A child sacrifice site at the foot of an ancient temple in a lost Aztec city has been unearthed by archaeologists.
The discovery was made at the foot of the ancient Templo Mayor temple, which was found in the heart of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan.
The young child is believed to have been sacrificed for the Aztec god of war Huitzilopochtli during the late fifteenth century.
Child sacrifice seems to have been a relatively common occurrence in the cultures of ancient south and central America.
Aztecs undertook human sacrifices, including children, as they believed this would bring the rains their crops needed to grow.
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Archaeologists unearthed the remains of the young child, believed to have been sacrificed in the late fifteenth century, at the foot of an ancient temple in Mexico, in the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, which is now the centre of the Mexican capital, Mexico City
The discovery comes 12 years after the location of the first child sacrifice site at the archaeological site, now in the centre of the Mexican capital, Mexico City.
The child’s bones were reportedly found along with body adornments and symbols characteristic of Huitzilopochtli.
The remains, named ‘Offering 176’, were found under the floor of a square to the west of the Templo Mayor, which was the centre of the ancient city.
Archaeologists found a series of symbols linked with huitzilopochtli – the ancient Aztec god of war, sun, human sacrifice, and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan – next to the skeletal remains
The young child was believed to have been sacrificed in the late 15th century. The body of the child sacrifice was found hidden beneath stone slabs
WHAT IS THE TEMPLO MAYOR AND WHEN WAS IT DISCOVERED?
In 1978, electrical workers in Mexico City came across a remarkable discovery.
While digging near the main plaza, they found a finely carved stone monolith that displayed a dismembered and decapitated woman.
Immediately, they knew they found something special. Shortly thereafter, archaeologists realised that the monolith displayed the Aztec goddess Coyolxauhqui, or Bells-Her-Cheeks.
This is the sister of the Mexica’s patron god, Huitzilopochtli, or Hummingbird-Left, who killed his sister when she attempted to kill their mother.
This monolith led to the discovery of the Templo Mayor, the main Aztec temple located in the sacred precinct of the former capital, known as Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City.
In 1978, electrical workers in Mexico City came across the Templo Mayor. This image shows the Coyolxauhqui Stone, c. 1500 AD, a volcanic stone found in Templo Mayor, Tenochtitlan and held in the Museo del Templo Mayor, Mexico City
The city of Tenochtitlan was established in 1325 on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco, much of which has since been filled in to accommodate Mexico City which now exists on this site, and with the city’s foundation the original structure of the Templo Mayor was built.
Between 1325 and 1519, the Templo Mayor was expanded, enlarged, and reconstructed during seven main building phases, which likely corresponded with different rulers, or tlatoani – meaning ‘speaker’ – taking office.
Sometimes new construction was the result of environmental problems, such as flooding.
Located in the sacred precinct at the heart of the city, the Templo Mayor was positioned at the centre of the Aztec capital and thus the entire empire.
The capital was also divided into four main quadrants, with the Templo Mayor at the centre.
This design reflects the Aztec cosmos, which was believed to be composed of four parts structured around the navel of the universe, or the axis mundi.
Source: Khan Academy
The Aztecs had to raise a series of stone slabs from the floor to make way for the body, archaeologists point out.
They then dug a pit in the ground and built a cylindrical box in which the child was placed with volcanic rocks, stuck together with stucco.
One expert told reporters: ‘Then they filled the square with soil brought from the banks of the old lake to build another square on top of it.’
A team made up of the archaeologists Rodolfo Aguilar Tapia, Mary Laidy Hernández Ramírez and Karina López Hernández, together with the physical anthropologist Jacqueline Castro Irineo, had the mission to excavate the find of the Offering 176.
The remains, named ‘Offering 176’, were found under the floor of a square to the west of the Templo Mayor, which was the centre of the ancient city. This image shows archaeologists at the site
The Aztecs had to raise a series of stone slabs from the floor to make way for the body, archaeologists point out. They then dug a pit in the ground in to house the sacrifice
The Aztecs built a cylindrical box in which the child was placed with volcanic rocks, stuck together with stucco. This image shows the remains that were excavated
WHO WERE THE AZTECS AND WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THEM?
The Mexica, later known as the Aztecs, were a migrant people from the desert north who arrived in Mesoamerica in the 1300s.
This previously nomadic tribe was not welcomed by the local inhabitants who viewed them as inferior and undeveloped.
Legend says that, as a result the Aztecs, wandered waiting for a sign to indicate where they should settle.
In 1325 AD this sign, an eagle and serpent fighting on a cactus, was seen at Lake Texcoco – prompting the Aztecs to found their capital city, Tenochtitlan.
By 1430 AD the Aztecs had assimilated aspects of the surrounding tribes and developed into a structured society.
Their military became powerful and campaigns were fought and won.
The Triple Alliance was created with the lords of Texcoco – situated on the eastern shores of Lake Texococo – and Tlacopan – sometimes referred to as Tacuba, situated on the western shores of Lake Texococo – further strengthening Aztec power.
The Aztecs went to war for two main reasons; to exact tribute and to capture prisoners.
They needed prisoners because they believed that the gods must be appeased with human blood and hearts to ensure the sun rose each day.
Conquering new regions brought the opportunity to capture slaves who were an important part of Aztec society.
Prosperity and unity within the Aztec peoples brought confidence. Under a succession of rulers armies were sent further across Mexico.
By the start of the 1500s the Aztec empire stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific and into Guatemala and Nicaragua.
The arrival in 1521 AD of Hernan Cortés with Spanish soldiers brought about the end of the empire.
Source: The British Museum
Since its initial discovery, at the end of October 2017, each of the human bones and the numerous objects made with different raw materials have been carefully excavated, cleaned and registered.
The discovery comes after hundreds of skulls were recently found in Tenochtitlan that are believed to have been placed on public display in ritual sacrifices.
Tenochtitlan was built on an island in what was then Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico.
The city was the capital of the expanding Aztec Empire in the 15th century until it was captured by the Spanish in 1521.
At its peak, it was the largest city in the Pre-Columbian Americas.
Aztec human sacrifices were far more widespread and grisly that previously thought, archaeologists revealed in June.
A stone Tzompantli (skull rack) found during the excavations of Templo Mayor (Great Temple) in Tenochtitlan. New research has found the ‘skull towers’ which used real human heads were just a small part of a massive display of skulls known as Huey Tzompantli
In 2015 archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) found a gruesome ‘trophy rack’ near the site of the Templo Mayor.
Now, they say the find was just the tip of the iceberg, and that the ‘skull tower’ was just a small part of a massive display of skulls known as Huey Tzompantli that was the size of a basketball court.
In two seasons of excavations, archaeologists collected 180 mostly complete skulls from the tower and thousands of skull fragments.
Cut marks confirm that they were ‘defleshed’ after death and the decapitation marks are ‘clean and uniform.’
Three quarters of the skulls analysed belonged to men, mostly aged between 20 and 35. Some 20 per cent belonged to women and the remaining five per cent were children.
WHY DID ANCIENT SOUTH AMERICAN CULTURES SACRIFICE THEIR CHILDREN?
Child sacrifice seems to have been a relatively common occurrence in the cultures of ancient Peru, including the pre-Incan Sican, or Lambayeque culture and the Chimu people who followed them, as well as the Inca themselves.
Among the finds revealing this ritual behaviour are the mummified remains of a child’s body, discovered in 1985 by a group of mountaineers.
The remains were uncovered at around 17,388ft (5,300 metres) on the southwestern ridge of Cerro Aconcagua mountain in the Argentinean province of Mendoza.
Child sacrifice seems to have been a relatively common occurrence in the cultures of ancient Peru. Among the finds revealing this ritual behaviour were the mummified remains of a child’s body (pictured), discovered in 1985 by a group of mountaineers
The boy is thought to have been a victim of an Inca ritual called capacocha, where children of great beauty and health were sacrificed by drugging them and taking them into the mountains to freeze to death.
Ruins of a sanctuary used by the Inca to sacrifice children to their gods was discovered by archaeologists in at a coastal ruin complex in Peru in 2016.
Experts digging at Chotuna-Chornancap, in north Lima, discovered 17 graves dating to at least the 15th century. This included the graves of six children placed side by side in pairs of shallow graves.
Capacocha was a ritual that most often took place upon the death of an Inca king. The local lords were required to select unblemished children representing the ideal of human perfection.
Ruins of a sanctuary used by the Inca to sacrifice children to their gods was discovered by archaeologists in at a coastal ruin complex in Peru in 2016. Experts digging at Chotuna-Chornancap (pictured), in north Lima, discovered 17 graves dating to at least the 15th century
Children were married and presented with sets of miniature human and llama figurines in gold, silver, copper and shell. The male figures have elongated earlobes and a braided headband and the female figurines wore their hair in plaits.
The children were then returned to their original communities, where they were honoured before being sacrificed to the mountain gods on the Llullaillaco Volcano.
The phrase Capacocha has been translated to mean ‘solemn sacrifice’ or ‘royal obligation.’
The rationale for this type of sacrificial rite has typically been understood as commemorating important life events of the Incan emperor, to send them to be with the deities upon their death, to stop natural disasters, to encourage crop growth or for religious ceremonies.