Comparative Guts

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Stylized heart rendered in sheet gold, found in an offering at the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan

Site: Tenochtitlan
Culture: Aztec
Date: Late Postclassic (c. AD 1486-1502)
Context: Templo Mayor, Offering 167
Medium: Cold-hammer gold with incisions
Figure credit: Photograph by Jorge Pérez de Lara / M. Islas

The heart occupied a privileged place in Aztec culture. Researchers have often over-emphasised the role and place of hearts in sacrificial rituals conducted, on occasion, by ritual specialists. In so doing, they have often overlooked the vital place occupied by the organ in the ideational landscape of the Aztec and the Nahuatl-speaking populations of Central Mexico. Thus, the heart was and is deemed the locus of humours and moods. In this respect, note the use of yōl(li) ‘heart’ in the following words for ‘happiness’, ‘enjoyment’ and ‘great contentment’ in Nahuatl: yōl-cēuhtoc, yōl-pāquic, yōl-pāquiliztli, yōl-quīzac, nel-yōl-quīzaliztli, yōl-ahahuia. Interestingly, one of the golden hearts found in the same offering as that represented here, had been bent and deformed before being interred, perhaps cueing, quite literally, a yōllo-necuil ‘bent heart’—as remarked by our colleague Leonardo López Luján who discovered this offering at the base of the great Aztec temple. (CH)