The Discovery of a Skull Tower Has Archaeologists Rethinking Aztec Human Sacrifice

iStock
iStock

When they first came in contact with the Aztecs during the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors were beguiled by the civilization's riches but terrified by its brutality. Located in what is today Mexico City, the capital city of Tenochtitlán was rife with war and bloodshed, which rulers celebrated by building temples to deities like Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of the Sun, war, and human sacrifice. According to Spanish accounts, near Tenochtitlán's Templo Mayor ("main temple") was a towering array of human skulls. Now, Reuters reports that archaeologists have discovered a 20-foot edifice made from bones—including those from women and children—that was likely once part of the legendary structure.

Archaeologists discovered the tower's remains on the edge of Templo Mayor. Known as the Huey Tzompantli ("skull rack" in Nahuatl, the Aztec language), the bone tower reportedly once contained tens of thousands of skulls. So far, scientists have discovered more than 650 limestone-encrusted skulls and thousands of bone fragments, and they expect to unearth even more. They were surprised, however, to find that the tower wasn't simply constructed from defeated soldiers' remains: Bones from women and children were also present. While there's evidence that women and children were also sacrificed, their presence in this context was unexpected.

"We were expecting just men, obviously young men, as warriors would be, and the thing about the women and children is that you'd think they wouldn't be going to war," Rodrigo Bolanos, a biological anthropologist affiliated with the project, told Reuters. "Something is happening that we have no record of, and this is really new, a first in the Huey Tzompantli."

The heads were likely publicly displayed before being set in the temple's tower. There, they served as an ominous reminder of the Aztec's might—that is, until Hernán Cortés and his soldiers captured and destroyed Tenochtitlán in 1521.

[h/t Reuters]

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

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Archaeologists Discover the Jousting Yard Where Henry VIII Had His Historic Accident

National Trust, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
National Trust, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Henry VIII may have never earned his reputation as an ill-mannered tyrant if it weren't for injuries he sustained at age 44. Now, as Live Science reports, archaeologists have uncovered the infamous jousting yard where that history-changing accident took place.

Prior to the beheading of Anne Boleyn—his second of six wives—King Henry VIII was regarded as a kind, gregarious leader by those who knew him. The point where descriptions of him changed their tone coincided with a fall he took on January 24, 1536.

While jousting at Greenwich Palace, Henry was tossed from his armored horse and further injured when his steed fell on top of him. The incident caused him to lose consciousness for two hours and nearly cost him his life.

Though it was never diagnosed, some experts believe Henry VIII sustained a brain injury that day that altered his personality. From that point on, he was characterized as irritable and cruel. He was in constant pain from migraines and an ulcerated leg, which could also explain the mood shift. The (sometimes violent) dissolution of most of his marriages occurred post-accident.

Ruins of the jousting yard, or tiltyard, where that fateful incident took place are located 5.5 feet beneath the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, the former site of Greenwich Palace. After falling into disrepair, the palace was demolished by Charles II, and the exact location of the tiltyard was forgotten. A team of archaeologists led by Simon Withers of the University of Greenwich used ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to locate the remnants buried beneath the ground earlier this year.

The giveaways were the footprints of two octagonal towers. The archaeologists say these were likely the foundations of the bleacher-like viewing stands where spectators watched jousting matches. That would place the historic tiltyard about 330 feet east of where it was originally thought to be situated.

The radar scans provided a peek at what lies beneath the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, but to learn more, the archaeologists will need to get their hands dirty. Their next step will be digging up the site to get a better look at the ruins.

[h/t Live Science]