The Tzompantli Skull Racks of Mesoamerica


A tzompantli or skull rack is a type of wooden rack or palisade documented in several Mesoamerican civilizations, which was used for the public display of human skulls, typically those of war captives or other sacrificial victims.

It is a scaffold-like construction of poles on which heads and skulls were placed after holes had been made in them.

Bernard Ortiz de Montellano has calculated that there were at most 60,000 skulls on the “Hueyi Tzompantli” (Great Skullrack) of Tenochtitlan.

The “Hueyi Tzompantli” consisted of a massive masonry platform composed of “thirty long steps” measuring fully 60 meters in length by 30 meters wide at its summit.


Atop of the aforementioned platform was erected an equally formidable wooden palisade and scaffolding consisting of between 60 and 70 massive uprights or timbers woven together with an impressive constellation of horizontal cross beams upon which were suspended the tens of thousands of decapitated human heads once impaled thereon.

The name comes from the Classical Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, however it is also commonly applied to similar structures depicted in other civilizations. Its general interpretation is “skull rack”, “wall of skulls”, or “skull banner”. It may be seen to be a compound of the Nahuatl words tzontecomatl (“skull”; from tzontli or tzom- “hair”, “scalp” and tecomatl (“gourd” or “container”), and pamitl (“banner”).



Bottom photo via The DeLanges.
Quoted text via Wikipedia.

This entry was posted in Culture, History by Heretic. Bookmark the permalink.

About Heretic

I design video games for a living, write fiction, political theory and poetry for personal amusement, and train regularly in Western European 16th century swordwork. On frequent occasion I have been known to hunt for and explore abandoned graveyards, train tunnels and other interesting places wherever I may find them, but there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that I am preparing to set off a zombie apocalypse. Nothing that will stand up in court, at least. I use paranthesis with distressing frequency, have a deep passion for history, anthropology and sociological theory, and really, really, really hate mayonnaise. But I wash my hands after the writing. Promise.

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