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The Mystery of Aztec Skulls’ artefacts found in the Graves of the Nobles

Peculiar ancient burials rituals have often left historians speculating about the beliefs and collective psychology of the ancient cultures. One such civilization that adhered to strange burial rituals is Aztecs, who buried their dead with skulls of slain enemies. Some of these skulls were from those of Aztec traitors who betrayed the Emperor in some shape and form and met a gruesome end.

The mystery of the skulls found in the Aztec crypts mesmerized the archaeologists for many decades, since no similarity to such bizarre practice could ever be found elsewhere in the region. The 30 decapitated heads found in a grave at Aztec Temple have long been studied to determine; firstly, their origin, and secondly, the reason of their presence alongside the Nobles’ remains.

An Aztec skull mask Source: EMILIANO MELGAR

A new study on the skulls has revealed the varying nature of both their origin their gender, with them coming from many different regions near the Aztec habitats, and from different social classes. The skulls belong to mostly males between the ages of 30 and 45 who were mostly trained soldiers, and who supposedly fought and lost against the Aztec armies. These prisoners of war were then later sacrificed during a public ritual at one of the Temples. The researchers have told that the skulls came from the people who lived in the regions of the Gulf Coast, Valley of Mexico and some from West Mexico.

Other unmodified skulls discovered in the region have more local Aztec origins, and belong to both males and females of different age groups. These skulls belonged to the people of the lower class; most probably slaves due to the disease ridden teeth and other malnourished bones.

The research study was published in the journal Current Anthropology which shows that the Aztecs buried the skulls of the captured and slain soldiers along with the bodies of their nobles in order to pay tribute to their contributions. The skulls have been carbon dated back to the reign of the Emperor Axayacatt, who ruled between 1468 and 1481.

Templo Mayor Source:De s shepherd from durham, nc - 20061124 model of the tenochtitlan temple complex, CC BY 2.0,
Templo Mayor Source:De s shepherd from durham, nc – 20061124 model of the tenochtitlan temple complex, CC BY 2.0, 

Perhaps the most famous icon of Aztec civilization much, like the Giza Pyramids of the pharaohs, the Templo Mayor stands tall in the middle of the ancient Aztec site of Tenochtitlan – the capital of Aztec Empire and also the spiritual hub. Templo Mayor is famous for a sacrificial ritual that took place in the presence of thousands of cheering locals, who would gather to witness the slaughter of captured soldiers and traitors. An estimated 20,000 such sacrifices took place at the temple every year. In one incident some 80,000 people were executed over the course of three days. The sacrifice took place at the top of the temple in the presence of no less than five high priests; one of the priests would then hold the captive to the ground while others held his arms and legs, another priest would carve open the stomach of the captive all the way to the neck eventually taking out the heart and raising it to the cheering crowd. The heart would be kept in a sacred bowl while the body would be then thrown down the large steps of the temple to the ground.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News