Archaeologists have found more than 650 skulls caked in lime and thousands of fragments in the cylindrical edifice beneath the heart of Mexico City near the site of the Templo Mayor. This is one of the main temples in the Mexican Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, which later became Mexico City.
A tower of human skulls unearthed has raised new questions about the culture of sacrifice in the Mexican Aztec Empire after crania of women and children surfaced among the hundreds embedded in the forbidding structure.
The tower is believed to form part of the Huey Tzompantli, a massive array of skulls that struck fear into the Spanish conquistadores when they captured the city under Hernan Cortes, and mentioned the structure in contemporary accounts.
Roughly six meters in diameter, the tower stood on the corner of the chapel of Huitzilopochtli, Mexican Aztec god of the sun, war and human sacrifice. Its base has yet to be unearthed.
Archaeologists have found more than 650 skulls caked in lime and thousands of fragments in the cylindrical edifice in the heart of Mexico
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Historians relate how the severed heads of captured warriors adorned tzompantli, or skull racks, found in a number of Mesoamerican cultures before the Spanish conquest.
“We were expecting just men, obviously young men, as warriors would be, and the thing about the women and children is that you’d think they wouldn’t be going to war,” said Rodrigo Bolanos, a biological anthropologist investigating the find.
“Something is happening that we have no record of, and this is really new, a first in the Huey Tzompantli,” he added.
Raul Barrera, one of the archaeologists working at the site alongside the huge Metropolitan Cathedral built over the Templo Mayor, said the skulls would have been set in the tower after they had stood on public display on the tzompantli.
The skulls are believed to be part of an edifice of tens of thousands of them, 676 have been found so far
There was no doubt that the tower was one of the skull edifices mentioned by Andres de Tapia, a Spanish soldier who accompanied Cortes in the 1521 conquest of Mexico, Barrera said.
In his account of the campaign, de Tapia said he counted tens of thousands of skulls at what became known as the Huey Tzompantli. Barrera said 676 skulls had so far been found, and that the number would rise as excavations went on.
The Mexican Aztecs and other Mesoamerican peoples performed ritualistic human sacrifices as offerings to the sun.
The Templo Mayor (Spanish for ‘Great Temple’) was one of the main temples of the Mexican Aztecs in their capital city of Tenochtitlan, which is now Mexico City. Its architectural style belongs to the late Postclassic period of Mesoamerica.
The find was made between February and June under the floor of a colonial-era house in downtown Mexico City.
In a typical ritual, sacrificial victims would be taken to the top of the temple where four priests would lay them down on a stone slab and have their still-beating hearts torn out.
The victim’s abdomen would then be be sliced open by a fifth priest using a ceremonial flint knife to cut right through the diaphragm and split open the chest.
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