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Aztec skull rack found in Mexico

Many of these skulls could be enemies of the Aztecs who were captured, killed and beheaded in a show of might," said archaeologist Matos Moctezuma.

By
Brooks Hays
Remnants of the ancient Aztec skull rack. Photo by PAU-INAH
Remnants of the ancient Aztec skull rack. Photo by PAU-INAH

MEXICO CITY, Aug. 21 (UPI) -- Archaeologists in Mexico have unearthed an Aztec skull rack, or tzompantli, which is exactly what it sounds like it is -- a scaffolding-like structure of rods and poles used to publicly display human skulls, those of war captives and sacrificial victims.

The rack, known as Huey Tzompantli, was discovered a dig site in the Historic Center of Mexico City. It has only been partially uncovered, but already archaeologists are saying it may be the largest of its kind -- evidence of the deadly rituals that characterized Aztec culture in pre-Hispanic Mexico.

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"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," archaeologist Matos Moctezuma said in a statement.

In its heyday, the rack likely stretched 40 feet in length and stood over 100 feet tall. Experts date its construction somewhere between 1485 and 1502.

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Researchers were also able to excavate the platform that the skull rack once rested on. Part of the platform was composed of mortared cattle skulls.

"It is a wall of volcanic rock with a coating of plaster and flagstone floor, oriented north-south, which presented associated jaws and fragments scattered skulls on the platform and a circular element made of human skulls together with mortar, which preliminarily 35 can be seen, but we believe that should be many more," Raul Barrera, an archaeologist with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), said in a press release.

Researchers say the existence of this specific skull rack is referenced in ancient texts, found in the illustrations of the Codex Duran and Codices Matritenses -- the historical recordings of the Dominican friar, Diego Duran, and the scientific records of Franciscan Friar Bernardino de Sahagun's, respectively.

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Archaeologists announced the remarkable findings at a press conference in Mexico City on Thursday.

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