Over 100 Human Skulls Discovered in Mexico City Temple — What Archeologists Make of the Find

Archaeologists discovered a tower of more than 100 human skulls buried beneath the center of Mexico City. 

The structure, called Huei Tzompantli, was originally discovered by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in 2015. But after a return to the site earlier this year, the team discovered a tower of 119 skulls, previously hidden, CNN reported Monday.

The tower is believed to have been part of a skull rack, one of seven collections that stood in the old Aztec capital Tenochtitlan. It was likely created in honor of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of sun, war, and human sacrifice. 

The INAH has now reported a total of 484 skulls found at the site, dating between 1486 and 1502. It is believed that the temple was destroyed when conquistadors invaded the Aztec Empire and Hernan Cortes captured Tenochtitlan in 1521. 

The towers were likely constructed not only to honor Huitzilopochtli but as a declaration of war and power against enemies who chose to invade. At the very least, the skull towers made a strong impression on the conquistadors, with many like Hernán Cortés and Bernal Díaz del Castillo writing about them in their recounts of invasion. 

Many of the skulls included in the temple’s towers were likely obtained through means of sacrifice. The skulls are those of men, women and at least three children. 

“We cannot determine how many of these individuals were warriors, perhaps some were captives destined for sacrificial ceremonies,”  archaeologist Barrera Rodríguez said in a statement. “We do know that they were all made sacred, that is, they were turned into gifts for the gods or even personifications of the deities themselves, as they were dressed and treated as such.” 

Many archaeological sites around Mexico City shut down earlier this year, due to the coronavirus. The famous nearby temples of Teotihuacan reopened to the public in October. 

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or at caileyrizzo.com.

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