Origins of the Templo Mayor Skull Masks

Author(s): Heather Edgar; Corey Ragsdale

Year: 2015


The offerings of human remains made at the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlán include decapitated skulls, some of them reused as masks or headdresses. It is generally accepted that the sacrificial offerings of the Templo Mayor were obtained through warfare. To test this, we used bioarchaeological analyses to determine where the skull masks came from geographically, and whether the skull masks meet the biological profile of elite warriors. We recorded sex, age, and indicators of disease and nutritional deficiency among skull masks (n=6) corresponding to the reign of Axacayatl (AD 1469-1481). We then compared the dentitions of the skull masks with those from groups documented in the Codex Mendoza as the major military campaigns of Axayacatl. We used non-metric multidimensional scaling of dental morphological observations to determine whether individuals in the offering samples were similar to any comparison groups (n=127). Results indcate the skull masks fit the biological pattern expected of elite males, and probably originated from the populations in contact with the Aztecs through military campaigns. These results show that hypotheses derived from ethnohistoric records can be tested using dental morphological data, and that political processes such as warfare influenced the treatment of sacrificial victims at the Templo Mayor.

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Cite this Record

Origins of the Templo Mayor Skull Masks. Heather Edgar, Corey Ragsdale. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395855)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;