Aztecs may have kept golden eagles in captivity

According to archaeologist Israel Elizalde Aztecs kept eagles in captivity to use them in the offerings and, in some cases, to use their skins, bones and feathers to manufacture garments or objects.
The importance that Aztecs attributed to these raptors and their presence at the Moctezuma Totocalli is being studied through the bones and skeletons of about 28 specimens found in recent excavations at the Templo Mayor. (Photo: Courtesy of Templo Mayor)
15/12/2015
12:30
Abida Ventura
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When Hernán Cortés and his men arrived at the heart of Tenochtitlan they were surprised to see many animals kept a few meters away from Moctezuma's Grand Palace.

At the "house of the beasts", possibly located in what is now Moneda 16, in Mexico City downtown, there were pumas, lions, jaguars, snakes kept in jars and a large number of golden eagles (aquila chrysaetos). In his chronicles, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo says he saw up to 50 of these raptors.

The Mexicas, better known as Aztecs, called the animals “golden eagle” because when they flew they looked like the sun.

The importance that Aztecs attributed to these raptors and their presence at the Moctezuma Totocalli is being studied through the bones and skeletons of about 28 specimens found in recent excavations at the Templo Mayor.

According to archaeologist Israel Elizalde, who works on Templo Mayor Project led by archaeologist Leonardo López Luján, Aztecs kept eagles in captivity to use them in the offerings and, in some cases, to use their skins, bones and feathers to manufacture garments or objects.

They made punches for self-sacrifice with the long bones, such as the wing and leg bones, while feathers were used to decorate headdresses or garments. Sometimes they even kept some of the skin to use it as rugs or for the costumes worn by priests and leaders. Elizalde says Aztecs may have used a process similar to taxidermy to preserve the skin and the feathers. This means that the temple may have had people dedicated to dissecting birds and other wild animals, such as pumas and jaguars.

Elizalde discovered that these birds lived in captivity because most of them had a broken wing, possibly intentionally to prevent them from escaping. Also, some jaguars, pumas and wolves found at the site had spine and paw problems, indicating that they lived in captivity.

The eagles were fed with quail, as shown by the fragments of bones found in one eagle's sternum.

 

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