Human sacrifice was a key part of the Aztec culture, and a new find raises new questions about these savage rituals. Beneath the heart of Mexico City, a tower of human skulls was unearthed, and among the embedded human trophies were the crania of women and children. Archaeologists found more than 650 of the skulls caked in lime near the site of Templo Mayor, one of the main temples of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, which would later become Mexico City. Archaeologists speculate that the tower formed part of the Huey Tzompantli, which was a massive collection of skulls that the Aztecs used to strike fear into the hearts of Spanish conquistadors.
Since the excavation of the site in 2015, archeologists and historians were expecting to find young, male warriors, . So, when the skulls of women and children were found at the site as well, the researchers realized that the picture was not complete.
“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 site. “Something is happening that we have no record of, and this is really new, a first in the Huey Tzompantli.”
Archaeologists stated that after the skulls were put on public display on the Tzompantli, they were set in the tower. The tower itself stood on the corner of the chapel of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war and sacrifice. The base of the tower has yet to be unearthed. Historians have no doubt that the tower is one of the skull displays mentioned by Andres de Tapia, a Spanish soldier who fought alongside Cortes in 1521.
Human sacrifices were practiced by the Aztecs as offerings to the sun. Most rituals involved a victim being taken to the top of the temple by four priests. Once the victim was spread laid out on a stone slab, a fifth priest would slice open the victim’s abdomen, open up the victim’s chest, and rip out the still-beating heart. The heart was then placed in a bowl held by the statue of a god, with the body being thrown down the steps of the temple.
So far, 676 skulls have been found at the site, with more likely to be found as the excavation continues.