Mexican experts have found the first temple of the Flayed Lord, a pre-Hispanic fertility god depicted as a skinned human corpse.
Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said the find was made during recent excavations of Popoloca Indian ruins in the central state of Puebla.
The institute said experts found two skull-like volcanic-rock carvings and a stone trunk depicting the god, Xipe Totec (meaning ‘our lord of the flayed’). It had an extra hand dangling off one arm, suggesting the god was wearing the skin of a sacrificial victim.
Descubren primer templo dedicado a Xipe Tótec en la Zona Arqueológica de Ndachjian–Tehuacán.
Arqueólogos del #INAH comprobaron la asociación con tal deidad tras hallar 2 cráneos ‘desollados’ de piedra y una escultura fragmentada… Info: https://t.co/3eSJbIxSWg pic.twitter.com/iQu63Jh9zm— INAHmx (@INAHmx)
Priests worshipped their god by flaying victims and then donning their skins.
The Popolocas built the temple between AD1000 and 1260 and were later conquered by the Aztecs.
Depictions of the god had been found before in other cultures, but not a whole temple.
Xipe Totec was one of the era’s most important religious figures, recognised by cultures throughout Central America.
Which makes it odd that no dedicated temple has been found before now.
CEREMONY OF THE FLAYED
Among the Popolca ruin finds are two sacrificial altars and three stone sculptures dedicated to the god.
Archaeologist Noemí Castillo Tejero says the temple, as well as the skinned statues, match historical descriptions of sacrificial sites dedicated to the brutal cult.
The Tlacaxipehualiztli (‘to wear the skin of the skinning’) was one of the most important festivals of ancient Mexico.
It was usually conducted around two circular altars for the glory of Xipe Totec.
One altar was where the victims were sacrificed through ritual combat.
The second is where their bodies were skinned, and ‘worn’ as clothing by priests.
Once the ritual was complete, the skins would be placed in small holes built for the purpose in the temple’s esplanade before the altars.
The temple excavation site is 12m long by 3.5m high. It’s part of a larger walled compound with several previously unexplored mounds.
“You know where you’re going to start but not when you’re going to finish or what you’ll find,” said archaeologists wrote.
The sculptures were found recessed within the walls of the temple.
The torso sculpture, archaeologists say, was recovered from a grotto filled with red pigment. It had been ritually ‘killed’ (fragmented) “as it has happened with other representations of this deity discovered in the area”.
The Xipe Totec figure was dressed in a skirt of feathers, as well as the flayed human skin.
“Sculpturally it is a very beautiful piece,” they write. “It measures approximately 80 centimetres high and has a hole in the belly that was used, according to the sources, to place a green stone and ‘endow them with life’ for the ceremonies.”
The left arm contains a key detail: a right hand attached to the wrist. The archaeologist say this is not a mistake made by the sculpture’s maker as it symbolises the hand of the sacrificed person who “was hanging” after the ritual skinning.
The volcanic-rock skulls are about 70cm tall and weigh about 200kg. These had also been ritually ‘killed’ with cuts made to their noses. Both represent skinned victims.
The altars and sculptures have been moved to the Museum of Sitio de Tehuacan for safe keeping.
Excavations are set to continue, with work expected to focus on a larger — later — temple mound partially built over these earlier ritual centres.