The Aztecs ruled parts of Central Mexico from the 1300s through the early 1500s. Their burial customs were rooted in the Aztec belief that life and death were interconnected. "Death was not altogether an abhorrent idea, being little more than an incident in the continuity between this life and the next," according to the Institute of Archaeology quoting the 1920 book "Mexican Archaeology." Manuscripts, drawings and archaeological findings reveal much about the burial beliefs of the Aztecs. As with most cultures, burial beliefs were influenced by religion.
The Aztecs believed in many nature gods who were ruled by the Supreme Creator, Ometecuhtli. Ometecuhtli was two people in one with both male and female identities. The Aztecs believed the sun was created when a weak and miserable god offered himself as a sacrifice and was recreated as the sun. "Blazing, and blue with magic power, he flew into the heavens as Tonatiuh, the Lord of Fate, the sun," according to the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute article "The Aztecs: A Pre-Columbian History." The maize god Cinteotl was also very important to this civilization where corn was king. Under the earth were nine underworlds; the dead were believed to make their way to the lowest underworld, where they lived a fairly normal life until Ometecuhtli sent them back to Earth. Until then, they were ruled by Mictlantecuhtli, the god of the underworld.
You Can Take it With You
The Aztecs buried significant items with their loved ones to help them in their journey to the underworld. One ancient Aztec drawing depicts the funeral of a merchant. His cremated body was wrapped in feline skins, along with sandals, gold, precious stones, feathers and other objects so he could continue his career in the underworld, according to the Institute of Archaeology. Chocolate and grinding stones with corn were depicted in other drawings. In addition to inanimate objects, wives and slaves were sometimes buried when an upper-class man died.
When a lord, or upper-class ruler, died in the Aztec culture, the wife was buried alive so she could serve her husband in the underworld. A slave was sacrificed so he, too, could help his master. Human sacrifice was a part of Aztec culture. Just as Tonatiuh, the sun god, had sacrificed himself, he needed human sacrifices of blood and hearts to satisfy the thirst he experienced from the heat. During sacrifices to Mictlantecuhtli, the god of the underworld, priests would lay the person to be sacrificed upon a sacred stone, cut him from stomach to throat and removed his heart.
Tickets to Paradise
Burial customs depended on the occupation of the deceased. Merchants were placed in a seated position and cremated, while lower-class people were buried beneath the floors of their houses so they could maintain the connection with their families. Kings had canine assistance to reach their final destination, according to the Institute of Archaeology article,"Mortuary Practices Among the Aztec," which told how a red dog was sacrificed and buried with the king so the dog could carry the king on his back through the streams of the underworld. The Aztecs believed children who died went to a beautiful garden paradise, and they buried them in front of the maize beans to "signify they went to a good and fine place," according to the Institute of Archaeology.
- Dig on Site: Questions about Mesoamerica
- Daily Mail: Brutal Aztec Rituals Revealed by Gruesome Find of 50 Skulls Buried Around Sacrificial Stone in the Heart of Mexico City
- Yale University: The Aztecs; A Pre-Columbian History
- Papers from the Institute of Archaeology: Mortuary Practices Among the Aztec
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