Gruesome human sacrifice discovery: Skulls reveal gruesome secrets of the lost Aztec city

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – JULY 10: the Skulls, which were found during an excavation work, are to be seen in the National Institute for Anthropology and History laboratory in Mexico City, Mexico on July 10, 2017. More than 650 skulls and thousands of fragments were found near the Templo Mayor, one of the most important temples in the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, which later became Mexico City. The discovery brings new questions about the culture of the sacrifice in the Aztec Empire. (Photo by Daniel Cardenas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

(2017 Anadolu Agency)

A wide range of skulls buried under the streets of modern Mexico City, are revealing the gruesome details of the 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, the great temple, where the priests removed their still-beating hearts, the reports of the Science.

The bodies were then decapitated and priests removed, the skin and the muscles of the corpses heads. Large holes were then cut in the sides of the skull and placed on a large wooden pole prior to placement in the tzompantli, a massive rack of skulls in front of the temple. Two towers of the mortared skulls flanked the rack.


Paintings and written descriptions of the early colonial period document the macabre scene.

In this May 30, 2015 photo released by the mexican National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH), the skulls are partially excavated at the Aztec Templo Mayor ruin site in Mexico City. (Hector Montano/INAH via AP)

In 2015, archaeologists from the mexican National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH) discovered that the most important 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. The science reports that, given the size of the racks and the skull towers, archaeologists now estimate that several thousand skulls were likely to be shown at a time.


In two seasons of the excavations, archaeologists collected 180 mostly complete skulls of the tower and thousands of skull fragments. Marks to confirm that they were “defleshed” after the death and the beheading brands are “clean and uniform.”

Three-quarters of the skulls analysed belonged to the men, mostly in the age between 20 and 35. About 20 percent belonged to the 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 to the analysis of the victims sacrificed in the “smaller range” in the Templo Mayor complex. By studying isotopes in the bones and teeth, experts have discovered that the victims are born in different places in central america, but had often spent a lot of time to Tenochtitlan for their violent death.


Isotopic and DNA samples have also been taken from the tzompantli skulls, which may result in more insight in the practice of human sacrifice.

Tenochtitlan was the capital of the mexican dish, t people, to the rulers of the Aztec empire. The Spanish conquistadors were shocked by the tzompantli when they are in Tenochtitlan in 1519. Two years later, they destroyed the city and built over the ruins, leaving the Aztecs sacrifice remains below the streets of what was Mexico City.

John Verano, a professor in anthropology at Tulane University, who is not involved in the tzompantli project, but is an expert on the ancient Middle American cultures, told Fox News that the Templo Mayor is of great interest for the archaeologists. For a long time, many historians and anthropologists, the question is whether or not the descriptions of the 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 e-mail. “This discovery now makes these early accounts much more credible.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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