Legendary Aztec Tower of Human Skulls Found in Mexico City
A tower made from human skulls in Mexico City challenges what we known about human sacrifice in Aztec culture.
Archaeologists have announced the discovery of a tower made of human skulls near Templo Mayor in Mexico City, once the capital of the Aztec empire known in that time as Tenochtitlan. They believe the tower is a legendary tzompantli, or ceremonial skull rack, written about by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century which was used to hold the skulls of human sacrifices.
Researchers have long believed that captured enemies, young male warriors, were used as sacrificial offerings. Many of the skulls being found at this site, however, are women and children.
“Something is happening that we have no record of,” biological anthropologist Rodrigo Bolanos told Rueters, “and this is really new, a first in the Huey Tzompantli.”
The Huey Tzompantli was first described by Spanish soldier Andres de Tapia in 1521 upon his arrival with conquistador Hernan Cortes. He, and later Bernal Diaz del Castillo, both described the massive structure as holding more than 100,000 skulls. It was part of a temple dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war, sun, and human sacrifices, as well as the patron saint of Tenochtitlan.
The dig, which began two years ago, has yielded more than 650 skulls and thousands of fragments so far. The tower is roughly 6 meters in diameter and made of rising concentric rings where the skulls are cemented together. The base has yet to be uncovered, so many more skulls are expected to be found. While de Tapia’s count is generally believed to be inaccurate, archaeologists believe the tower may once have held as many as 60,000 skulls.