Mexican experts found the first temple of the Flayed Lord, an important pre-Hispanic god whose worshipers were said to wear the skin of sacrificial victims.
The National Institute of Anthropology and History said the find — including two skull-like stone carvings and a stone trunk depicting the god, Xipe Totec — was made at Popoloca Indian ruins in Puebla state. The statue had an extra hand, suggesting the god was wearing a victim’s remains. Priests worshiped Xipe Totec by skinning victims and donning their skins, a ritual seen as a way to ensure fertility and regeneration.
“Finds like this will help us understand how they used religion as one of the ways to create a multiethnic empire,” said Rosemary Joyce, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. The Popolocas built the temple between A.D. 1000 and 1260 and were later conquered by the Aztecs.
Ancient accounts suggested victims were killed in gladiator-style combat or by arrows on one platform, then skinned on another platform. The temple’s layout seems to match that description.
University of Florida archaeologist Susan Gillespie said, “The Aztec practice was to perform the sacrificial death in one or more places, but to ritually store the skins in another, after they had been worn by living humans for some days. So it could be that this is the temple where they were kept, making it all the more sacred.”