Archaeologists Unearth More Sections Of Aztec Skull Tower

by : Julia Banim on : 13 Dec 2020 12:41
skull wall 1Getty/National Institute of Anthropology and History

Archaeologists have unearthed further sections of an Aztec tower of human skulls that was discovered beneath the centre of Mexico City, adding to the hundreds of skulls that have already been found at the site.

Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) has revealed that a further 119 skulls have been recovered from the site, which is believed to have been part of the fearsome Huey Tzompantli.


The Huey Tzompantli was an enormous display of skulls that left the Spanish conquistadores absolutely terrified after they captured the city under Hernan Cortes back in 1521.

Aztec skull towerNational Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH)

The structure is located near to the Metropolitan Cathedral, which was built over the Templo Mayor, one of the main temples of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, a city that existed before modern day Mexico City.

It was first discovered back in 2015 during the restoration of a building, and is said to stand at approximately five meters (16.4 feet) in diameter.


As reported by Reuters, the team of archaeologists uncovered the facade and eastern side of the tower back in March, as well as the 119 skulls.

The skulls are believed to date back to the 1400s, and include the crania of men, women and children. This discovery surprised the team, who had been expecting to find only the skulls of young male warriors, with the presence of women and children raising questions about human sacrifice in this era.


Archaeologist Raul Barrera told Reuters:


Although we can’t say how many of these individuals were warriors, perhaps some were captives destined for sacrificial ceremonies.

We do know that they were all made sacred. Turned into gifts for the gods or even personifications of deities themselves.

In a INAH statement, Mexican Culture Minister Alejandra Frausto said:

The Templo Mayor continues to surprise us, and the Huey Tzompantli is without doubt one of the most impressive archaeological finds of recent years in our country.

Aztec skull towerNational Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH)

Archaeologists have now identified three construction phases of the cylindrical structure, which is said to date back to between 1486 and 1502.

As per the INAH website, it’s believed the tower was built at a time when the Aztecs were in the middle of the Flowery Wars, displaying the skulls of their ‘fallen enemies turned sacrificial victims’ as well as the skulls of sacrificed women and children.

The top of the structure once held a wooden structure tzompantli, estimated to have held tens of thousands more skulls.

An eyewitness account from Spanish conquistador Bernal Diaz Del Castillo stated that, after Cortes and his men were forced to retreat from the city, the Aztecs made a smaller tzompantli, displaying the skulls of Spanish soldiers as well as some of their fallen horses.


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Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: News, Mexico, Now


National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and 1 other
  1. National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH)


  2. Reuters

    Mexican archaeologists uncover facade of Aztec skull tower in capital