Can one ever have enough skulls? If that question was posed to the ancient Aztecs, the answer was probably, “Of course not!” That’s one conclusion which could be drawn from the latest discovery of 119 additional skulls on the famous tzompantli of the Mexica, a tower of human skulls made of wooden poles rods in what was once the Templo Mayer (Greater Temple) of the Greater Tenochtiltán and is now part of Mexico City. (Photos here.) For those keeping count at home, the 119 added to the 484 skulls discovered previously brings the tower’s total to 603. This belonged to the human-sacrificing Aztecs — is there any doubt more will be found?
“At every step, the Templo Mayor continues to surprise us; and the Huei Tzompantli is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive archaeological finds of recent years in our country, as it is an important testimony of the power and greatness that Mexico-Tenochtitlan reached.”
Mexico’s Secretary of Culture of the Government, Alejandra Frausto Guerrero, is obviously excited about the newly-discovered skulls as his press release shows. The press release also points out for those unfamiliar with Huei Tzompantli or horrified by the thought of a tower of human skulls that human sacrifice and preserving the skulls was considered in Mesoamerica to be a daily link between humans and their gods to show the renewal of nature and ensure the continuity of life. The original skull tower (Tzompantli) was discovered in 2015 during renovations to a historic building. At that time, they uncovered the eastern end and the external façade of the 4.7 meters (15.4 feet) high wall of skulls dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec sun and war god.
Since the initial excavation, archeologists with the Urban Archeology Program (PAU) of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have found three stages of the skull wall’s construction dating back to Ahuízotl, who ruled Tenochtitlan between 1486 and 1502. The Spanish conquest of Mexico led by Hernán Cortés began in 1519. Records from that time show the invaders were horrified by the human sacrificing and the wall of skulls, which archeologists suggest were often added to it soon after death, with the wooden poles pressed through both flesh and bone. Some areas appear to have been mortared together at a later time, possibly to keep everything from falling over.
It might not be quite so horrifying to some if the skulls came from enemies conquered in battle, but the newly discovered skulls were of men, women and at least three children (smaller skulls and teeth) showing that they and the rest were part of the ‘renewal of nature’ and ‘continuity of life’ human sacrificial thinking.
“In Mesoamerica, ritual sacrifice was practiced under the notion that, through its exercise, the gods were kept alive and, therefore, the existence of the universe was continued. This vision, incomprehensible to our belief system, makes the Huei Tzompantli a building of life rather than death.”
Watch a video of the wall of skulls here and see if you agree. While Huei Tzompantli is truly an important historical and cultural archeological find, good luck convincing anyone but archeologists and Aztec descendants of it.