The remains of a young woman were found surrounded by 1,789 human bones in Mexico City’s Templo Mayor—a find that is the first of its kind in the Aztec culture according to researchers at the National Institute of Anthropology and History.
“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,” University of Florida archaeologist Susan Gillespie, who was not involved in the project, told the Associated Press.
She further explained that when the Mayas buried sacrifice victims, they were complete bodies, not various bones, like the recent find.
Perla Ruiz, the physical anthropologist in charge of the project, thinks the placement of piles of bones—skulls in one, long bones like femurs and rib bones in another—means the bones were brought from previous burials.
The woman was found 15 feet below the surface near what was possibly a “sacred tree.” The tree was “planted” on a circular structure of volcanic rock near the woman’s burial at the edge of the temple complex. Researchers believe it could possibly be two decades older than the burial, which was dated from 1481 to 1486 based on the surrounding temple buildings.
Raul Barrera Rodriguez, head of the Urban Archaeology Program at the institute, suggested that the tree could be related to the four sacred trees the Aztecs believed held up the sky. Gillespie suggested it may have been brought in specifically for an annual ceremony.
“It seems to have been positioned there for a span of time, perhaps for a special ceremony or to create a particular vision of a sacred landscape, but then abandoned as uses of that limited sacred space changed over time,” Gillespie told the AP.