Aztec Site Reveals Grisly Fate of Captured Spaniards

Horses and people were eaten, but not pigs
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 9, 2015 3:03 AM CDT
Aztec Site Reveals Grisly Fate of Captured Spaniards
A worker displays the skull of a Spanish woman at the Zultepec-Tecoaque site in Tlaxcala state, Mexico, on Thursday.   (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Excavations at the site of one of the Spanish conquistadors' worst defeats in Mexico are yielding new evidence about what happened when the two cultures clashed—and the native Mexicans were in control. Faced with strange invaders accompanied by unknown animal species, the inhabitants of an Aztec-allied town east of Mexico City reacted with apparent amazement in 1520 when they captured a convoy of about 15 Spaniards, 45 foot soldiers who included Cubans of African descent, women, and 350 Indian allies of the Spaniards. According to artifacts found at the Zultepec-Tecoaque ruin site, the inhabitants of the town carved clay figurines of the unfamiliar races, or they forced the captives to carve them. They then symbolically "decapitated" the figurines. Later, those in the convoy were apparently sacrificed and eaten.

The horses were also eaten, but pigs brought by the Spaniards for food were apparently viewed with such suspicion that they were killed whole and left uneaten. In contrast, the skeletons of the captured Europeans were torn apart and bore cut marks indicating the meat was removed from the bones. The Spaniards' goods were, on the whole, treated indifferently. A prized and elaborate majolica plate from Europe was tossed into a well, as were the Spaniards' jewelry and their spurs and stirrups, which were of no use to the Indians. A horse's rib bone, however, was prized and carved into a musical instrument. (Subway diggers in Mexico City unearthed evidence of a very unusual sacrifice.)

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