The academic treatise El Sacrificio Humano en la Tradición Religiosa Mesoamericana sheds light on a photograph I used in a chapter of my book, the picture above the note “Photo by Héctor Montaño,” a photo of a recent discovery of a child offering to Huitzilopochtli that Montaño kindly sent me a few years ago when I was researching the subject of child sacrifice in pre-Columbian America. (By the end of this entry I reproduce this high-quality photo again: click on it if you want to see the details.)
In an article of El Sacrificio Humano, “Huitzilopochtli and child sacrifice in the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan” (my translation) by Leonardo López Luján, Ximena Chávez Balderas, Norma Valentín and Aurora Montúfar (pages 367-394), the authors tell us:
Everything indicates that this deposit is the material expression of a mass sacrificial ceremony motivated by the devastating drought of year 1 Tochli, corresponding to our 1454 C.E. and reported in a number of Indian annals. The presence of the Offering 48 in the northwest corner of Temple fully agrees with the documentary sources of the 16th century (pages 367-368).
During such ceremonies [to Tláloc], subject to the calendar or performed in times of crisis, children were symbolically similar to the dwarfs and deformed assistants of rain, as their profuse tears shed when immolated served as a hopeful omen of abundant precipitation. The careful study recently published by Michel Graulich about human sacrifice among the Aztecs indicates that, usually, the chosen children were given away or sold by their parents…; little slaves offered by the lords and wealthy people; infants purchased out of town, or children of prisoners of war. There are indications, moreover, that the kings and lords to some extent responsible for the smooth running of the meteors destined their own offspring to the téhcatl during droughts or floods, or to get rich harvests (pages 368 & 370).
The taphonomic analysis
Numerous cut marks on the ribs of both sides of the rib cage, as well as perimortem fractures produced by the same cutting action… In our view, this body of evidence is sufficient to conclude that the child of Offering 111 died during a sacrificial ceremony in which his tiny heart was extracted (pages 377-378).
Child sacrifice, war and Huitzilopochtli
Not all child sacrifices were linked to the gods of rain and fertility. Some historical documents reveal that people who were in situations of adversity, or had lost their freedom, or had been suffering a terrible disease, promised to give their children in exchange for their salvation. In other cases, the life of infants was claimed just before the military confrontations (pages 381-382).
In the following pages the authors mention the Spanish chroniclers as complementary sources of what recent archeology has discovered; chroniclers and 16th century texts such as Francisco Lopez de Gómara, the “List of Coatepec and his party,” Antonio Tello, Diego Durán and Bernardino de Sahagún.
It’s nice to see that modern science confirms, not denies, what the 16th century Spaniards had witnessed and reported.