An Aztec tower made up of at least 676 human skulls has been unearthed in the depths of Mexico City. While the Aztecs were hardly known as the “shy and retiring” types when it came to war and death, this discovery is leading archaeologists to believe this ancient culture was even more brutal than previously assumed.
The excavation took place at the former home of the Templo Mayor, one of the biggest temples in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, now the site of Mexico City.
Within this well-known archaeological treasure chest, they recently found hundreds of skulls and thousands of fragments of bone molded into a limestone cylinder, Reuters news agency reports. These structures of human skull racks, known as "tzompantli", have been previously documented. However, this one is a little more gruesome that normal.
The grand tower was found in the chapel of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of the sun, war, human sacrifice, and a patron of the city of Tenochtitlán. Analysis of the skeletal remains revealed something fairly shocking and unheard of: They weren't just the bones of warriors.
"We were expecting just men, obviously young men, as warriors would be, and the thing about the women and children is that you'd think they wouldn't be going to war," Rodrigo Bolanos, a biological anthropologist, told Reuters.
"Something is happening that we have no record of, and this is really new, a first in the Huey Tzompantli," he added.
Tenochtitlán was an Aztec city that flourished between 1325 CE and the arrival of Spanish colonizers in 1521. Before their conquest, it was the biggest and grandest city in the Americas. After, little remained of the great city. However, on top of its archaeological remains, we do know a little bit about it thanks to the writing of Spanish soldiers, who were both terrified and in awe of this “new” land.
Andrés de Tapia, a Spanish soldier who accompanied the infamous conquistador Hernán Cortés in the 1521 conquest of Mexico, actually spoke of these skull towers in his diary entries, describing an ossuary made out of the skulls of fallen soldier and sacrificed men. One account of the story says the Spanish counted the skulls and found at least 136,000. Now we know that these remains were not just of men involved in war, but also women and children.
The excavation, which started in 2015, is still ongoing and continually pumping out fascinating finds. Just last month, archaeologists working on the site also discovered an area containing an ancient Aztec temple, a ball court, and a potential sacrificial area.