Due to its importance in Aztec religion, the Templo Mayor was the site of ritual human sacrifice. In Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, sacrifices were carried out on top of the Templo Mayor (Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan). In the 16th century, it was destroyed by the Spanish to make room for a new cathedral, leaving a treasure trove of archaeological evidence beneath its foundation stones. The Sun Stone (The Calendar Stone) Coyolxauhqui Stone. “Offering 176,” as the grisly discovery has been dubbed, is thought to have come from sometime in the 15th century. “It was a deeply serious and important thing for them,” says Verano. Some 600 years ago, the Templo Mayor stood 200 feet high in the center of the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. In October 2017, archaeologists unearthed a rare find, a cylindrical pit specifically dug and lined with volcanic rocks centuries ago for a sacrifice to the gods of the Aztecs. The young boy’s remains were adorned with beads, jewels and bells. The bones were discovered at the foot of the Aztec temple, accompanied by several objects buried with him. Following on from recent huge discoveries at this grand temple, archaeologists might have unearthed one of … Coyolxauhqui, whose name signifies 'Painted with Bells', was considered either the sister or mother of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war and patron of Tenochtitlan. Aztec museum exhibitions 37 6.1 Moctezuma: Aztec ruler 37 6.2 Aztecs 41 6.3 Aztec Empire 44 7. The rationale for Aztec human sacrifice was, first and foremost, a matter of survival. Most sacrifices in Tenochtitlan were performed in public at the top of the Templo Mayor. The nature of warfare during the height of Aztec power was also unique. A bird’s wing, thought to be connected to the deity sometimes known as the Hummingbird of the South, was found nearby. The keep the sun moving across the sky and preserve their very lives, the Aztecs had to feed Huitzilopochtli with human hearts and blood. Andrés de Tapia, a conquistador, described two rounded towers flanking the Templo Mayor made entirely of human skulls, and between them, a towering wooden rack displaying thousands more skulls with bored holes on either side to allow the skulls to slide onto the wooden poles. HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate. Olmec mask (Olmec-style mask) Feathered headdress. (NobbiP / Public Domain ) Top image: Aztec god of the underworld Mictlantecuhtli was depicted as a blood-spattered skeleton or a person wearing a toothy skull. While an Aztec sacrifice may not seem particularly surprising, the nature of the burial has some unusual features. They then tossed the victims’ lifeless bodies down the steps of the towering Templo Mayor. The Templo Mayor was the primary site of human sacrifice in Tenochtitlan (and most likely the entire Aztec Empire). An archaeological dig on a bustling street behind Mexico City’s cathedral, once the site of the Aztec temple Templo Mayor, uncovered the treasure trove of human sacrifice relics. While Huitzilopochtli's first appearance in Mexica legend was as a minor hunting god, he became elevated to a major deity after the Mexica settled in Tenochtitlán and formed the Triple Alliance.The Great Temple of Tenochtitlan (or Templo Mayor) is the most important shrine dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, and its shape symbolized a replica of Coatepec. This is the currently selected item. But in 1913, it was rediscovered beneath Mexico City. Instead of engaging in violent battles to the death, the Aztecs and Tlaxcalans agreed to fight so-called “Flower Wars,” ceremonial battles in which the goal was to capture, not kill, as many enemy combatants as possible. Sacrifices could also take place to commemorate important state events. Verano says that these battles provided an important venue for young Aztec warriors to gain social status by bringing home a gaggle of captives, some of whom would ultimately be sacrificed. In addition to slicing out the hearts of victims and spilling their blood on the temple altar, it’s believed that the Aztecs also practiced a form of ritual cannibalism. Templo Mayor at Tenochtitlan, the Coyolxauhqui Stone, and an Olmec Mask . It was also the scene of state occasions such as coronations and the place of countless human sacrifices where the blood of th… Also, as hard as it is to imagine, many captured soldiers, slaves and Aztec citizens went willingly to the sacrificial altar. DNA tests of recovered victims from the Templo Mayor site show that the vast majority of those sacrificed were outsiders, likely enemy soldiers or slaves. Daniel Cardenas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images. They’ve unearthed the remains of a child who they believe was sacrificed to the Aztec god of war . The victim’s bodies, after being relieved of their heads, were likely gifted to nobleman and other distinguished community members. In 1978, a carved, circular Aztec stone, depicting the mythical being Coyolxauhqui dismembered and decapitated, was accidentally discovered in the ruins of the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan, now in Mexico City. Why did they carry out such brutal ceremonies? While it's true that the Spanish undoubtedly inflated their figures—Spanish historian Fray Diego de Durán reported that 80,400 men, women and children were sacrificed for the inauguration of the Templo Mayor under a previous Aztec emperor—evidence is mounting that the gruesome scenes illustrated in Spanish texts, and preserved in temple murals and stone carvings, are true. It was a place of worship, where people came to make offerings to the god Huitzilopochtli and perform such rituals as bloodletting, the burning of copal and, sometimes, human sacrifice. The main temple of the Aztecs, Templo Mayor was destroyed by Hernán Cortés and his brutal army. So far, researchers have found only one other child believed to have been killed as an offering. Topped by twin temples dedicated to the war god Huitzilopochtli and the rain god Tlaloc it was a focal point of the Aztec religion and very centre of the Aztec world. Terms and Issues in Native American Art. Another important event was the New Fire Ceremony, held every 52 years - a complete solar cycle in the Aztec calendar - when the first flaming torch came from Mt. The museum of the Templo Mayor was built in 1987 to house the Templo Mayor Project and its finds—a project which continues work to this day. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! (Credit: Mirsa Islands/Proyec/INAH), Archaeologists describe how, even at his very young age, his teeth were worn, while he appeared to have been suffering from multiple infections in his mouth. It covers 25 hectares of land and is located in the Sacred Precinct which is a holy city surrounded by walls in the centre of Tenochtitlan (Smith 1996). Scientists at Mexico City’s UNAM have made a discovery that shows the Aztec victims of human sacrifice were more than just prisoners. The Templo Mayor is practically the Aztec HQ for human sacrifices.  When the Aztecs sacrificed people to Huitzilopochtli (the god with warlike aspects) the victim would be placed on a sacrificial stone. By looking at … John Verano, an anthropology professor at Tulane University, explains the practice held spiritual significance for the Aztecs. “It can only be said that at the time of his death he was dressed like Huitzilopochtli himself.”. Archaeologists say they have have found the main trophy rack of sacrificed human skulls at Mexico City’s Templo Mayor Aztec ruin site. Who was this child, how and why did he die, and what do these many objects reveal? DNA tests of recovered victims from the Templo Mayor site show that the vast majority of those sacrificed were outsiders, likely enemy soldiers or slaves. Verano says that across history and cultures, the rise of ritual human sacrifice often coincides with the emergence of complex societies and social stratification. Reuters … Just look at the gladiator battles of Imperial Rome or the mass burials of servants and captives alongside Egyptian pharaohs and Chinese kings. The Templo Mayor or Great Temple (called Hueteocalli by the Aztecs) dominated the central sacred precinct of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan. This child, however, was not put on show. The museum has four floors, thre… Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan According to Aztec sources, as many as 84,000 people, all made captive in wars against their neighbours, were sacrificed on a single occasion to mark the consecration of the Templo Mayor, or Great Pyramid, of Tenochtitlan in 1487. The National Institute hopes that further study will reveal the answers—putting this child, and the mysteries he presents, to rest once and for all. Nevertheless, scores were killed. The find came at the foot of Templo Mayor, an Aztec temple in Tenochtitlan. It’s a particularly effective method of intimidating rivals and keeping your own people in line. Some say as few as 4,000 were sacrificed during what was actually a re-consecration of the Templo Mayor in 1487. The Templo Mayor was built by the Aztecs as an expression of their beliefs. The Templo Mayor consisted of twin pyramids, one for Huitzilopochtli and one for the rain god Tlaloc (discussed below). FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. Archaeologists in Mexico City have found the skeleton of a child at the foot of an ancient temple, believed to been sacrificed to the Aztec god of sun and war. Mock Battles and Flowery Wars Archaeologists have made a startling discovery while excavating at the Templo Mayor of the city of Tenochtitlan. While it was long theorized that Aztecs only engaged in ritual cannibalism during times of famine, another explanation is that consuming the flesh of a person offered to the gods was like communing with the gods, themselves. Templo mayor’s stair were used in the rituals of war captives Templo mayor was the main temple of the empire, honoring and worship of the two most important gods to ensure peace of society stairs were used in the rituals of war captive sacrifice and reenactments For instance, historical reports suggest that human sacrifice occurred on the top platform in honor of both Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli. An Atztec human sacrifice atop the Mesoamerican temple pyramid.  Instead, for his burial, priests raised a series of heavy stone slabs from the floor to expose the soft ground below. Archaeologists in Mexico City have found the skeleton of a child at the foot of an ancient temple, believed to been sacrificed to the Aztec god of sun and war. Today rack of skulls can be seen in archeaological ruins in Mexico City at … Human sacrifice also served another purpose in the expanding Aztec empire of the 15th and 16th century: intimidation. In 1991, the Urban Archeology Program was incorporated as part of the Templo Mayor Project whose mission is to excavate the oldest area of the city, around the main plaza. In addition to slicing out the hearts of victims and spilling their blood on temple altars, the Aztecs likely also practiced a form of ritual cannibalism. Racks known as … The ritual killing of war captives and the large-scale displaying of skulls were visceral reminders of the strength of the empire and the extent of its dominion. Huitzilopochtli’s Temple . © 2020 A&E Television Networks, LLC. As off-putting as it sounds, Verano says that ritual cannibalism most likely existed among the Aztecs and would have been considered not only normal, but a great honor. Twice a week we compile our most fascinating features and deliver them straight to you. Ceramic representation of Mictlantecuhtli recovered during excavations of the House of Eagles in the Templo Mayor, now on display at the museum of the Templo Mayor in Mexico City. The only remaining holdout was the neighboring city-state of Tlaxcala to the east. Sixteenth-century illustrations depict body parts being cooked in large pots and archeologists have identified telltale butcher marks on the bones of human remains in Aztec sites around Mexico City. HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! The most important place where sacrifices took place was the Huey Teocalli at the Templo Mayor (Great Temple) of Tenochtitlan. All Rights Reserved. By the late 15th century, the Aztecs had won control over large swaths of central and southern Mexico. But in 2015 and 2018, archeologists working at the Templo Mayor excavation site in Mexico City discovered proof of widespread human sacrifice among the Aztecs—none other than the very skull towers and skull racks that conquistadors had described in their accounts. In the first version of this mythical duel, Coyolxauhqui upset her son Huitzilopochtli when she insisted on staying at the legendary sacred mountain Coatepec ('Snake Mountain', also spelt Coatepetl) and not following Huitzilopochtli’s plan to re-settle at a new site – the eventual Tenochtitlan. The temple seems to have been the site of many such macabre sacrifices. Aged just five years old at the time of his gruesome death, his heart had been removed by priests. From their knowledge of the eras of the Templo Mayor, archaeologists estimate that the particular phases of the tzompantli they found were likely … Like many images of the god, he wore a wooden breastplate. To give your heart to Huitzilopochtli was a tremendous honor and a guaranteed ticket to a blessed afterlife fighting in the sun god’s army against the forces of darkness. How many were sacrificed during that time is a subject of scholarly speculation: some put the figure as low as 10,000 or 20,000, several others put it … Large and small human sacrifices would be made throughout the year to coincide with important calendar dates, he explains, to dedicate temples, to reverse drought and famine, and more. Aztec sacrifice through time 14 5. The sacrifices played a vital role in the Mexica’s cosmology, and may have also helped the young empire control conquered populations. FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. Tenochtitlan was an ancient Aztec city which now lies in the heart of Mexico City. These are skulls carved from stone to represent the ritual human sacrifices that occurred at the main temple or "Templo Mayor" that was dedicated to both the war god, Huitzlipotchtli, and the god of rain, Tlaloc. Thousands of objects were buried with him: copper bells, snail shells and colored beads once hung around his ankles and neck. Reading these accounts hundreds of years later, many historians dismissed the 16th-century reports as wildly exaggerated propaganda meant to justify the murder of Aztec emperor Moctezuma, the ruthless destruction of Tenochtitlán and the enslavement of its people. For example, a first hand account of the Aztec sacrifice comes from Spanish conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo's famous memoir. One of the most infamous is the four-day butchering of captives when Ahuitzotl re-dedicated the temple and extended it even higher in order to celebrate his imperial triumphs in 1487 CE. Here a specialist priest removed the heart from the victim and threw the body down the steps of the pyramid; and the victim's head was cut off and placed on the tzompantli, or skull rack. The Spanish conquistador s, aided by an alliance of indigenous peoples, laid siege to the Aztec capital for 93 days, until the Mexica surrendered on August 13, 1521. Aztec priests, using razor-sharp obsidian blades, sliced open the chests of sacrificial victims and offered their still-beating hearts to the gods. It’s not clear whether this boy experienced the same demise: In a statement from the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History, archaeologists described it as a mystery, as yet unsolved. The Templo Mayor precinct was the location in which the Aztec practiced both bloodletting (offering one’s own blood) and human sacrifice. It was here that excavators recently discovered the remains of a child’s body late last year, according to a report in National Geographic Spain. Nevertheless, scores were killed. Twice a week we compile our most fascinating features and deliver them straight to you. More than 650 skulls and thousands of fragments found near Templo Mayor. Other recent discoveries including an apparently public display of hundreds of human skulls, stacked over 100 feet in height. Experts found an array of sacrificial remains during an excavation at the base of the Templo Mayor temple site in downtown Mexico City. According to some estimates, the Aztecs sacrificed up to 20,000 people a year to appease the gods. When the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and his men arrived in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán in 1521, they described witnessing a grisly ceremony. They dug a deep pit there, and buried him in an unusual cylindrical box, filled with stones and stucco—the first of its kind that archaeologists report having seen. An Aztec priest removing a man's heart during a sacrificial ritual, offering it to the god Huitzilopochtli. In 1487, the great Templo Mayor was dedicated in the main Aztec city of Tenochtitlan with a four-day celebration. The Templo Mayor and Sacred Precinct were demolished and a Spanish church, later the main cathedral, was built on the western half of the precinct. All Rights Reserved. The god of war got his own way by decapitating and eat… Archaeological finds at Templo Mayor 33 6. Though some of these have long since worn away, others are recognizably green jadeite, brought from Guatemala, and an unknown blue stone. Templo Mayor. The museum building was built by architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, who envisioned a discreet structure that would blend in with the colonial surroundings. © 2020 A&E Television Networks, LLC. According to Aztec cosmology, the sun god Huitzilopochtli was waging a constant war against darkness, and if the darkness won, the world would end. The boy was likely between eight and ten years old, and had been dressed as the fearsome god of war himself.