By MARK PRIGG
PUBLISHED: 07:32 EST, 8 August 2012 | UPDATED: 07:32 EST, 8 August 2012
- Young female skeleton found surrounded by 1,789 human bones
- Site believed to be next to a sacred tree
Mexican archaeologists have found an unprecedented human burial in which the skeleton of a young woman is surrounded by piles of 1,789 human bones.
Researchers found the burial about five meters (15 feet) below the surface in Mexico City’s Templo Mayor.
It was discovered next to the remains of what may have been a “sacred tree” at one edge of the plaza, the most sacred site of the Aztec capital.
Researchers have found an ‘unprecedented’ human burial ground at the Templo Mayor in the heart of Mexico City.
The National Institute of Anthropology and History said the find was the first of its kind, noting the Aztecs were not known to use mass sacrifice or the reburial of bones as the customary ways to accompany the interment of a member of the ruling class.
University of Florida archaeologist Susan Gillespie, who was not involved in the project, called the find ‘unprecedented for the Aztec culture.’
She said that when the Mayas interred sacrifice victims with royal burials, they were usually found as complete bodies, not jumbles of different bone types as in this case.
And, except for special circumstances, the Aztecs, unlike other pre-Hispanic cultures, usually cremated members of the elite during their rule from 1325 to the Spanish conquest in 1521.
Archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) work on human bones found at the Templo Mayor.
‘Although the bodies of sacrificial victims have been found in burials of elite persons in Mesoamerica going back to at least the Preclassic period, funerary deposits for Aztec elites have only rarely been encountered,’ Gillespie wrote in an email.
The institute said some of the bones showed what may be cut marks to the sternum or vertebrae, places where a ritual heart extraction might leave a mark, but added that it didn’t seem likely the dead were sacrificed on the spot to accompany the burial because their bones were found separated.
Archaeologists have found about 1,700 bones including ten skulls as well as a sacred Aztec tree trunk at the temple.
The researchers discovered the skulls of seven adults and three children in one pile, long bones like femurs in another grouping, and ribs in another.
Physical anthropologist Perla Ruiz, who was in charge of the dig, said that might suggest the bones were disinterred from previous burials and reburied with the woman.
While some pre-Hispanic cultures disinterred bones as part of ancestor worship, it isn’t clear the Aztecs did.
Anthropologists work on a human burial site. The National Institute of Anthropology and History said the find was the first of its kind.
Human bones are seen at an archaeological site at the Templo Mayor in the heart of Mexico City.