Archaeologists digging in Mexico City have unearthed the long-fabled Huey Tzompantli — a tower of human skulls thought to measure about 200 feet in diameter.
The tower was described in contemporary accounts of the Spanish conquistadores when they captured the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, which later became Mexico City.
The tower is located at the edge of the Templo Mayor, an edifice dedicated to the Aztec god of sun, war, and human sacrifice, according to a report by The Atlantic.
In the account of Andres de Tapia, a Spanish follower of Hernan Cortes during his conquest of Mexico in 1521, the tower was constructed of tens of thousands of skulls “placed on a very large theater made of lime and stone, and on the steps of it were many heads of the dead stuck in the lime with the teeth facing outward.”
What the archaeologists did not expect to find were so many skulls belonging to women and children. Researchers previously believed that young male warriors were mostly chosen as sacrificial victims. As a result, the discovery is raising new questions about the Aztec Empire’s culture of human sacrifice.
“We were expecting just men,” said Rodrigo Bolanos, a biological anthropologist working on the dig, in a report by Reuters, adding, “Something is happening that we have no record of, and this is really new, a first in the Huey Tzompantli.”
So far, researchers have discovered more than 650 skulls that were covered in lime to cement them together. Only a quarter of the excavation is completed.