Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, the Mexican archaeologist from Tenochtitlan, is recognized with the Princess of Asturias Award

If there is someone who has studied the secrets of Tenochtitlan, the ancient capital of the Mexicas, it is the archaeologist Eduardo Matos Moctezuma.

The jury of the Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences 2022 distinguished him this Wednesday with the award for his “extraordinary intellectual rigor” and his “exceptional contribution” knowledge of pre-Hispanic societies and cultures.

“It is a very high honor for me that I am very grateful for,” the anthropologist also replied in a statement released by the Princess of Asturias Foundation.

The award is intended to honor scientific, technical, cultural, social and human work and can include both individuals and institutions, with a special interest in the Hispanic sphere.

Matos Moctezuma (Mexico City, 1940) has been recognized for his rigor “to rebuild the civilizations of Mexico and Mesoamerica, and to ensure that said heritage is incorporated objectively and free from any myth”.

Is he founder dthe project May Templer, a series of excavations and studies of the axis mundi (axis of the world) of the city of Tenochtitlan, ancient capital of the Mexica. He was also director of this project between 1979 and 1982.

DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/De Agostini via Getty Images
Hernán Cortés described Tenochtitlan as a palatial city. This illustration shows the central plaza and the Templo Mayor in the 16th century.

Precisely, the jury names his work in the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan, as well as in Tula and Teotihuacán, which constitute “due to the intensity and continuity of field research, exemplary pages of the scientific development of archeology and fruitful dialogue with the past, between different cultures and between the social and human sciences”.

From Coyolxauhqui to the Templo Mayor

February 21, 1978, heart of the historic center of Mexico City. A group of workers was carrying out electrical wiring work when, suddenly, they ran into a carved stone. Was the Coyolxauhqui, the deity related to the moon and one of the few Tenochca sculptures (from Tenochtitlan) that show female nudity.

Almost 8 tons and 3.25 meters in diameter, the pre-Hispanic piece It appears mentioned in the chronicles of Diego Durán, Tezozómoc and Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, as part of the Mexica pantheon. It is the largest of the six sculptures of this deity that have been found so far, according to the National Institute of Archeology and History of Mexico.

It was precisely this find, just a few steps from the Zócalo, that led to the creation of the Templo Mayor Project, led by newly awarded Matos Moctezuma.

From the discovery of the Coyolxauhqui many more emerged. One of the last, in 2017, the temple dedicated to Echécatl, the god of the wind, a religious enclosure with a circular structure.

This drawing shows Mexico-Tencochitlan in the early 16th century.  It is probably based on a sketch by Cortés from 1524. It is in the British Museum in London.

Getty Images
This drawing shows Mexico-Tenochtitlan in the early 16th century. It is probably based on a sketch by Cortés from 1524. It is in the British Museum in London.

The work of archaeologists, in which Matos has been involved, has been revealing the remains of this pre-Hispanic sacred precinct now known as the Templo Mayor and which is a ceremonial space the size of two soccer fields.

Tenochtitlan, the “American Venice”

The history of Mexico City is linked to the ruins of Tenochtitlanone of the largest cities in the world that captivated Hernán Cortés five centuries ago.

The capital of the Mexica empire had an aspect ofe “palatial city” Doctor in History of America Esteban Mira Caballos told BBC Mundo.

And that’s where it happened first meeting between Cortés and Moctezuma II, on November 8, 1519. This event marked forever the conquest of the territory of present-day Mexico.

“It was a lacustrine city, located in the middle of a lake, isolated, which could only be accessed by three roads and had to be supplied from abroad,” explained Mira, who called it the ‘American Venice’ of the New World .

What is known today about what Tenochtitlan was like is “thanks to studies with cartographic representations that have been made since the viceregal era,” Mexican historian Andrés Lira González told BBC Mundo.

Model of the Great Temple

This model shows what the Templo Mayor would have looked like.

Among others, he says, the description and map of ancient indigenous neighborhoods drawn up by the Mexican priest and cartographer Antonio Alzate in 1789, as well as reports on testimonies, plans of the city from the 16th and 17th centuries, and important studies by archaeologists Eduardo Matos Moctezuma and Leonardo Lopez Lujan.

Excavate the past, understand it in the present

The Princess of Asturias jury highlighted Matos “his scientific intelligence, its dissemination capacity and its social commitment and pointed out that his work serves as an inspiration “for the next generations of social scientists and citizens”.

For more than 40 years, Matos Moctezuma has dedicated himself not only to searching underground, but also to bringing to the surface and explain the Mexican culture.

Part of this work materializes in books such as “The denied stones: from the Coatlicue to the Great Temple” (1998), where he speaks precisely of the archaeological project in the center of Mexico City, “Death to the edge of obsidian: the Nahuas in front of death” (1975), or “Life and death in the Great Temple” (1986).

Penetrate the past to bring it to the present has been the work that I have constantly carried out throughout my life.. Today I see with great satisfaction the fruits of that task”, said Matos upon learning of the Princess of Asturias Award.

Temple found in Mexico City

Finding of the temple of the god of the wind.

This work, said the anthropologist, has allowed him know the own history of Mexico and “how this was united with the history of other countries such as Spain“. And he emphasized that both nations “are sister countries that are united by indissoluble ties and should strengthen their relations even more.”

Matos Moctezuma is a teacher in Anthropological Sciences, specializing in Archeology, from the National School of Anthropology and History (ENAH) and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). With these institutions he has carried out various investigations in archaeological sites such as Tepeapulco, Tlatelolco, Tula and Teotihuacan.

He has also been director of the National Museum of Anthropology and president of the Archeology Council of the INAH (National Institute of Archeology and History) and founder of the Urban Archeology Program (PAU).

He was recently recognized, together with Leonardo López Luján, also from the Templo Mayor Project, as a new international honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS, for its acronym in English), in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Class, Anthropology and Archeology Section. A professorship at Harvard University is named after him.

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