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Aztec “Skull Tower” Contains Remains of Women and Children

The tzompantli were once believed to only contain the skulls of conquered male warriors

The Huey Tzompantli (PAU-INAH)
smithsonian.com

Archaeologists digging in Mexico City have uncovered what they believe to be a legendary tower of skulls, Reuters reports. Over the last two years, the team has dug up more than 675 skulls, including many skull fragments. The find is located near the ruins of Templo Mayor, one of the most important temples in the area during the reign of the Aztecs.

The tzompantli were ceremonial racks that display severed heads of victims in Mesoamerica, the Associated Press reports. While it was previously believed that such a tower would only include the skulls or male warriors conquered in battle, the archaeologists uncovered skulls of women and children as well during the excavation, challenging what the researchers know about these skull racks, Reuters reports.

The tower in question is suspected to be part of the Huey Tzompantli, which was located on the corner of the chapel of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of sun, war and human sacrifice. According to accounts by Spanish conquistadors Bernal Diaz del Castillo and Andrés de Tapia​—who both viewed the Huey Tzompantli in the early 16th century, upon on their arrival in Tenochtitlan, the capital city of the Aztecs, now Mexico City—the Huey Tzompantli was massive. Both claimed the structure could have contained over 100,000 skulls, though contemporary scholars believe that count was significantly exaggerated.

Rossella Lorenzi at Seeker reports that the researchers believe the partially unearthed skull rack was built between 1485 and 1502, and ran 112 feet in length and stretched 40 feet wide. Parts of the skull rack were constructed by cementing skulls together to support the platform. The researchers believe that structure may have once contained up to 60,000 skulls.

The skull rack is not the only recent find in Mexico City. Last month, researchers unveiled an Aztec temple and ball court discovered under a hotel. The team also found 32 severed neck vertebrae from individuals who had been sacrificed inside the temple.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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