Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Planet Earth

Grim Figurines

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Teotihuacán, the first metropolis in the Western Hemisphere, lies about 25 miles from Mexico City. Little is known of its mysterious founders, who predate the better known Aztec and Maya. While digging there, archeologist Kim Goldsmith discovered six unusual clay figurines--five unclothed pregnant women and one man, each lying faceup on a table. The fragmented figurines were missing heads and limbs; the table in each case supported only the torso. I thought, ‘That looks a lot like the way they sacrificed people in other parts of Mesoamerica,’ says Goldsmith, a graduate student at the University of California at Riverside. Ritual heart sacrifice in pre-Hispanic Central America is well documented in historical writings and in pictures similar to the copy of what may be an Aztec illustration shown here. The figurines, 1,200 to 1,600 years old, predate the Aztec ascendancy by at least 600 years and bear witness to the ancient roots of a grim ritual. A drawing by a colleague of Goldsmith’s (top) fills in the missing parts of one figurine. The figurines of pregnant women are evidence of another grisly practice--fetal sacrifice. Indeed, burials of up to ten fetuses have been found near altars and stairways at Teotihuacán. Goldsmith suggests that the figurines may have served as a symbolic offering on somebody’s altar, although she says it’s not something I’d want in my house.

3 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In