Mexico unearths mass grave from Spanish conquest

Tue Feb 10, 2009 8:49pm EST
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By Miguel Angel Gutierrez

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Archeologists have found a mass grave in Mexico City with four dozen human skeletons laid out in neat lines that could reveal clues about the 16th century Spanish conquest that killed millions.

The investigators found the 49 skeletons, all lying face up with their arms crossed, as they searched for a palace complex in the Tlatelolco area, once a major religious and political center for the ancient Aztec elite and now a district in the north of the sprawling Mexican capital.

"We were completely taken by surprise. We didn't expect to find this massive funeral complex," Salvador Guilliem, in charge of the site for the government's archeology institute, said when the discovery was announced on Tuesday.

Historians think the Aztecs built Tlatelolco in the early 1300s along with the nearby city of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire and now the heart of Mexico City, which the Spanish founded after they conquered the Aztecs in 1521.

It is likely the indigenous people buried in the grave died in battle against the invading Spanish or fell victim to diseases that wiped out large swaths of the native population in 1545 and 1576, Guilliem said.

Many Aztec fighters died resisting the Spanish invasion and millions also perished during a four-year epidemic of hemorrhagic fever that began in 1545, killing 80 percent of indigenous Mexicans.

The 13-by-32-foot (four-by-10-meter) burial site differs from other conquest-era graves because of the reverential way the bodies were buried, following Christian customs of the time, unlike thousands of contemporary graves at other Aztec cities where bodies were thrown in at random.

"It is a mass grave, but they were very carefully buried," Guilliem said.   Continued...

<p>A skeleton discovered at a ruined pyramid in Tlateloco in Mexico City February 10, 2009. Archaeologists have discovered a mass grave with four dozen neatly lined up human skeletons in the heart of Mexico City, revealing clues about the Spanish conquest that killed millions in battle and disease. The 49 bodies, all lying face up with their arms crossed over their chests, were discovered by accident as investigators searched for a palace complex in the Tlatelolco area, once a major religious and political center for the Aztec elite. REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar</p>