The Aztec 
 
Warriors, farmers, master builders, and poets, the Aztec honored their gods and ruled a mighty empire in Mexico from the 14th century until the Spanish conquest in 1521. Every 52 years, on a night when the stars of the Pleiades reached their zenith over Cerro de la Estrella, priests celebrated the most important milestone in the Aztec world—a new cycle in their calendar count. A fire was lighted on the chest of a distinguished captive, then his heart was cut out and thrown on the brazier. A relay of torches took the new fire to the Great Temple to be distributed throughout the land—Felipe Dávalos’s re-creation is shown at right.
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Chalchiuhtlicue, goddess of water from springs, streams, lakes, and seas

            
Tlaloc, he who “showered down the rain,” appears here in one of his multiple forms.
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A pantheon of gods—so intertwined that their complexities must have dazzled even the high priests—pervaded Aztec life. There were at least 1,600 deities, according to myth, but their forms were so intricate as to be countless. Artist Felipe Dávalos interpreted aspects of Aztec style for an article in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC in December 1980, shown above.
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Click image to enlarge.
Huitzilopochtli, a deified earthly leader and god of war
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Luxuries flowed to the great Aztec market at Tlatelolco, center of commerce for the empire. Conquistador Hernán Cortés reported a crowd of 60,000 bartering for goods—turkeys, armadillos, cotton, gourds, bolts of cloth, quills filled with gold dust, straw mats, corn, pottery, and feathers for lavish adornment.

 
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