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Aztecs sacrificed and ate 550 captives

Skeletons bear witness to ritual slaughter

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Mexican archaelogists have unearthed grisly evidence of Aztec resistance to the Spanish conquest of their land: around 550 skeletons of men, women and children who were ritually sacrified and partially eaten by their captors, Reuters reports.

The unfortunate individuals were mostly "mulatto, mestizo, Maya Indian and Caribbean men and women given to the Spanish as carriers and cooks when they landed in Mexico in 1519", plus some conquistadors. Their slow-moving column was captured in 1520 and killed over a period of six months in revenge for the death of Cacamatzin - king of the city of Texcoco - at the hands of the Spanish.

The victims were kept in cages at Zultepec (current-day Calpulalpan in Tlaxcala state), near Texcoco while they awaited selection by priests from Mexico City. Each day at dawn, a few were singled out for the knife, held down on a sacrificial slab and had their hearts removed as an offering to the gods. The priests and town elders sometimes tucked into their victims' raw hearts or boiled up arms and legs for a hot meal. Knife and teeth marks on some bones confirm the cannibalism, Reuters explains.

Lead archeologist Enrique Martinez told the news agency: "It was a continuous sacrifice over six months. While the prisoners were listening to their companions being sacrificed, the next ones were being selected. You can only imagine what it was like for the last ones, who were left six months before being chosen, their anguish."

Spanish reaction to the slaughter was predictable. On hearing the news, their commander Hernán Cortés ordered the town to be renamed "Tecuaque" ("where people were eaten" in the Nahuatl language) - and dispatched forces to kill its 5,000 inhabitants. When they got wind of the Spaniards' imminent arrival, the locals threw their victims' possessions down wells, thereby "unwittingly preserving buttons and jewelry for the archeologists". As Martinez explained: "They hid all the evidence. Thanks to that act, we have been allowed to discover a chapter we were unaware of in the conquest of Mexico."

This new chapter demonstrates that the Aztecs did not, as is often suggested, always yield to the Spanish "Gods". Martinez concluded: "This is the first place that has so much evidence there was resistance to the conquest. It shows it wasn't all submission. There was a fight." ®

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