A skull rack, known also as Tzompantli in the Nahuatl language, is an object documented to have been used in several Mesoamerican civilizations, including the Aztecs, the Toltecs, and the Mayas. Skull racks are recorded to have been used by these civilizations to display human skulls. Depictions of skull racks can be found in paintings and in written descriptions from the early colonial period. Several types of skull racks have also been discovered during archaeological excavations over the years.
Skull racks are recorded to have been built throughout Mesoamerica between the 7th and 16th centuries AD. Skull racks may be divided into two types – those that do not display real decapitated heads, and those that do. For the former, human skulls may be carved from stone, and arranged in rows. Examples of such skull racks can be found at sites such as the Maya capital of Chichen Itza, and the Toltec capital of Tula.
It has been noted that the stone skulls possess subtle differences, and are not identical to one another. As these skulls seem to stare menacingly at onlookers, it has been suggested that these skull racks were created in order to reproduce the terror inspired by the actual structures that held the heads of decapitated victims.
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