeologists have uncovered ceramic pieces associated with rain deity Tlaloc dating between 750 and 1150 AD. The entire site could have served as a ritual space for a cult of Tlaloc, although people could have worshiped other water and land deities there as well.
Hernández Bautista said there could have been a ritual control of water from springs close by to irrigate the pond so that it would appear the structure was floating on the water surface, saying, “These visual effects, in addition to the characteristics of the elements that make up the site and the relationship they have with each other, make us suppose that Nahualac could represent a microcosm that evokes the primitive waters and the beginning of mythical time-space.”
Via the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia and the Indepedent
Images via Isaac Gómez, courtesy Nahualac Archaeological Project, SAS-INAH and Arturo Cruz, Terrasat Cartografía