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Architects discover that Post-Conquest Aztec artisans secretly inserted indigenous religious symbols in Catholic Churches

Architects discover that Post-Conquest Aztec artisans secretly inserted indigenous religious symbols in Catholic Churches

Mexican archaeologists have also discovered a previously unknown civilization in Sonora State, which they believe are the people, who  became the elite of Anasazi in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico  (Second Article).  It would explain why Anasazi Culture seems to have been a mixture of indigenous Pueblo, Peruvian and Mesoamerican traditions.

The Institito Nacional de Antropologia E Historia de Mexico (INAH) produces dozens of outstanding TV documentaries each year for Mexican Public Television and students in Latin America.  Almost all are in Spanish.  I will to start doing a better job of summarizing the contents of relevant INAH films for POOF subscribers.  Those of you, who know Spanish well enough to understand the gist of the films, will then be able to go to Youtube and watch the complete programs.  Unfortunately, most of the archaeological films being produced in the United States nowadays is drivel akin to “Ancient Alien Astronauts”  or propaganda to exaggerate the importance of a particular modern tribe.


The capitals of Aztec columns became the capitals of columns in Spanish churches. For over four centuries,  Pre-Conquest art was hidden from the xenophobic eyes of the Spaniards.

Mexico City:  Architects employed by the INAH in the restoration of the Great Temple of the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan, plus one of Mexico’s oldest churches that stands over it, have discovered  Mexica (Aztec) religious symbols that have been hidden for over four and a half centuries.  The Native American artisans intentionally hid the symbols beyond the sight of their Spanish overlords so that the Christian churches, would effect, also function as temples to their indigenous gods.

The people commonly called Aztec today, called themselves, Mexica. In Nahuatl, the native language of the Aztec, “Azteca” means “someone who comes from Aztlán”, a mythical place in northern Mexico or the Southwestern United States. However, the Aztec referred to themselves as Mexica or Tenochca or Tlatelolca according their city of origin. The Valley of Mexico was called Anihuac, which means, “water – close to.”

Franciscan Brother Toribio de Benavente Motolinía arrived in Mexico City in 1524 along with 11 other missionaries to convert the indigenous peoples to Roman Catholicism.  During his stay in Mexico, ten epidemics reduced the population of Mesoamerica by around 90%.   They same holocaust happened in the Southeast a little later.  This is an important fact one should consider, when trying to understand the differences in Southeastern indigenous cultures of the 1700s and those that existed before the American Holocaust.

The Franciscan wrote that the grand architecture of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan was intentionally destroyed in order to reconstruct buildings for the Spanish conquerors.  Most of the work involved with converting Native stone architecture to Spanish Late Medieval architecture was done by indigenous craftsmen.  They were ordered to removed all vestiges of Pre-Conquest art, since it was thought by the Spanish to be “the work of the Devil.”  For this reason,  archaeologists and architects long assumed that the great works of sculptural art by the Mexica were permanently lost.

While disassembling a portion of a mid-16th century church in order to allow access to Aztec ruins and also fortify the church against earthquakes,  the architects discovered that much Aztec sculptural art survived within the church walls.  Apparently, the remaining art was concealed from Spanish overseers until slipped in place within the structure of the church. From the religious perspective of the forcibly converted Aztecs,  churches built from former Aztec temples made them Aztec temples, especially when he art remained.

The stylistic treatment of stone by Aztec sculptors was not terribly different than the Early Baroque architecture, which was coming into vogue in Spain and then Mexico.  Of course, the subject matter was often very different.  Nevertheless, the Spanish considered all Aztec art to be demonic, even when it only displayed semi-abstract forms like the column capital above.


Templo Mayor (Great Temple) Archaeological Zone in Mexico City

In 1978,  electrical workers dug into a great cylindrical stone alter near the Zacolo (Great Plaza) and Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City.  Subsequent investigation by archaeologists determined that nearby was one corner of the Great Temple (Templo Mayor) of the Aztecs.  Archaeologists and laborers have been working in the area almost continuously since then.   Most of the great pyramid that stood there was razed and converted into building materials for Spanish buildings. However, during the past three decades Mexican archaeologists have discovered that the bases and earlier construction phases of the pyramid were still intact.  Surprisingly, the Spanish did not destroy massive stone sculptures in the cities of Tenochtitlan, Tlatelolco and Teniyuca.   Instead they buried the monuments under rubble.  Perhaps the Spanish feared that if they touched the pagan gods, they would be cursed . . . or something like that.  Both the Aztec structures and the foundations of the earliest Spanish structures can be viewed by visitors.



Previously Unknown Civilization Discovered in Sonoran Desert

Sonora State:  INAH archaeologists have been excavating and restoring enigmatic ruins in the Sonoran desert for several years.  As can seen above, their cities and towns were quite sophisticated, but bore little resemblance to the civilizations of Central and Southern Mexico.  There are no pyramids.  What the architecture most closely resembled were the most ancient cities and towns of the coastal desert of Peru such as Caral.  The aboriginal people of this region of Peru called themselves the Paracaushi (Paracusy in 17th century French) . . .  which happens to be the name that the elite of the Proto-Creeks in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida also called themselves!  Hence the reason that we are featuring this project.  However, few artifacts or skeletons remained in the ruins.  The Sonoran cities were abandoned long ago during an extended drought. Their inhabitants probably moved elsewhere.

The people of this civilization lived in two distinct forms of communities.  Best known are those in the river valleys, which were constructed of fieldstone or quarried stone, plastered with clay.  They strongly resembled the “apartment blocks” in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.   The other type of community was a terrace complex in which small houses, occupied by commoners, were placed on the slopes of the agricultural terraces.  These terrace complexes strongly resemble those of the Highland Mayas and what we are finding in Northern Georgia. 


Perhaps it should be mentioned that the Itza Mayas were not “ethnic Mayas,” but immigrants from South America, who originally spoke a Panoan language, typical of Eastern Peru.  Itza was altered by several hundred years of domination by the Totonacs of Vera Cruz and then a thousand years since then by close association with Maya speakers. 

In 2012 the archaeologists began excavating a royal cemetery, which contained multiple levels of burials over an extended period of time.  Here they found the sophisticated art of the elite, but they found something else even more intriguing.   Almost all the skeletons have extremely deformed skulls and are much taller than most Mesoamericans during that era. Mesoamericans in southern Mexico, such as the elite of the Mayas, flattened the foreheads of babies, but they did not deform the skulls to the extreme shape that is seen on the Peruvian Coast and in this civilization in northwestern Mexico. 

Mexican archaeologists have theorized that the Anasazi Culture was founded by a band of elite from this previously unknown civilization, who traveled northward to the Four Corners region and established themselves as the elite among the Pueblo peoples, who are now known as Zuni, Taos, Zuni and Hopi Peoples.   The newcomers introduced a much more sophisticated style of architecture, a hierarchical socio-political structure and a form of human sacrifice that involved cannibalism.   Thus, the supposed “Mesoamerican contacts” that Gringo archaeologists are now ascribing to Chaco Canyon were actually cultural and trade ties with a much closer civilization in Sonora.  In fact the Anasazi structures are very similar to those in Sonora.

When I visited Chaco Canyon for the first time, I was perplexed by the claim of many Gringo archaeologists that Chaco Canyon represented a northern extension of Mesoamerican civilization.  The architecture was entirely different and there were no mounds or pyramids.  The window and door details of the Anasazi structures, plus those round kivis, are identical to what is seen in the architecture of western Peru, but very different from Central and Southern Mexico.  Thus, the new INAH interpretation of both the Sonora and Southwestern USA structures as being founded by Pacific Coast South Americans makes a great deal of sense. 

Below are two Spanish language videos from the INAH.  The first describes the Peruvian-Mesoamerican skeletons, recently discovered.  The second described a large terrace complex in Northwestern Mexico that Mexican archaeologists have been working on since 1996.  Note that even though the cemetery was quite a long distance from the Pacific Ocean, the skeletons wear sea shell ornaments like those found in burials within the interior of the Southeastern United States.  These people made shell gorgets, which is also a Muskogean artistic tradition.



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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

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