Archaeologists have discovered flower bouquets that were used as ritual offerings nearly 2,000 years ago under an ancient pyramid in the Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan, located about an hour’s drive northeast of modern-day Mexico City.
The bouquets were found earlier this month in a tunnel beneath the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, Teotihuacan’s third largest pyramid, as part of a long-running expedition led by Sergio Gómez Chávez, an archaeologist with Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), according to a recent article in La Jornada.
The discovery marks the first time such well-preserved botanical specimens have ever been recovered from the ruins of Teotihuacan, a city that was home to an estimated 125,000 people from the 1st to 5th centuries CE, making it one of the world’s largest urban centers at that time.
Though it’s not yet clear what kinds of plants are bundled into the bouquets, Gómez Chávez and his colleagues believe the items were used as part of a ritual event. The team found several pounds of charcoal in the tunnel, suggesting that the flowers were placed in a protected area below a bonfire.
“In total there are four bouquets of flowers in very good condition,” Gómez Chávez told La Jornada. “They are still tied with ropes, probably cotton. This is a very important find because it speaks of the rituals that were carried out in this place.”
The bouquets are the latest addition to a treasure trove of archaeological objects that have been found in this underground passageway, which Gómez Chávez and his colleagues accidentally stumbled upon in 2003. Back then, the researchers noticed that heavy rains had opened a sinkhole in front of the pyramid that led to the subterranean tunnel, which is located about 12 meters (40 feet) beneath the surface and appears to have been sealed sometime around the year 200.
Over the years, Gómez Chávez’s team has identified more than 100,000 archaeological objects in the tunnel, which extends for more than 100 meters (330 feet). These evocative artifacts include sculptures of jaguars and humans, wooden masks decorated with gems, and hundreds of metallic spheres. One end of the passageway opens up into an eerie chamber with a miniature landscape complete with sculpted mountains and lakes made of liquid mercury, which may have been a representation of the underworld.
Gómez Chávez and his colleagues are now in the final phases of exploring this incredible underpass, and they are still turning up unexpected artifacts, such as the newly discovered bouquets.
“It’s important to understand all these types of materials as a whole,” Gómez Chávez said of his 12-year expedition. “This set of materials allows us to understand many aspects of the worldview and the religion of the ancient Mesoamerican peoples and, specifically, of the ritual activities that were carried out inside the tunnel.”
“There is still a long way to go to work in Teotihuacan and each find is one more grain of sand in the knowledge of one of the most important and complex societies that existed in ancient times," he concluded.