136,000 SKULLS. That’s what Andres de Tapia, one of the conquistadors, described seeing on towers and racks as they victoriously entered Tenochtitlan in 1519. Revulsed by the barbarity it represented, the conquistadors tore down the racks (called tzompantli), paved over the ruins, and began building what would become Mexico City.
Since the Spanish were prone to exaggerate the inhumanity of the Aztecs to demonize them, many scholars dismissed the accounts and wondered if the tzompantli ever existed. In 2015, archaeologists found evidence that they did, discovering the remains of a tzompantli underneath a street behind the cathedral. Skulls found so far indicate that most of the victims were young men (likely captured warriors), but about 25% were women and children. Although the sacrifices were ostensibly to appease the Gods, the racks were also powerful propaganda – “Don’t mess with Aztec rule.”
Other tzompantli have been found in connection with ball courts, where apparently, the losing team was sacrificed. Brings new meaning to the term “Sudden death playoff.”