Archaeologists working in Mexico City’s iconic Aztec “tower of skulls” have discovered a new section with 119 human remains.
According to CNN’s Hollie Silverman, the discovery puts the total number of skulls in the late 15th-century edifice known as Huey Tzompantli to over 600.
The tower, which was unearthed by archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) five years ago, is thought to be one of seven that previously stood in Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital.
It’s close to the Templo mayor ruins, a religious site devoted to the battle deity Huitzilopochtli and the rain god Tlaloc that dates from the 14th and 15th centuries.
The fresh skulls, which were discovered in the tower’s eastern part, comprise at least three children’s craniums. The remains were identified by archaeologists based on their size and tooth development.
According to Reuters in 2017, researchers originally assumed that the skulls in the building belonged to vanquished male fighters, but current examination reveals that some belonged to women and children.
In an INAH release, archaeologist Barrera Rodrguez states, “Although we cannot establish how many of these individuals were warriors, possibly some were prisoners intended for sacrifice rites.”
“We do know they were all made sacrosanct,” says the narrator. That is, they were transformed into godly presents or even personifications of the gods, for which they were adorned and treated as such.”
The Aztecs displayed victims’ skulls on smaller racks throughout Tenochtitlán before bringing them to the bigger Huey Tzompantli tower, as J. Weston Phippen wrote for the Atlantic in 2017. The bones were arranged into a “huge inner-circle that raise[d] and widen[ed] in a sequence of rings” after being bonded together with lime.
While the tower may appear terrifying to contemporary eyes, Mesoamericans saw the ceremonial sacrifice that created it as a way of keeping the gods alive and avoiding the universe’s annihilation, according to INAH.
“This vision, which is inexplicable to our religious system,” the statement continues, “makes the Huey Tzompantli a building of life rather of death.”
Archaeologists believe the tower, which has a diameter of 16.4 feet, was erected in three phases between 1486 and 1502, most likely by the Tlatoani Ahuzotl administration. The Aztec empire was commanded by Ahuzotl, the empire’s eighth ruler, who conquered sections of modern-day Guatemala and lands around the Gulf of Mexico.
During his rule, the Aztecs’ territory grew to its greatest extent yet, and Tenochtitlán grew greatly as well. Ahuzotl constructed Malinalco’s magnificent temple, created a new canal to feed the city, and established a powerful administration. During the dedication of the rebuilt temple in 1487, accounts claim that up to 20,000 prisoners of war were sacrificed, however this figure is contested.
In publications describing their conquest of the area, Spanish conquistadors Hernán Cortés, Bernal Dáz del Castillo, and Andrés de Tapia documented the Aztecs’ skull racks. According to a 2017 study by J. Francisco De Anda Corral for El Economista, the Aztecs erected tens of thousands of skulls “on a gigantic theater constructed of lime and stone, and on the steps of it were numerous heads of the deceased embedded in the lime with the fangs pointing outward.”
When Spanish conquerors and their Indigenous allies captured Tenochtitlán in the 1500s, they demolished portions of the towers, distributing the buildings’ components over the area, according to the statement.
According to BBC News, researchers initially uncovered the gruesome monument in 2015 while repairing a structure built on the site of the Aztec capital.
The cylindrical rack of skulls lies near the Metropolitan Cathedral, which was erected between the 16th and 19th centuries over the ruins of the Templo Mayor.
In a statement, Mexican Culture Minister Alejandra Frausto said, “The Templo Mayor continues to astonish us at every stage.” “Without a question, the Huey Tzompantli is one of our country’s most outstanding archaeological discovery in recent years.”