Pile of ancient human skulls unearthed in Mexico
|The team noticed evidence of looting and began excavating. When they dug further, they found a shocking discovery [Credit: Christopher Morehart]|
"It's absolutely remarkable to think about this little nothing on the landscape having potentially evidence of the largest mass human sacrifice in ancient Meso-America," Morehart said.
Middle of nowhere
Morehart and his colleagues were using satellite imagery to map ancient canals, irrigation channels and lakes that used to surround the kingdom of Teotihuacan (home to the Pyramid of the Sun), about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Mexico City. The vast ancient kingdom flourished from around A.D 200 to 650, though who built it remains a mystery.
|So far, the team has excavated over 150 skulls. (The researchers chose not display the skulls because the sacrificed people may have historic ties to people of today's indigenous cultures) [Credit: Christopher Morehart]|
When the team investigated, they discovered lines of human skulls with just one or two vertebra attached. To date, more than 150 skulls have been discovered there. The site also contained a shrine with incense burners, water-deity figurines and agricultural pottery, such as corncob depictions, suggesting a ritual purpose tied to local farming.
Carbon dating suggested that the skulls were at least 1,100 years old, and the few dozen analyzed so far are mostly from men, Morehart told LiveScience. The researchers did not release photos of the skulls because the sacrifice victims may have historic ties to modern-day indigenous cultures.
|An artifact depicting Tlaloc, an ancient water god from the Pre-Columbian period in Mexico, was found at the human sacrifice site at Lake Xaltocan [Credit: Christopher Morehart]|
Human sacrifice was practiced throughout the region, both at Teotihuacan and in the later Aztec Empire, but most of those rituals happened at great pyramids within cities and were tied to state powers.
By contrast, "this one is a big event in a little place," Crider said.
|The sacrifice likely occurred during a time of great upheaval, when the Teotihuacan culture was declining [Credit: Christopher Morehart]|
Many researchers believe that massive drought caused the fall of Teotihuacan and ushered in a period of warfare and political infighting as smaller regional powers sprang up, Morehart said.
Those tumultuous times could have spurred innovative — and bloody — practices, Crider said.
"Maybe they needed to intensify their activities because everything was changing," she said. "When things are uncertain you try new strategies."
Author: Tia Ghose | Source: LiveScience [January 26, 2013]