Comprised of 19 neighborhoods, the ancient city of Mexico-Tlatelolco boasted a complex hydraulic structure, as evidenced by the recent discovery of canal networks and a pier that would be modified in the early colonial period.

Since late September 2023, the federal Ministry of Culture, through the Archaeological Salvage Directorate of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), has been involved in a plot of land on Axis 2 North Manuel González, corner of Lerdo de Tejada Street, in the San Simón Tolnáhuac neighborhood, where a housing complex is planned.

The vast size of the site, approximately 11,000 square meters, has allowed the group of specialists, composed of archaeologists Ignacio Forteza Saavedra, Xantal Rosales García, Georgina de la Luz Cruz, Ana Karen Guerrero Arévalo, and Giovanni Castillejos, to identify a portion of the Tlatelolcan northern border, which, according to historical sources, would coincide with the Iztatlán or Tlaxoxiuhco neighborhoods of the Mexica metropolis.

The coordinator of these tasks, Tulio Cordero Hernández, notes that the material evidence from this salvage, cross-referenced with reports from previous archaeological interventions in the vicinity, corroborates what Luis González Aparicio indicated, namely that the northern boundary of Tlatelolco would not be at the current Manuel González Avenue, but about 300 meters further ahead, at Calzada San Simón.

Through 40 test pits in different areas of the site, specialists have observed traces of its various occupations: from between 1987 and 1993, when the “La Polar” oil factory operated, to an earlier one indicating the establishment of “Leviatán y Flor”, founded in 1912 by European migrants Isaac Leviatán and Jacobo Flor, who were engaged in producing yeast for bakeries.

Railroad ties, footings, and drainage pipes are remnants of this modern era, followed by sterile layers indicating soil inactivity for a long period until reaching those corresponding to the Late Postclassic period (1200-1521 AD), and the immediate transition to the 16th-century Viceroyalty.

The most outstanding elements of this period are a possible pier and hydraulic networks consisting of canals of different dimensions – ranging from 1 to 8 meters wide – which must have served various functions, whether for irrigation, drainage, or navigation, comments Cordero Hernández.

Archaeologist Xantal Rosales García, who is exploring the mentioned pier, measuring 4.8 meters by 3.1 meters, associated with a network of canals, details that its construction system indicates two occupation stages: the first, from the pre-Hispanic era, was characterized by the use of larger-faced stones constituting the walls and a staircase to descend to the body of water; in the second occupation, from the early decades of the Viceroyalty, added walls with smaller irregular stones can be observed to convert it into a possible reservoir of the vital liquid.

In contrast to what happened in Tenochtitlan, she adds, Tlatelolco continued to be inhabited by indigenous population, and there was no immediate change in their way of life, as evidenced by the discovery of the burial of a newborn in the pre-Hispanic fashion, in a seated position and associated with a residential structure, already in the period following Spanish contact.

However, severe floods, such as those of 1555 and 1607, epidemics, and other adversities led to a decrease in the native population, so that the outskirts of the city gradually depopulated towards the 17th and 18th centuries, as indicated by maps of the time where they appear as plains.

Archaeologist Tulio Cordero concludes that, knowing the margins of Tlatelolco, where the people of the town lived, allows us to complete the image of this Mexica city and imagine life with its complex hydraulic system.


Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH)

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