The Aztecs knew there was nothing like a tower of skulls to strike fear in the hearts of your enemies.
— The Atlantic (@TheAtlantic) July 3, 2017
Located in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, current day Mexico City, the Huitzilopochtli — a temple honoring the Aztec god of the sun, war, and human sacrifice — featured an impressive structure made from human skulls. Huey Tzompantli, a rack of skulls nearly 200 feet in diameter, was built for decorative purposes but it also served another, obvious, purpose: to intimidate potential enemies. When Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, they documented at least 136,000 skulls in the Huey Tzompantli, which were likely gathered from vanquished foes of the Aztecs — or so they thought.
Until recently, the Aztec’s tower of skulls was considered a rumor. Now, archaeologists are a few steps closer to figuring out the truth.
So far, archaeologists have unearthed more than 650 skulls from the Huey Tzompantli, but they’ve noticed an unsettling trend. Among the skulls of men, which they believed were dead warriors, there were also the skulls of both women and children, meaning these were also put on display for people to see. Biological anthropologist Rodrigo Bolanos told Reuters, “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.” For Bolanos, this discovery has left them with more questions than answers. “Something is happening that we have no record of,” Bolanos added, “and this is really new, a first in the Huey Tzompantli.”
The Atlantic reports that to date, only a quarter of the entire structure has been unearthed. Scientists are expecting to discover more skulls as the structure is unearthed.
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