Archaeologists Have Unearthed a Literally Heart-Rending Aztec Child Sacrifice to the God of War
Archaeologists have made a startling discovery while excavating at the Templo Mayor of the city of Tenochtitlan. They’ve unearthed the remains of a child who they believe was sacrificed to the Aztec god of war. While an Aztec sacrifice may not seem particularly surprising, the nature of the burial has some unusual features.
The team from the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) found the remains of an eight to ten-year-old boy in October of last year. Analysis of the Aztec child sacrifice’s remains showed that the boy’s teeth were heavily worn and he had suffered from several infections in his mouth. It is believed he died sometime during the reign of Ahuízotl (1486-1502).
The skull of the Aztec child sacrifice recently found at the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan. (Mirsa Islands/Proyecto Templo Mayor, INAH)
According to Daily Mail, the child’s remains were found in a rare cylindrical pit that was lined with volcanic rocks and held together with stucco. It is the only one of the 204 tombs excavated at the site so far with these features. To create the tomb, the Aztecs had to raise several stone slabs. One of the experts told reporters: “Then they filled the square with soil brought from the banks of the old lake to build another square on top of it.”
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View of “Offering 176”, the remains of a young boy. (CEN)
Other unusual elements of the burial, known as “Offering 176”, include the grave goods. The boy was wearing jewelry made of jadeite from Guatemala and blue beads of an unknown origin. National Geographic Spain reports he was wearing rectangular wooden earrings and a wooden breastplate called an anahuatl, bearing insignias of the gods Huitzilopochtli, Tezcatlipoca, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli and Mixcóatl.
Green jadeite beads from Guatemala and blue beads of an unknown origin were found along with the skeleton. (Mirsa Islands/Proyecto Templo Mayor, INAH)
The connection to Huitzilopochtli was further enhanced by the presence of the wings of a forest hawk, with their ocher and blue coloring, and the obvious location of the burial - in the west side of a Huitzilopochtli temple.
Huitzilopochtli was one of the most important Aztec deities. He was the god of the sun, warfare, military conquest, sacrifice, and the patron god of Tenochtitlan. In their myth, the Aztecs claimed that Huitzilopochtli had to go to battle each day to defeat the night. Since the sun god’s victory was not a certainty, they provided him with nourishment in the form of sacrifices.
Depiction of Huitzilopochtli in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis ( Public Domain )
Normally, but not always, the victims were enemies captured in war. The person selected for sacrifice was led up to the top of the Templo Mayor, the main temple in Tenochtitlan. There, priests would cut the person’s heart from their chest then throw the victim’s body down the temple’s steps.
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While human sacrifices are quite commonplace for archaeologists exploring the ancient world of the Aztecs, similar child sacrifices around the Templo Mayor are relatively few. The only other Aztec child sacrifice found nearby so far was unearthed in 2005. It is called “Offering 111” and also had hawk wings placed in its burial. That child died at the age of just five years old and had its heart removed in a sacrificial ritual.
Aztec ritual human sacrifice portrayed on page 141 (folio 70r) of the Codex Magliabechiano. (Public Domain )
Archaeologists are uncertain if Offering 176 had undergone the same brutal end. However, it seems the Aztec child sacrifices to Huitzilopochtli were made when priests wanted the deity to show them the outcome of a battle.
Top Image: The remains of an Aztec child sacrifice were found in an unusual burial at the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan in Mexico. Source: Mirsa Islands/Proyecto Templo Mayor, INAH