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”).