When Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (modern-day Mexico City) in 1521, his troops and native allies made a discovery that rattled them. Inside the temple dedicated to the Aztec god of war, the sun, and sacrifice, Huitzilopochtli, was a massive wooden structure measuring 200 feet in diameter displaying human skulls. This structure is known as a Tzompantli, a skull rack.
Along with the massive collection of skulls that would make a Predator proud, were two pillars made out of human skulls. Tales of what the conquistadores saw that day were passed down for generations and were left like that. In 2015, the skull towers seen by Cortes’s men that birthed the stories were discovered. At the time around 676 skulls were unearthed in what is being called Huey Tzompantli. The skulls were being held together with stone mortar and originally were believed to be the skulls of young men who were warriors captured during combat and sacrificed to the god Huitzilopochtli.
To the shock of archeologists, the skulls making up the stone towers are not only belonging to men but to women and children as well. This puzzled experts as it was estimated that the construction of the towers dates between 1486 and 1502, around the time of the ongoing Flower War (1454-1519). Recently it’s been reported that archeologists have discovered an additional 119 skulls making up the pillars with no clear signs of how close they are to the base of it.
The question still remains as to why woman and children’s skulls are mixed in the pillars especially in a temple dedicated to the god of war who traditionally was given sacrifices of captured warriors. In the Aztec religion, a person who is sacrificed to a god such as Huitzilopochtli is held in high regard even if they were from a rival city-state. The ones being sacrificed in turn become part of the god thus making their remains such as their skulls, holy relics.