Friday, April 5, 2019

Ancient high-technology in the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

The National Museum of Anthropology in downtown Mexico City [Photo by Author]

The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City hosts one of the largest collections of archaeological artefacts and pre-Columbian masterpieces in the world. Among those, are a number of pieces, some extremely famous, others entirely neglected by tourists, that exhibit a level of technical sophistication far beyond the capabilities of the ancient peoples who supposedly realized them.

1. The Aztec Calendar stone
The Aztec Calendar stone - This 24-ton monolith was discovered in 1790 in what is today the great Cathedral Square of Mexico City, near the Aztec Templo Mayor [Photo by Author]
This enormous monolith, weighting an estimated 24 tons, was discovered under the ruins of the Templo Mayor, the greatest temple of the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan. The enormous stone must have been dragged by thousands of peoples from quarries located at a distance of over 22 kilometers. It contains three rings or calendar wheels surrounding a central disk containing a depiction of the present Sun and of the four previous Eras or Suns, which ended in cataclysms. The first ring contains 20 glyphs corresponding to the days of the 18 months’ Aztec calendar. A second ring is similarly divided into squares, each containing 5 points, while the outermost ring contains the depiction of entwined fire serpents and more calendrical symbols. With its complicated symbolism and concentric rings or gears, the Aztec Calendar stone appears eerily similar to the petrified version of a mechanical device. 
Another bas-relief displaying a circular object (probably a shield) resembling the calendar stone. Was this curious design based on an ancient mechanical device? [Photo by Author]
2. The monolith of Coatlinchán
The giant monolith of Coatlinchan, as it stands on a fountain outside of Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology [Photo by Author]
The monolith of Coatlinchán is a colossal ancient statue that for centuries lay abandoned in an andesite quarry near the ancient city of Texcoco, before it was finally moved to Mexico City in 1964. The same andesite quarry is also believed to have provided much of the construction materials for the stone sculptures and megalithic architecture of Teotihuacan, some 25 miles to the North-East of Mexico City. It is believed that the monolith of Coatlinchán is a representation of the Rain-god Tlaloc. It is nearly 7 meters high and weighs an estimated 152 tons, making it the largest ancient statue and one of the largest carved monoliths in all the American continent. The monolith now decorates a fountain in front of the National Museum of Anthropology in downtown Mexico City.

3. Colossal Aztec sculptures
An enormous serpent head carved out of a single block of andesite - It is believed to be a depiction of the 'Fire Serpent' and would have once adorned the sacred precinct of the Templo Mayor. [Photo by Author]
The Aztec room of the National Museum of Anthropology contains a number of colossal Aztec sculptures that once adorned the area of the Templo Mayor. Some of the most impressive ones include a giant crouching jaguar, depictions of the fire serpent or Tochancalqui, and some enormous serpent heads. The Coatlique statue is a particularly striking piece of sculpture depicting the ancient Aztec goddess of snakes, wearing a gown of entwined serpents and a necklace of severed human heads and hearts. From her decapitated head, two great serpents spring out. These statues, each weighting many tons, were carved from the hardest basalt and andesite stone by a people that had allegedly no knowledge of metal tools, and may be ranked among the finest and most striking pieces of sculpture anywhere on earth.
The Coatlique statue, also carved from a single block of andesite measuring 2.7 meters (8.9 ft) tall. It was considered so terrifying that soon after its discovery in 1790 it was quickly reburied on fear that it would encourage the return of bloody rituals and necromantic practices. [Photo by Author]
4. Teotihuacan’s ‘Goddess of Water’
This statue of the 'Water Goddess' or 'Great Goddess' of Teotihuacan was found near the base of the Pyramid of the Moon. It was probably part of a pair that decorated a large, monumental temple on top. [Photo by Author]
This enormous statue popularly known as the ‘Goddess of Water’ was found at Teotihuacan, near the base of the Pyramid of the Moon. The huge andesite statue is over 3.2 meters (10 ft) tall and weighs an estimated 15 tons. It is stylistically similar to the great monolith of Coatlinchán and may have originally formed part of a pair of statues decorating a temple on top of the Pyramid of the Moon.
This group of sculptures, which once decorated the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan, is a fine example of the great mastery achieved by the builders of Teotihuacan in working with hard stones like andesite. [Photo by Author]
5. Colossal Olmec stone heads
A colossal stone head in the Olmec room of Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology. Notice the negroid features and what appear to be en elaborate helmet covering the head. [Photo by Author]
Over 20 colossal Olmec stone heads are known, most of which from the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco. The two examples that are found in Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology come from the ancient Olmec capital of San Lorenzo, Veracruz. Other than for their enormous size (each weighs between 8 and 12 tons), these sculptures are remarkable for their ornate headdresses and negroid features, with slanting, deep-set eyes and high cheek bones, suggesting they may depict individuals of a race different from that of the present inhabitants.
More examples of Olmec sculpture - This life-sized statue of a wrestler is notable for the presence of a beard and the highly naturalistic pose. [Photo by Author]
Monolith n.20 from La Venta, dated to 1,200-800 B.C., contains one of the earliest depictions of the Feathered Serpent and the Myth of Quetzalcoatl. [Photo by Author]
6. Drilled alabaster vases
An exceptionally drilled alabaster vase. Found in the ancient Toltec capital of Tula, Hidalgo, this unfinished vase shows clear evidence of the use of a tubular drill for carving its interior and hollowing out material. [Photo by Author]
Another view of the same vase - Note the perfect elliptical shape and the evidence of drilling in the interior. It is inconceivable that such an object could have been manufactured without the use of the lathe and of sophisticated metal tools and abrasives. [Photo by Author]
A unique example of a drilled alabaster stone vase can be found in the Tula room. Discovered in Tula, Hidalgo, this unfinished vessel was carved with the aid of a tubular drill that left peculiar drill marks on the inside. There is no explanation as to how this was achieved by a people that supposedly ignored the use of metals but the material used (a very fine kind of alabaster) and the general workmanship are reminiscent of the finest early Dynastic Egyptian stone vessels.
Another example of a drilled alabaster vessel from the Olmec culture, with a lizard sculptured on the outside. [Photo by Author]
Another drilled alabaster vessel from the Maya region. Its decoration is strangely reminiscent of the early Chinese bronzes of the Xia and Shang Dynasty. [Photo by Author] 
7. The ‘Monkey Vase’ of Texcoco
The famous 'Monkey Vase' from Texcoco, a masterpiece of ancient obsidian stonework and one of the most valuable artifacts in Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology. [Photo by Author] 
This small obsidian jar is perhaps one of the most exquisite objects in Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology. Made of a single piece of obsidian, it depicts a monkey holding its tail above its head as a kind of handle. It is not known by what means the hard obsidian (a type of black volcanic glass) was finished to achieve a perfect mirror polish without breaking it, nor how it was so precisely carved on the inside with walls just a few millimeters thick. The vessel was discovered in 1880 inside a tomb near the ancient city of Texcoco, but nearly nothing else is known of its provenance. 
Another view of the same vessel, from the front. The quality of the polish and finesse of the carvings is astonishing. [Photo by Author]
Another view of the same 'Monkey Vase' of Texcoco. The perfect geometry of the vase and the quality of its mirror-like polish can be appreciated from every side. [Photo by Author]
8. Incredible obsidian and rock-crystal objects
A set of remarkable obsidian ear spools, believed to be of Azted manufacture. The thickness of the walls is less than 1 mm, making each disc look almost transparent. [Photo by Author]
Similar to the Monkey Vase of Texcoco, but on a smaller scale, these ear spools and pendants are also made of obsidian. They are carved to a perfect mirror-like polish, with walls so thin as to be almost transparent. Other examples are known from rock crystal and other extremely hard stones. It is a mystery how this level of workmanship was achieved without the aid of sophisticated metal tools by a people who allegedly ignored even the use of the lathe. 

9. Polished basalt statues
A polished basalt snake, also believed to be of Aztec manufacture. The stone has been polished to a perfect mirror-like finish. [Photo by Author]
The same level of mirror-like finish that is found on the smallest obsidian and jade objects can also be found on some larger basalt statues, like a number of magnificent coiled serpents. These works of art are not only striking for their extremely accurate workmanship, but also for their precise geometry that is almost suggestive of the use of machines or other unknown mechanical methods for cutting and shaping the stone.
A detail of another coiled snake sculpture, from below. Note the perfect geometry of the scales and the spiral-form of the sculpture, which makes it rank among the finest artworks of all times. [Photo by Author]
10. The Codex Boturini
An illustration from the Codex Boturini, depicting the Aztec's migration from Aztlan to the mythical mountain of Coatepetl. [Photo by Author]
The mystery of the Codex Boturini lies not in how it was made, but rather in its contents. One of only a handful surviving Aztec codices, it contains a detailed account of the Aztec migration from a mythical place called Aztlan, depicted as a large island surrounded by water. From Aztlan, the Aztecs allegedly came to Mesoamerica, passing through a number of mythical and real historical places. The Codex Boturini has often been claimed to preserve the memory of the Aztec’s ancestral migration from Atlantis. The very name of Aztlan may be translated as the ‘place of whiteness’ or the ‘white island’. The equally legendary Chicomoztoc, the ‘Place of the Seven Caves’, from where the ancestors of the Aztecs emerged to repopulate the earth appears instead as a subsequent step in the Aztecs' migration after their departure from Aztlan.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Marco, I just saw your article about the puzzle of Hittite ruins being destroyed by extreme fire . There is other evidence that the Hittites possessed an unusual 'fire weapon' ...which is all detailed on my website at
    Bill Gleeson