Archaeologists have found around 650 skulls, mostly of women and children, and caked in lime and thousands of fragments in the cylindrical edifice, near the site of the Templo Mayor – one of the main temples in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (currently known as Mexico City). As expected, the development has sparked few questions over the culture of sacrifice of the Aztec civilisation.

Archaeologists believe that the tower is a part of ‘Huey Tzompantli’ or a massive array of skulls. Templo Mayor was one of the main temples in Tenochtitlan and the Tower of Skulls has been found near the Templo Mayor. The Huey Tzompantli once struck fear into the Spanish rulers or conquistadores, who conquered the city in the 16th century. There was a reference to this Tower of Skulls in their writings. After Spain’s victory in the war against Mexico in 1521, a Spanish fighter, named Andrés de Tappia, informed the world about this Temple.

According to Raul Barrera, Tappia wrote that there were thousands of skulls in that area. Barrera, one of the archaeologists currently working at the site alongside the huge Metropolitan Cathedral built over the Templo Mayor, told the press that they might find more skulls there. “The number would rise as excavations went on,” he said. The Aztecs and other Mesoamerican peoples used to perform ritualistic human sacrifices as offerings to the sun, stressed Barrera.

In the past, archaeologists claimed that the skulls were of warriors who lost their lives during wars between different Aztec tribes. Historians, too, supported the view, saying that heads of the defeated fighters were cut off and kept in Tzompantli as per the norms of Mesoamerican culture.

However, the latest discovery of women and children’s skulls casts doubt on that view. “We were expecting just men, obviously young men, as warriors would be, and the thing about the women and children is that you’d think they wouldn’t be going to war,” insisted Rodrigo Bolanos, a biological anthropologist investigating the find. He admitted that it’s a new development, saying: “We have no record of this.”

Archaeologists are of the opinion that the skulls would have been set in the Tower only after being on public display, as the Tower stood on the corner of the chapel of Huitzilopochtli – the Aztec god of the sun, war and human sacrifice.

Archaeologists will soon unearth the Tower’s base.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]