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Aztec Human Sacrifice Skull Unearthed After More Than 500 Years (PHOTO, VIDEO)

07/31/2013 03:57 pm ET
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For more than 500 years, the skull of a person who had been made into a human sacrifice by the Aztecs lay buried under Mexico City -- until now.

Archaeologists discovered the skull alone in a type of vessel at the foot of an ancient temple in the Tlatelolco dig site in Mexico's capital, according to a July 26 press release announcing the discovery. Researchers from Mexico's National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) said the skull was probably from a young male, perhaps a prisoner of war. The skull and its fragments have been dated to around 1500 A.D.

Salvador Guilliem, the director of the Tlatelolco site, noted in the INAH statement that a custodian assisting the clean up had alerted researchers in July to what appeared to be a vessel, leading to the discovery of the skull. Now researchers are beginning to examine the area where it was found.

"We're marking of the space to see if the offering is composed of only the skull and the vessel, or if we have more associated remains," Guilliem said, according to a translation by The Huffington Post.

Excavating the area is a delicate process, Guilliem's colleague Paola Silva noted in a video filmed for INAH.

"First, the top of the skull was found, and apart from that, because of its position beneath the last stage of the Construction VII-A [a part of the temple] in reality, it's considered very likely to be an offering," Silva said, according to a translation by The Huffington Post. "Then began the probing work. It started with freeing the skull, but because there's a concentration of material and many fragments ... it has to be done slowly."

This is the 34th such offering to be found in the area of Tlatelolco, a site that has been under excavation since 1944, according to local news site The News.

For decades, Tlatelolco has proven to be a treasure trove of artifacts and skeletons that have offered researchers a rare glimpse into the fascinating, vibrant and sometimes violent culture of the Aztecs. Ritual offerings to an Aztec goddesses of fertility known as Quilaztli Cihuacóatl were displayed during an INAH presentation on the site given in February, according to Past Horizons. Archaeologist Diego Jimenez Badilla discussed the offerings -- some of them human -- which were originally discovered in 1979 and 1980.

A formidable people, the Aztecs believed the sun god Huitzilopochtli required human blood in order to move the sun across the horizon, according to the History Channel. Sometimes, volunteers would give themselves up for the honor, and other times prisoners were sacrificed.

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