MEXICO CITY -- Did the rulers of the ancient city of Teotihuacan dedicate their largest pyramid to the god of fire, the so-called old god with a signature beard and fire atop his head?
Mexican archaeologists announced this week that a figure of the god, called Huehueteotl, was found in a covered pit at the apex of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, a popular archaeological site north of Mexico City.
Excavations are ongoing, but the discovery suggests that a long-disappeared temple at the top of the pyramid was used to perform ritual offerings to the fire god, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, or INAH, said in a statement Monday.
Huehueteotl is known in the archaeology of various Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Olmecs and Aztecs, and the Aztecs' predecessors in the Valley of Mexico, the Teotihuacanos. He is commonly represented as a viejo, or old man, sitting in a cross-legged position, often with a beard and a beaked nose, and with a hearth-like source of fire balanced on his head. Huehueteotl is associated with wisdom and rulership.
Archaeologists found the Huehueteotl, along with two stone pillars, in a covered pit about 15 feet deep, at a height of about 214 feet from the ground. The pit is below the remnants of a platform at the top of the Pyramid of the Sun that probably served as the foundation for a temple.
The people of Teotihuacan finished building the pyramid around AD 100 and destroyed its apex temple themselves around the end of the 5th century or the beginning of the 6th century, INAH said.
Archaeologists did not know that a pit existed at the top of the stepped pyramid, renowned as one of the largest of its kind in the Americas. It is now thought that Leopoldo Batres, the pioneering archaeologist who restored the pyramid to the basic form seen today, covered the platform a century ago without properly excavating it.
"Once we didn't find the bottom of the platform, upon further digging we figured out it was pit," INAH archaeologist Nelly Nuñez said in a video.
In 2011, INAH archaeologists announced they had found a 400-foot-long tunnel at the base of the Pyramid of the Sun, which is still being studied. Mexico's government has been excavating the structure in earnest since 2005. Only a fraction of the Teotihuacan site has been studied in about 100 years of government archaeological work there.
The Huehueteotl was uncovered between June and December. It weighs 418 pounds and is made of a gray volcanic stone. An INAH spokeswoman said Wednesday that the fire-god figure and other objects found with it were still being examined. It was unclear when they might be exhibited to the public.