The ancient civilizations of Mexico left behind countless traces of their culture that attract visitors to this day – but this latest find is one of the most gruesome yet.
Archeologists have uncovered the first known temple to the important pre-Hispanic deity called the Flayed Lord, who is represented by a human’s skinless corpse.
The Flayed Lord, or Xipe Tótec, was linked with fertility, agricultural cycles and war, according to a statement from Mexican authorities released on Wednesday.
A dig at Popoloca Indian ruins known as Ndachjian–Tehuacán in Puebla state, central Mexico, revealed two skulls and a torso from ancient statues of the deity.
Killed on one altar and skinned on the other
A team from the National Institute of Anthropology and History also found two sacrificial altars, which would have been used as part of ceremonies in which priests skinned their victims before covering themselves in it as a sign of regeneration.
These occasions were an important part of ancient Mexican culture and were known as Tlacaxipehualiztli, which means “put on the skin of the flayed” in the Náhuatl language.
The layout of the site and the discovery of the sculptures matches with the description of the ceremonies in documentary sources, which suggest that victims were killed on one altar and skinned on the other.
On one sculpture, an extra right hand hanging backwards from the left arm of the torso symbolizes the skin of the victim that was left hanging after the ritual flaying, say the archeologists.
“Sculpturally it is a very beautiful piece,” said archeologist Noemí Castillo Tejero of the National Institute of Anthropology and History in a press release. “It is around 80 centimeters tall and has a hole in the stomach that was used, according to sources, to put in a green stone and ‘bring them to life’ for the ceremonies.”
Each skull is around 70 centimeters tall and weighs about 200 kilograms.
The sculpture was smashed to pieces as part of a ritual, according to the team, and they think they might find other parts of its body in future digs at the site, which would have been used between 1000 and 1260 AD before the Popolocas were conquered by the Aztecs.
So far the team have uncovered a structure some 12.5 meters long and 3.5 meters tall, with plans to excavate more.
The newly discovered sculptures will be studied and put on display at the Ndachjian–Tehuacán museum.
And researchers continue to uncover new evidence of Mexico’s ancient civilizations, sometimes with the help of natural phenomena.
Scientists at the Teopanzolco archeological site discovered an ancient temple in July 2018 that was exposed by a devastating earthquake in central Mexico in September 2017.
The temple was spotted by archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History as they scanned the ancient Aztec structures for damage caused by the quake.
Secret tunnels and caverns
Even popular tourist sites such as the Mayan complex of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan peninsula continue to reveal more and more secrets.
In February 2018 archaeologists started excavating a secret tunnel thought to lead beneath a pyramid at the site.
The tunnel was sealed off centuries ago by the Maya, but archaeologists plan to clear it in order to reach a hidden “cenote” – an underwater cavern that was central to Mayan spirituality.
Cenotes are water-filled sinkholes and are the only source of fresh water in Mexico’s Yucatan state. The Mayan civilization could not have survived here without them, but as well as sustaining physical life, these deep caverns were a key part of the Mayan cosmology.