5. Physical Evidence

Since we decided to focus our studies on the religious epicentre of Tenochtitlan, we found it important to use examples from her sister city, Tlatelcolco, as reference. Both of these cities housed massive temples dedicated to the different gods that created and maintained their cosmic universe. In Tenochtitlan, we focused our research on its religious center, the Templo Mayor and in Tlatelolco we focused on Templo R. Both of these temples were extremely important in the everyday lives of the Aztec people.  Worshiping and taking care of the gods were essential to daily life because the Aztec believed that if you did not take care of your gods, they would not take care of you. Read (1998) argues that if the Aztec wanted the cosmos to provide them with sustenance, they believed that they must first feed the cosmos with the blood and flesh of human beings.

Tlatelolco is known amongst archaeologists for its violent past. A great drought is believed to have occurred between the years 1454 and 1457 that led to the mass sacrifice of 37 children and 6 adults. Below are pictures of the dig site at the steps of Templo R platform.


This find of 43 skeletons is extremely important in the process of proving that the Aztec actually sacrificed human beings in their festivals and ceremonies. From the skeletons found buried at the foot of Templo R in Tlatelcolco, archaeologists have discovered that most of the skeletons belonged to children (De La Cruz et al. 2008).  The author discusses that they appear to be placed into the grave with extreme care and order and believes that this is a sign of ceremonial processes that would have occurred. It seems unusual to us that children were sacrificed because in all of the accounts we have discussed previously the victims were adult warriors or other adults obtained in raids or during the Flowery Wars.  De La Cruz et al. (2008) also mention that these children could have been sacrificed during a time of extreme drought and were possibly sacrificed to appease the God of Rain, feed him with the sacrifice of human blood and he will provide rain to the Aztec Empire.

It is believed that these children were sacrificed to appease the Aztec god of wind and rain, Ehecatl‐Quetzalcoatl” (De La Cruz et al. 2008). The recent excavations that recovered the skeletal remains of the 37 sub adults and 6 adults also discovered that these people were buried with many valuable objects.  De La Cruz (2008) suggests that, together, the human remains as well as the artifacts help to provide evidence of a sacrificial offering made in a single ceremony. She states that seventeen infants and one adult were buried in globular ceramic urns while the remainders were buried directly in the ground.

The ages of 31 children and 1 adult were then estimated using standard morphometric analyses, including an evaluation of tooth calcification and eruption. Archaeologists also used standard forms of examination for determining the sex of the skeletal remains found. By observing sexual dimorphism clearly visible on the adult bones, they were able to determine that most of the skeletal remains were those of males. “This remarkable gender bias is consistent with the notion that the victims chosen for sacrifice were a living impersonation of the god to whom they were offered” (De La Cruz et al. 2008). The process of DNA abstraction was also used in aiding the sexing of the skeletons.

At the site of Templo Mayor, the skeletal remains of a child were found beneath a flight of stone temple steps. Archaeologist Ximena Chavez (2005) believes that the child was sacrificed in 1450, in a ceremony intended to dedicate a new layer of building. This child is believed to have been sacrificed to the god of war, Huitzilopochtli. Like the other child sacrifices found in Tlatelolco, these remains were found with grave goods such as whistles, collars, ankle bracelets which were made of shells and bells made of copper (Chavez 2005).

There is not a significant amount of physical evidence of burial practices left in Templo Mayor. Lots of information has been lost due to negligence or theft. Eight “true burials” have been found, though (Iguaz 1993). Seven of these eight were cremated and buried underneath the stucco floors. To do this, the Aztecs would actually dig a hole into their floor, bury the remains in the hole, fill it with dirt, and then resurface the floor. It would be interesting to understand the social role of these people and why their deaths required the destruction and rebuilding of parts of the sacred temple. Smith and Burdan (1992) also discuss the problems which exist within Aztec archaeology.  They note that there are two main factors which contribute to a lack of archaeological evidence from the Aztecs (which includes a very small amount of evidence for human sacrifice); the first being the low number of archaeological studies on the Aztec period, and the second being the methodological problems which are associated with studying this group.

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