Child Sacrificed to Aztec God and Adorned in Jewels Found in Temple Near Mexico City

Mexican excavators recently found the skeleton of a child sacrificed to Huitzilopochtli, the god of sun and war, at the foot of an Aztec temple.

The child was buried deep in the floor of Templo Mayor in present-day Mexico City, the site of the former Aztec metropolis Tenochtitlan, National Geographic Espana reported. Called "Offering 176," the boy was likely 8 to 10 years old at the time of his death, when priests placed his bones in the rounded pit surrounded by volcanic stones some time in the 15th century AD.

It's unclear how the boy died, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History said in a statement, but he was dressed as the god of war himself: beads hung around his ankles and neck, and he wore a wooden breastplate. Archaeologists also located a bird's wing, often associated with Huitzilopochtli.

Tenochtitlan was notable for more than its advanced canal system: it housed Templo Mayor, the Aztecs' grand religious shrine dedicated to routine sacrifices in which priests removed still-beating hearts from men's chests and kicked their bodies down the hundreds of steps below. The Aztecs believed the hearts, often belonging to prisoners of war or slaves, would satisfy the god of war's insatiable thirst, according to Encylopaedia Britannica.

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Aztec skulls sit in a museum in November 2017 in Mexico City, Mexico. Archaeologists discovered the jeweled remains of a boy killed in child sacrifice in the ruins of Templo Mayor. (Photo by Henro Romero/Reuters)

Offering 176 wasn't the first unlucky child archaeologists discovered in the temple ruins. In 2005, a team found the body of a 5-year-old boy, killed around 1450 to commemorate a new section of Templo Mayor, propped up and wearing jewelry that marked him as a gift to Huitzilopochtli, National Geographic Espana said.

The two boys' burials differ from those of most Aztec sacrificial victims, whose bodies were usually dismembered and shoved into pits without placement. Archaeologist Ximena Chavez told NBC News after Offering 111's discovery that while child sacrifices were unusual, the Aztecs considered it a "life-giving activity" that would restore rain, crops and prosperity to the community by satisfying the gods.

In April, archaeologists discovered the remains of more than 140 children and 200 young llamas killed in a ritual offering, likely the largest child sacrifice event recorded in history. The grisly murders occurred during the reign of the Chimu Empire more than 550 years ago. The children, ages 5 to 14, likely died when their hearts were ripped out.

Earlier in July, researchers dug up rows of more than 670 skulls neatly stacked inside Templo Mayor near the chapel devoted to Huitzilopochtli. The tzompantli, or rack of skulls, was described with great disgust by Spanish conquistadors who invaded Aztec-ruled Mexico in the early 16th century, archaeologist Raul Barrera told Reuters.