Pre-Columbian star war stories have emerged from 23 stone carvings unearthed near the Great Temple in Tenochtitlan, the ancient Aztec center that became Mexico City after the Spanish invasion in 1521.
Providing unique iconographic evidence for Aztec myths, the bas-relief sculptures lay embedded in a strip of floor in front of the Templo Mayor complex, Tenochtitlan's holiest shrine.
Far from being purely decorative, the artistic carvings show symbols of death and crude representations in line with the Aztecs' bloody rituals.
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"These carvings are a form of writing. They tell stories of star warriors, captives and human sacrifices," archaeologist Raul Barrera, the director of the excavation, said.
He estimated that the carvings were produced on red and gray volcanic rock some 550 years ago, during the fourth stage of the Templo Mayor's construction (1440-1469), in the reign of Moctezuma I.
Demolished by 16th century conquistadores who described it as "reeking like a slaughterhouse" because of the thousands of ritual killings the Aztecs performed there, the Templo Mayor, or Great Temple, was re-discovered in 1978 by workers digging for electrical lines.