Feature

Feeding the gods

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Science  22 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6395, pp. 1288-1292
DOI: 10.1126/science.360.6395.1288

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Summary

From the 14th to the 16th centuries, the Mexica—the leaders of the larger cultural group known as the Aztecs—sacrificed thousands of people in their capital city of Tenochtitlan. Priests cut the victims' hearts from their chests, then decapitated the bodies and defleshed the skulls. Most of these skulls were bound for the tzompantli, a monumental rack of skulls in the center of the city. Human sacrifice was a vital piece of the Mexica's cosmology up until the Spanish conquest in 1521, when conquistadors destroyed Tenochtitlan and its tzompantli. Now, archaeologists at Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History have discovered and excavated its remains underneath a colonial period house in downtown Mexico City. They hope to learn more about Mexica rituals and the postmortem treatment of the bodies of the sacrificed, as well as who the victims were before they ended up marked for a brutal but spiritually meaningful death in the center of Tenochtitlan.