Mexican experts found the first temple of the Flayed Lord, a pre-Hispanic fertility god depicted as a skinned human corpse.
The two skull-like stone carvings and a stone trunk depicting the god Xipe Totec were discovered during excavations of ruins belonging to the indigenous Popoluca peoples in the central state of Puebla, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said.
The statue had an extra hand dangling off one arm, suggesting the god was wearing the skin of a sacrificial victim.
Priests worshipped Xipe Totec by skinning human beings and then donning their skins. The ritual was seen as a way to ensure fertility and regeneration.
The Popolucas built the temple at a complex known as Ndachjian-Tehuacan between 1000AD and 1260 but were later conquered by the Aztecs.
Ancient accounts of the rituals suggested victims were killed in gladiator-style combat, or by arrows, on one platform, then skinned on another platform. The layout of the temple at Tehuacan seems to match that description.
Depictions of the Flayed Lord had been found before in other Mesoamerican cultures, including the Aztecs, but not an entire temple. University of Florida archaeologist Susan Gillespie wrote that “finding the torso fragment of a human wearing the flayed skin of a sacrificial victim in situ is perhaps the most compelling evidence of the association of this practice and related deity to a particular temple, more so to me than the two sculpted skeletal crania”.
“If the Aztec sources could be relied upon, a singular temple to this deity (whatever his name in Popoluca) does not necessarily indicate that this was the place of sacrifice,” Prof Gillespie wrote. “The Aztec practice was to perform the sacrificial death in one or more places, but to ritually store the skins in another, after they had been worn by living humans for some days.
“So it could be that this is the temple where they were kept, making it all the more sacred.”
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