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By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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The Aztecs, a fierce warrior people notorious for their excessive practice of human sacrifice, dominated Mexico at the time of the Spanish Conquest in 1521. The Aztecs founded their capital city Tenochtitlan (now under Mexico City) in 1325 on an island in Lake Texcoco in the Basin of Mexico, and began their rapid rise to political power after a victory over the neighboring city of Azcapotzalco in 1428.

In the later 15th century, the Aztecs were well on the way to empire, and Tenochtitlan took on the appearance of an imperial capital, with many temples, palaces, and monumental sculptures. There were huge sacrificial stones and other public monuments, as well as images of important gods, which were housed in their own temples. Deity images were made of wood, resin, bone, clay, dough, and stone; stone sculptures were usually covered with a white lime base to smooth the surface, then polychromed. The images often carried banners, staffs, weapons, and shields, and were adorned for festivals with paper decorations, capes, and jewelry. Jade was inserted in the chest to represent the heart. Sculptures of gods taken from conquered peoples were kept in a “prison” temple and various other deity sculptures were buried in caches.

Aztec-style sculptures proliferated in central Mexico, and when the Spanish arrived, thousands of carvings, particularly deity images, were scattered across the countryside – at roadside shrines, near springs, and in caves and various other sacred places.