Posted: April 14th, 2008
Aztec Massacre
Cryptic Codices Unveiled

Travel with us down the ancient trade route that once connected the capital city of Mexico to the Atlantic coast. Sixty miles down this busy highway, lies the scene of a massacre that occurred more than 500 years ago in Zultepec — an Aztec stronghold. The remains at the site suggest these people met a gruesome end at the hands of the Aztecs, who ruled Mesoamerica in the 14th through 16th centuries — a time when priests presided over ritual killings and human sacrifice.

Bones at ZultepecForensic archaeological investigations at this ancient site have uncovered four hundred skeletal remains buried in a mass grave. It was long thought that the Aztecs did not offer significant resistance to the Spanish Conquistadors, but recent excavations strongly suggest that major fighting occurred between Aztec and Spanish forces.

There were several analyses the anthropologists carried out to obtain the answers they were looking for, including close examinations of the skulls and a series of bone measurements. The anthropologists were also able to recreate the facial features of the skulls, and thus able to find out that some of the human remains found at Zultepec belonged to Spanish Conquistadors.

Archaeologist Elizabeth Baquedano and a team of highly trained scientists spent more than 15 years piecing together the clues from the Zultepec burial site, and now you can share in their remarkable discoveries.

The Clues Uncovered

Missing Bones: The mass grave contained dismembered bodies. Vertebrae were missing from the corpses along with pelvic bones and femur bones.

Explanation: Warriors hung body parts and bones outside of their homes to attest to their bravery and success on the battlefield.

Ritual Offerings: The greatest concentration of bones was found within the southern plaza of Zultepec. Some bones were carefully laid out, while others were grouped together in seemingly random piles. The majority of the bones were buried in shallow graves close to the large temple that had once stood as the centerpiece of the town.

Explanation: There was a major religious ceremony that was crucial to the Aztecs’ way of life in obtaining the gods’ approval. This ceremony included human sacrifices. Once victims were sacrificed, their heads were hung like trophies. In preparation for display, each head was punctured through the left and right temple. More than two-dozen of these pierced skulls were found at the Zultepec site.

A Jawbone. Aztec or European?Unearthed Skulls: Skulls were found that did not match the body type of indigenous local tribes members captured by the Aztecs. These skulls did not fit the projected profile of a broad forehead and wide cheekbones. Skulls were found with elongated heads, and others with rounded features.

Explanation: Many of the bodies could not have belonged to the Aztec or to other local tribes. Their facial characteristics point to an entirely different ethnic and geographic origin. At least forty of the skeletons found appeared to be of European origin. Some of the skulls were more feminine than masculine. At least ten of the skulls belonged to European females.

Hidden Wombs: Archeologists found what they believed to be remains of fetuses scattered around the site.

Explanation: While there is no hard evidence that babies were stabbed in their mothers’ wombs, the scientists studied the sacrificial rituals on codices and discovered that pregnant women were sacrificed to one of the Aztec gods — and the focus of the ritual was their belly.

Zultepec is the only site in Mexico where you can uncover physical evidence of an Aztec uprising. All of the findings from Zultepec prove without doubt that at least in this one case, the Aztecs did aggressively, and successfully, resist the Conquistadors. The evidence, taken together, led the scientists to conclude that not only did the Aztecs kill Spaniards, but also they may have even consumed their bodies as part of a ceremonial ritual.

  • Leon De King

    Fascinating update to Bernal Diaz Del Castillo’s Conquest of Mexico.
    Questions whose answers would enhance understanding of this presentation:
    A) Where does this event fit into the Spanish “visits” to Moctezuma’s Court?; and
    B) What was recorded on the codices noted in the program’s title?. . .By Whom? . . .Where found?

  • mary

    Aztec teeth will differ from European teeth. The anthropoloical literature vz. dentition is well documented. That might have helped in the identification of remains early in this research.

  • kassandra

    i think that this type of history is very interesting i would love to learn a lot more of the aztecs

  • Richard O’Brien

    I read BD’s history of the conquest long ago…so how come it’s taken this long for you guys to accept your proud heritage. I remember a ‘Rose of Tralee’ contest awhile back, and one bimbo announced she was married to a Mexican man… spanish desent if you mind…sick and stupd as most peoples are mixed as taat would matter. Your history etc equals or surpasses anythng the rest of the world has to offer, if I were Mexican I would be scourning Spanish libaries for hidden or forgotton codexes. Rgds Ricardo

  • Lilia Salinas

    I was born in Mexico, my parents brought me to the US when I was four years old. I never got the opportunity to learn the history of where I was born. I truly appreciate this documentary.

  • salvador

    i have been trying to pint point the location of this archeological site,but i can not find it in the map, where is this place is located,estate or city, so i can visit it went a i go to mexico , there is several zultepec’s close to mexico city, but the original name cuold have been change to a diferent name? please help me find this place , thanks

  • Bianca.!!!:]

    thats kool.[[i guess...???]]

  • i am me

    yes aztec gods are interesting i would recomend looking into the drunk rabitts

  • Hijo de dios(jesus)

    may god be with their souls

  • hijo de dios

    i love pbs kids its the best show every(:

  • sasha

    how sad. how horrible. how disgusting. fascinating? no. ‘kool’??? no.
    no wonder why God wiped out the aztecs. human sacrificing … cannibalism … brutal murder. that’s disgusting. i’m sure you guys wouldn’t find it fascinating if you were to run into a bunch of aztecs that want to rip YOUR heart out and offer it to satan as a sacrifice.

  • Mike

    So basically the ancestors to todays mexicans were even more sick and cruel than the Europeans they cry and complain about today when they cross US borders illegally. They are no better or sounds like worse than many Empires.

  • melissa

    i agree with sasha. what the aztecs did was horrible and moraly wrong. human sacrifices and so many dead people. I do not think thats what their gods wanted.
    it is NOT fascinating its barbaric when i read the theory about them stabing the babies in the womb i wanted to cry. just because i am part of them does not mean i agree with what they did. and ill hope along with Hijo de dios(jesus) that those souls are with god.

  • Joy

    Really???, I mean white people had immoral child labor, killed each other for being “witches”, what people did eons ago are because that is what their beliefs were at the time. Ignorance and lack of human respect was common place back then. Women all across the nation used many utensils to abort their own babies pre 1900’s.

  • Cuauhtli

    I don’t understand how the Mexica (”Aztecs”) can be considered anymore barbaric then the Spaniards at the time. The Spanish invadors to our lands brutally slaughtere MILLIONS of Indigenous people including innocent women and children our so called “history” is viewed in such a eurocentric view is disgusting. Human sacrifice? Our beleife was called Ometeotl (duel cosmo energy) basically it’s 2 forms of energy that make up all life theres good and bad and we as human beings must keep a perfect balance between the two living in peace and harmony with mother nature and all her creatures THAT is our Native beleife we had NO “Gods” our way of life was compleatly different from the European ways of life they just couldnt comprehend that we didnt have a “God” like them so they claimed we had all these “Gods” like Tlaloc “god of rain” and Quetzalcoatl “The serpant God”. Tlaloc is NOT a god it is the element for rain Quetzacoatl is the element for Earth. Quetzalcoatl means Beautiful & Upstanding Serpant in Nahuatl Quetzalli (Ketzalli) meaning beautiful and upstanding and Coatl meaning serpant. Our so called “depictions” of “human sacrifice” is about the Maguey plant which we used the fibres of for weaving the sap for medicinal purposes and ceromonially ate the “heart” the stalk. When the Maguey plant reaches a certain age it becomes too big to support its weight and collapses and breaks at the stalk “heart” of the plant so we would havest it thats what the picture of the man having his heart ripped out about. I was brought up with the Native way of life Nahuatl is my first language and i can read some of our forms of writing all i can say that most of the things people beleive about the Mexica is a very distorted. Ometeotl is our beleife Mexicayotl is our way of life if you wish to know about it seek the truth not the eurocentric point of view some good books i would suggest are {We Will Rise: Rebuilding The Mexikah Nation by Kurly Tlapoyawa, Mexico Profundo by Bonfil Batalla, The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of The Conquest of Mexico by Miguel Leon Portilla}. There are many more. If anyone would like to learn more contact me – – Ma xipactinemi (May you be well).

    Cuauhtli Anawakatl

  • Vivo

    You can easily tell from the teeth, whether if the remains are of the Aztec or the Evil Spaniards. Europeans were known for having bad hygiene, so their teeth would be rotted out pretty much.

  • Eric Rojo

    saw the program for the first time yesterday and was shocked to see that PBS is engaging ignorant pseudo academicians to present a distorted picture of the Aztecs and the Spaniards. It is a very sad day when PBS joins channels like NATGEO and Discovery in their current orgy of sensationalism disguised as history, when it amounts to little more than a hysterical account of events the obviously do not know and understand, and are being taken advantage of by people they pay to narrate bu do not take the time to verify simple facts. while there are dozens of distorted facts that can be addressed one by one, probably the best example of applied ignorance in this program is the reference to Teotihuacan. in case the “archeologists” did not know, this city was already an archeological site, abandoned hundred of years prior to the arrival of the Aztecs to the valley of Mexico. in their own amazement they gave some of the names that carry today, however, only recent excavations are beginning to shed some light on the various periods of development of the city, and little is really know about their inhabitants and their lives. As such the only fact the program can support is the existence of the city. How sad a state of affairs of a network that supposedly exists above the puerile programming of network and cable TV. I will remember when the time comes to make their arrogant requests for contributions. If this is how my money is being spent, I demand a refund

  • Santiago Matamoros

    To the Aztec apologist: Stop trying to make the literal merely allegorical.

    It wasn’t plants breaking that Cortez, other Spaniards, and the Aztecs depicted in their letters and codices, it was brutal, bloody, depraved human sacrifice.

    Whatever atrocities the Spanish committed in their conquest — a victory aided by disease and the long-deserved retribution of the Aztecs’ “terrorized” and oppressed neighbors — they were nothing compared to what the Aztecs did religiously for centuries.

    And aren’t the parallels between Aztec “religion,” Islam, and many other ancient, pagan cults of death — Molech, Astarte, etc. — noteworthy? Each “religion” preaches a form of “kill for god.” Unlike all of them, in the Biblical religion, God dies for all.

Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2014 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.