According to Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, archaeologists in Mexico City have uncovered 119 human skulls organized in a “trophy” tower that the Aztecs built around 500 years ago. Some part of the tower was discovered in 2015, and since then, a total of 603 skulls have been recovered embedded in the construction, showing the tower’s immense size. The skulls buried there are the remains of sacrificed men, women, and children.
The discovery was uncovered at the Templo Mayor, the main temple of the Mexica people in Tenochtitlán, present-day Mexico City, and was made late last year and reported in March 2022 by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology (INAH). The 90-foot-tall building, built in the 1300s, served as the location of important Aztec rituals and festivities. The objects were found in the Cuauhxicalco section of the temple, suggesting that they were placed there around A.D. 1500 — a period of time marked by the transition between the reigns of Aztec rulers Ahuízotl and Moctezuma Xocoyotzin. (Source)
One example, among the earliest placed in the offering, was even discovered totally intact; this, according to specialists, was the result of being forced below a level of fiber by the weight above it. The organisms are members of the “Nidorellia armata” species, also known as chocolate-chip starfish due to their sandy coloration and prominent black dots.
INAH explains that Mesoamericans considered the ceremonial sacrifice that generated the tower as a means of keeping the gods alive and averting the destruction of the universe. Although the tower may appear macabre to modern eyes, INAH notes that Mesoamericans held this belief. “This vision, incomprehensible to our belief system, makes the Huey Tzompantli a building of life rather than death,” said in INAH statement.
A significant number of the skulls, the ages of which spanned from 1486 to 1502, were organized in the form of a circular structure with multiple levels. Rows of skulls that were mortared together and placed with their faces toward the center of the circle make up a portion of the circle.
At the height of their dominance in the 15th and early 16th centuries, the Aztecs governed an empire that encompassed both the central and southern regions of modern-day Mexico from their capital city of Tenochtitlan. Archaeologists believe that back then, a massive structure constructed entirely out of human skulls would have been seen as a symbol of power and prestige.
According to the BBC, the skull rack came from a temple that was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of sun, war, and human sacrifice. Tenochtitlan was considered to be Huitzilopochtli’s patron city. The Aztecs made trophy racks out of decapitated heads by mounting them on poles and decorating them with skulls. These racks were called tzompantli. When the heads were placed on the racks, they were most likely still in a “fresh” state. After the bodies had decomposed, it is probable that the Aztecs used cement to bind them together, leaving only the skull behind.
The newly discovered skulls were around 11 feet (3.5 meters) below the street level when they were discovered. The spot where they were located is known as Huey Tzompantli. During the dig, archaeologists had to exercise extreme caution because they were working in an area that was beneath a number of historically significant buildings. The researchers were taken aback when they discovered the skulls of women and children among the remains they had been anticipating seeing solely those of young men or warriors.