Today, if you look up to the peak of San Miguel’s hill in central Mexico, you’ll see a yellow chapel for the hill’s namesake. High above, the lone structure overshadows its surroundings.
But, according to local legend, if you’d looked up the same hill before the Spanish arrived, you would have seen a different religious structure: a teocalli, or an ancient temple.
This legend was passed from generation to generation, but, according to a Sept. 29 news release from Mexico’s Ministry of Culture and National Institute of Anthropology and History, no one had ever tried to prove or disprove it — until now.
During improvement projects at the Chapel of Archangel Saint Michael in Atlixco, archaeologists were brought in to survey the chapel and excavate a few small areas, the release said.
Archaeologists dug into the modern-day floor and found fragments of clay pottery, stone tools and other ornaments mixed with dirt and rocks, officials said. They identified this mixture as fillings, a construction method used by ancient residents of Atlixco to shape the hill into a pyramid.
The artifacts dated to the first millennium A.D., about 1,000 years ago, archaeologists said. During this time before the Spanish arrived, Atlixco was known as Cuauhquechollan, which can be translated as “the place of the eagle with beautiful plumage.”
Encouraged by the findings, archaeologists continued their excavations. About 10 inches below the modern-day floor, they unearthed remnants of a wall and a floor, the release said. Farther down, they uncovered the remains of a second floor.
Archaeologists identified the ruins as part of a teocalli, or ancient pre-Hispanic temple, officials said. The local legend was proven true.
Photos show the ancient temple ruins. The two layers of floors appear rocky and fragmented with time and with the construction of the modern-day chapel. Another photo shows a retaining wall and the fillings.
But the mystery around the legendary temple lingers.
Archaeologists don’t know what deity the temple honored or much else about the structure, the release said. They expect more temple ruins — and more answers — lie beneath the Chapel of Archangel Saint Michael, but they haven’t excavated any further.
Atlixco is about 80 miles southeast of Mexico City.
Google Translate was used to translate the news release from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).