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Skulls in Mexico are a mystery



Date published: 2/1/2013

BY MARK STEVENSON

The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY

--Archaeologists say they have turned up about 150 skulls of human sacrifice victims in a field in central Mexico, one of the first times that such a large accumulation of severed heads has been found outside of a major pyramid or temple complex in Mexico.

Experts are puzzled by the unexpected find of such a large number of skulls at what appears to have been a small, unremarkable shrine. The heads were carefully deposited in rows or in small mounds, mostly facing east toward the rising sun, sometime between 660 and 860 A.D., a period when the nearby city-state of Teotihuacan had already declined but the Aztec empire, founded in 1325, was still centuries in the future.

Georgia State University archaeologist Christopher Morehart, who found the skulls last year in Xaltocan, a farming village just north of Mexico City, said that between 150 and 200 adult skulls or their equivalent in bone parts have been excavated so far from fields that stand on a former lake bed.

Experts weren't expecting to find anything of this kind in the flat, undistinguished pasture land and corn fields. The site is near, but not immediately adjacent to, Teotihuacan, one of the biggest pre-Hispanic cities. It reached its height between 100 B.C. and A.D. 750 and was abandoned by the time the Aztecs arrived in the area in the 1300s.

Morehart was conducting a study of ancient agricultural patterns and human landscape uses in the northern part of the Mexico Valley in 2007, when during a walking survey of the site he started noticing looters' pits that had turned up human bones. A subsequent season of excavations in 2012 turned up dozens more skulls. The results of the 2007 dig were just published in the academic journal Latin American Antiquity.

While the Teotihuacan culture and the Aztecs were known to practice human sacrifice, and remains of hundreds of victims have been found in their pyramids or other large structures, the Xaltocan mound "is like a bump in the landscape that you could really easily walk over and not know you're standing on it," Morehart said.