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AP Exclusive: Aztec Leader's Tomb Found

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By MARK STEVENSON
The Associated Press
Saturday, August 4, 2007; 3:23 AM

MEXICO CITY -- He was emperor at the apogee of the Aztec civilization, the last to complete his rule before the Spanish Conquest. But Ahuizotl's tomb has never been found. No Aztec ruler's funeral chamber ever has. But Mexican archaeologists believe that has finally changed.

Using ground-penetrating radar, they have detected underground chambers that could contain the remains of Ahuizotl, who ruled the Aztecs when Columbus landed in the New World.

The find could provide an extraordinary window into Aztec civilization at its peak. Ahuizotl (ah-WEE-zoh-tuhl), was an empire-builder who extended the Aztecs' reach as far as Guatemala.

Accounts written by Spanish priests suggest the area was used by the Aztecs to cremate and bury their rulers. But no tomb of an Aztec ruler has ever been found, in part because the Spanish conquerors built their own city atop the Aztec's ceremonial center, leaving behind colonial structures too historically valuable to remove for excavations.

One of those colonial buildings was so damaged in a 1985 earthquake that it had to be torn down, eventually giving experts their first chance to examine the site off Mexico City's Zocalo plaza, between the Metropolitan Cathedral and the ruins of the Templo Mayor pyramid.

Archaeologists told The Associated Press that they have located what appears to be a six-foot-by-six-foot entryway into the tomb about 15 feet below ground. The passage is filled with water, rocks and mud, forcing workers to dig delicately while suspended from slings. Pumps work to keep the water level down.

"We are doing it very, very slowly ... because the responsibility is very great and we want to register everything," said Leonardo Lopez Lujan, the lead government archaeologist on the project. "It's a totally new situation for us, and we don't know exactly what it will be like down there."

As early as this fall, they hope to enter the inner chambers _ a damp, low-ceilinged space _ and discover the ashes of Ahuizotl, who was likely cremated on a funeral pyre in 1502.

By that time, Columbus had already landed in the New World. But the Aztecs' first contact with Europeans came 17 years later, in 1519, when Hernan Cortes and his band of conquistadors marched into the Mexico Valley and took hostage Ahuizotl's successor, his nephew Montezuma.

Ahuizotl's son Cuauhtemoc (kwow-TAY-mock) took over from Montezuma and led the last resistance to the Spaniards in the battle for Mexico City in 1521. He was later taken prisoner and killed. Like Montezuma, his burial place is unknown.

Because no Aztec royal tomb has ever been found, the archaeologists are literally digging into the unknown. Radar indicates the tomb has up to four chambers, and scientists think they will find a constellation of elaborate offerings to the gods on the floor.

"He must have been buried with solemn ceremony and rich offerings, like vases, ornaments ... and certainly some objects he personally used," said Luis Alberto Martos, director of archaeological studies at Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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