MEXICO CITY – Mexican experts have found the vestiges of a pre-Columbian palace and a later house built at the orders of Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, the nation’s Culture Secretariat said on Monday.
The discovery was made in Mexico City’s historic center underneath the Nacional Monte de Piedad, as part of an archaeological dig carried out in conjunction with remodeling work on that emblematic building.
The Culture Secretariat said in a statement that the National Institute of Anthropology and History’s (INAH’s) Urban Archaeology Program (PAU) uncovered basalt slab floors corresponding to the ruins of the Palace of Axayacatl, as well as the remains of a dwelling that was built at the orders of Cortes and later became the headquarters of the first Cabildo of New Spain and of the Marquessate of the Valley of Oaxaca.
It noted that some of the “most decisive episodes of the conquest of Mexico-Tenochtitlan” occurred within the walls of the palace, including the death of the “tlatoani” (ruler of the Aztec Empire) Moctezuma II, possibly on June 29, 1520.
The statement added that archaeologists had been aware thanks to historical sources that the foundations of the Palace of Axayacatl – used as living quarters by Cortes’ entourage upon their arrival in the heart of Tenochtitlan – were located under the Nacional Monte de Piedad building.
Over the past two decades, various INAH experts have found remnants of the former residence of Moctezuma II’s father during digs undertaken during remodeling projects at that same institution.
This latest discovery occurred between early September 2017 and mid-August 2018 as part of an archaeological salvage operation, according to the statement, which noted that the project is still ongoing but is now in the post-dig research phase.
The excavations led to the discovery of numerous basalt slab floors that archaeologists believe must correspond to an open courtyard at the Palace of Axayacatl, who ruled the Aztec Empire from 1469 to 1481, and to the ruins of a house that was built by order of Cortes and later served as an important construction in the early Viceregal period (1521-1620).
The leaders of the excavation work – the head and collaborator, respectively, of the PAU, Raul Barrera Rodriguez and Jose Maria Garcia Guerrero – said a dozen 1.5-meter (4.9-foot) test pits were dug around the Nacional Monte de Piedad’s main courtyard.
The digging of those pits on the north, east and west sides led to the discovery of the remains of a stone masonry wall.
In the west section of that same space, the archaeologists also found the sub-flooring: basal portions and a shaft of other columns from the early Viceregal period.
Given the freedom to conduct an extensive excavation, the archaeologists located an adjacent room made of basalt and tezontle (vesicular lava) dressed stones.
“Further analyses led to the conclusion that this was the home of Hernan Cortes, once Mexico-Tenochtitlan fell in 1521,” the statement read.