New section of Aztec skull tower unearthed in Mexico City

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Mexican archaeologists have excavated more sections of the Aztec "tower of skulls" in the heart of Mexico City and unearthed an additional 119 skulls, authorities announced on Dec. 11.

Since 2015 more than 600 skulls have been unearthed at the site, according to the National Institute of Anthropology and History.

Reuters reports that the tower was approximately 5 meters, or 16.4 feet, in diameter, and is thought to have been part of the Huey Tzompantli, a huge palisade of skulls that 16th century Spanish conquistadors claimed to have seen in the ancient city of Tenochtitlan.

The tzompantli sat in front of the Templo Mayor and was flanked by two towers of mortared skulls, in the middle of a temple complex that was the spiritual and political heart of the Aztec capital.

Citing a statement released by the National Institute of Anthropology and History, Reuters reports Mexican Culture Minister Alejandra Frausto described the tower as one of the country's most "impressive" archaeological finds in recent years.

1. Huey Tzompantli and Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan
2. Map showing Mexica settlements in the Basin of Mexico around Lake Texcoco and the spread of modern day Mexico City
3. Lake Texcoco and Tenochtitlan with the temple complex in the city center
4. Depiction of how human sacrifice ritual was conducted
5. Description of a tzompantli
6. Huey Tzompantli's rack of skulls and skull towers

VOICEOVER (in English):

"The Mexica[a], rulers of the Aztec Empire, performed human sacrifice as an offering to the gods. They believed doing so would ensure the continued existence of the universe. The rituals may also have helped control subjugated populations."

"The Mexica settled in the Basin of Mexico and built their capital Tenochtitlan on an island in Lake Texcoco. After the Aztec Empire was conquered by the Spanish, the lake was drained and the Spanish built Mexico City on the ruins of the Aztec city."

"At its apex Tenochtitlan [b]had a population of more than 200,000 people, with some estimates as high as 350,000. The temple complex in the middle of the island was the religious and political heart of the city-state."

"Most human sacrifices were performed at the top of the Templo Mayor. Tributes, usually captured enemy warriors, were laid on stone slabs. Priests used obsidian blades to slice through the diaphragm and split open the chest."

"After taking out the tribute's still-beating heart, priests decapitated the body, reduced it to a skull, and carved holes into the side to mount the skulls on wooden posts."

"The posts were mounted on racks called tzompantli[c] which held thousands of skulls. These were flanked by two towers built from skulls and mortar to form the Huei Tzompantli, which stood in front of the Templo Mayor."

"Since 2015 more than 600 skulls have been unearthed at the site, according to Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History."

SOURCES: Reuters, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia