Archaeologists have recently unearthed a section of what seems to be largest ceremonial skull rack, built by the Aztecs over 500 years ago. Found among the ruins of Tenochtitlan’s Templo Mayor, in present day Mexico City, the “tzompantli” dates back to sometime between 1485 and 1502. According to the team, the skulls, retrieved from the site, mostly belonged to young men, but also some women and children, and were meant to instill both fear and awe in the common people.
Tzompantli refers to a special type of scaffold or platform, made from wooden poles, that was used to exhibit the severed heads of sacrificial victims and prisoners of war. The poles were rammed through the sides of the skulls, following which, they were arranged horizontally on a series of vertical posts. Historically, such skull racks have been documented in many of Mesoamerican civilizations, including the Aztecs, the Toltecs and the Mayans. Uncovered earlier this year by archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), the rack may have been part of a bigger tzompantli, measuring 112 ft (around 34 m) in length and nearly 40 ft (or 12 m) in width. Speaking about the discovery, Raul Barrera, of INAH, said:
So far we have found 35 skulls, but there must be many more in underlying layers. As we continue to dig the number is going to rise a lot.
Unlike previously-found racks where the skulls were aligned horizontally, the recently-discovered tzompantli features rows of mortared skulls, roughly arranged into a circle. All of the skulls were placed facing inward, around an apparently empty space at the center. Archaeologist Eduardo Matos Moctezuma believes, the rack could be part of the Great Huey Tzompantli of Tenochtitlan, which reportedly contained over 60,000 skulls. Moctezuma added:
We believe we have found the Huey Tzompantli. Many of these skulls could be enemies of the Aztecs who were captured, killed and beheaded in a show of might.
Talking about the significance of the discovery, Susan Gillespie, a researcher at University of Florida’s Department of Anthropology, said:
I do not personally know of other instances of literal skulls becoming architectural material to be mortared together to make a structure… They’ve been looking for the big one for some time, and this one does seem much bigger than the already excavated one,” Gillespie wrote. “This find both confirms long-held suspicions about the sacrificial landscape of the ceremonial precinct, that there must have been a much bigger tzompantli to curate the many heads of sacrificial victims.
Image Credits: Reuters
Via: The Guardian