Mexico archaeologists reveal tale of cannibalism and reprisal from conquest

A convoy of Spaniards and allies was ritually sacrificed in 1520 at Tecoaque – ‘the place where they ate them’ – before Hernán Cortés wreaked revenge

The skeletons of sacrificed Spaniards are displayed inside a glass case at the museum of the Zultepec-Tecoaque archeological site in Tlaxcala state, Mexico. Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

New research suggests Spanish conquistadores butchered at least a dozen women and their children in an Aztec-allied town where the inhabitants sacrificed and ate a detachment of Spaniards they had captured months earlier.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History published findings on Monday from years of excavation work at the town of Tecoaque, which means “the place where they ate them” in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs.

Residents of Tecoaque, also known as Zultepec, captured a convoy of about 15 male Spaniards, 50 women and 10 children, 45 foot soldiers who included Cubans of African and Indigenous descent, and about 350 allies from Indigenous groups in 1520. All were apparently sacrificed over the space of months.

When he heard about it, the conquistador Hernán Cortés ordered Gonzalo de Sandoval to destroy the town in revenge in early 1521.

Archaeologist Enrique Martínez Vargas said excavations suggest the inhabitants of Tecoaque knew a reprisal attack was coming and tossed the bones of the Spaniards – some of which had been carved into trophies – and other evidence into shallow wells.

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