Aztec skull trophy rack discovered at Mexico City’s Templo Mayor ruin site

Such racks, or tzompantli, were used to display severed heads of sacrifice victims on wooden poles, and this one is made partly of skulls mortared together

Archaeologist Raul Barrera on the find: ‘There are 35 skulls that we can see, but there are many more’ in underlying layers. Photograph: Henry Romero/Reuters

Archaeologists say they have have found the main trophy rack of sacrificed human skulls at Mexico City’s Templo Mayor Aztec ruin site.

Racks known as “tzompantli” were where the Aztecs displayed the severed heads of sacrifice victims on wooden poles pushed through the sides of the skull. The poles were suspended horizontally on vertical posts.

Eduardo Matos, an archaeologist at the National Institute of Anthropology and History, suggested the skull rack in Mexico City “was a show of might” by the Aztecs. Friends and even enemies were invited into the city, precisely to be cowed by the grisly display of heads in various stages of decomposition.

Paintings and written descriptions from the early colonial period showed descriptions of such racks. But institute archaeologists said the newest discovery was different.

Part of the platform where the heads were displayed was made of rows of skulls mortared together roughly in a circle, around a seemingly empty space in the middle. All the skulls were arranged to look inward toward the centre of the circle, but experts don’t know what was at the centre.

Picture of a skull that was discovered at the ruins of the Templo Mayor Aztec complex. Photograph: Henry Romero/Reuters

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