Gruesome human sacrifice discovery: Skulls reveal grisly secrets of lost Aztec city
A vast array of skulls buried beneath the streets of modern Mexico City are revealing the grisly details of Aztec human sacrifice.
The area was once the epicenter of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan - a gruesome site where human sacrifices were performed to honor the gods. Captives were taken to the city’s Templo Mayor, or great temple, where priests removed their still-beating hearts, Science reports.
The bodies were then decapitated and priests removed the skin and muscle from the corpses’ heads. Large holes were then carved into the sides of the skulls and placed onto a large wooden pole prior to being placed in the tzompantli, a huge rack of skulls in the front of the temple. Two towers of mortared skulls flanked the rack.
Paintings and written descriptions from the early colonial period document the macabre scene.
In 2015 archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) found the main trophy rack area and one of the skull towers at the Templo Mayor. More than 650 skulls and thousands of fragments were discovered, offering a glimpse into the Aztecs’ bloody culture.
Experts are now analyzing the discovery in detail. Science reports that, given the scale of the racks and the skull towers, archaeologists now estimate that several thousand skulls were likely displayed at a time.
In two seasons of excavations, archaeologists collected 180 mostly complete skulls from the tower and thousands of skull fragments. Cut marks confirm that they were “defleshed” after death and the decapitation marks are “clean and uniform.”
Three quarters of the skulls analyzed belonged to men, mostly aged between 20 and 35. Some 20 percent belonged to women and the remaining 5 percent were children. The victims are said to have been in “relatively good health” before they were sacrificed.
This corresponds with the analysis of victims sacrificed in “smaller offerings” in the Templo Mayor complex. By studying isotopes in the teeth and bones, experts have discovered that the victims were born in different places across Mesoamerica, but had often spent significant time in Tenochtitlan before their violent deaths.
Isotopic and DNA samples have also been taken from the tzompantli skulls, which could provide yet more insight into the practice of human sacrifice.
Tenochtitlan was the capital of the Mexica people, who became rulers of the Aztec empire. Spanish conquistadors were appalled by the tzompantli when they entered Tenochtitlan in 1519. Two years later, they destroyed the city and paved over its ruins, leaving the Aztec sacrificial remains below the streets of what became Mexico City.
John Verano, a professor of anthropology at Tulane University, who is not involved in the tzompantli project but is an expert on ancient Central American cultures, told Fox News that the Templo Mayor is of immense importance to archaeologists. “For a long time, many historians and anthropologists questioned whether the descriptions by Spanish eyewitnesses exaggerated the number of skulls on the skull rack, as well as the number of victims sacrificed by the Aztecs for the dedication of the Templo Mayor,” he explained, via email. “This discovery now makes these early accounts much more believable.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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By James Rogers | Fox News
A massive disk of intricately carved stone looms over a gallery in Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology.
The stone has long been an emblem of Mexican identity. Commissioned by the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II (r. 1502–1520), the nearly 12-foot-wide stone was completed during his reign, in about 1511. Eight years later, when Spanish conquistadores saw it atop a platform in the Aztecs’ central temple, the Templo Mayor, in the capital city of Tenochtitlan, one described it as “round, like a figure of the sun.” When the Spaniards leveled the capital, the stone disappeared, only to be rediscovered in 1790 beneath the city’s main plaza, the Zócalo, a block from where the conquistadores had seen it.
The meaning of this 22-ton disk of volcanic basalt has been subject to a variety of interpretations. The first article written about it in 1792 suggested that it functioned as a clock or sundial. Most researchers have concluded that the figure at the stone’s center represents an Aztec deity, possibly the sun god Tonatiuh—and most still do. But now archaeologist David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin has a provocative new theory about the central figure. He presented it in the magazine Arqueología Mexicana, and his reading of the famous artifact has set off debate among scholars of ancient Mexico in the magazine’s pages and beyond.
Citing iconic messages on the stone and comparisons to other monuments, Stuart suggests the figure is Moctezuma II himself, represented as the sun god. “People would have seen it as a depiction of the ruler, with the face of the king and the face of the sun being one and the same. The overlap between kings and gods was very important to the Aztecs,” says Stuart. He notes that a glyph above the face reads “One Flint,” the name for the year in which the god Huitzilopochtli was believed to have migrated from his mythic homeland to the central valley of Mexico at the dawn of the Aztec state. Another glyph, slightly to the left, represents a xiuhhuitzolli, a diadem or headdress, worn by the Aztec ruler himself. Stuart believes the two glyphs, taken together, send a clear message of royal power and identity. “It’s a portrait of the deified king. Aztec commoners would have read ‘This is the king. The king is a god.’ Seeing the central figure as a portrait makes it a very historical and political monument.”
Other Mesoamerican experts, however, disagree. Archaeologist Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, former director of the Templo Mayor excavations, has argued that Stuart’s interpretation is groundless. He writes in Arqueología Mexicana that Stuart has misread the glyph that he believes represents the royal headdress, which, he says, is, instead, part of a longer glyph with no direct relation to the ruler. Moreover, the man in the center of the stone has a tongue-like sacrificial knife hanging out of his mouth. According to Matos, no other portrait of an Aztec ruler has such an attribute.
Patrick Hajovsky, a Southwestern University archaeologist, also disputes Stuart’s theory, saying that although the glyph to the left of the figure might indeed be that of Moctezuma, that would not mean the figure depicted is the king. “By that logic, then, the central figure could just as well be Huitzilopochtli, the god whose name appears in the innermost circle,” he says. He observes that in other works featuring Moctezuma, he never appears in the center of the sun, “but rather to its side, making offerings.”
Stuart admits that by arguing that the stone depicts an actual person—not a god—he is, in a way, demystifying it. “They would have seen it as a person, and I guess that brings it down to earth,” he says. Yet the face is more than just a portrait of Moctezuma. “It plays off multiple identities that revolved around kings and deities,” he says. “The face is several things at once.”
By ROGER ATWOOD
Friday, June 08, 2018
View of the Ehecatl (pre-Columbian deity of wind) temple in the basement of a shopping center in Mexico City, on June 19, 2018.
The archaeological site, discovered in 2014 after the demolition of an old supermarket, is located in Tlatelolco, a downtown neighbourhood of the Mexican capital that was once a twin city and neighbour of the Great Tenochtitlan, heart of the Aztec empire. RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP
MEXICO CITY.- In an area located within the limits of the Álvaro Obregón city hall, INAH archaeologists have recorded 26 cavities of the Middle and Late Formative periods
They emphasize that in an unprecedented event, in addition to locating graves of funerary type and for storage, others had to serve to realize steam baths. Photo: Mauricio Marat INAH.