Trapped in their cells, the captives must have heard the screams and wondered when it would be their turn. Day after day, month after month, individuals were selected and hauled outside, never to return. Their fellow prisoners could have had little concept of quite what had befallen them, however.
In 2015 archaeologists working in Zultépec-Tecoaque in Tlaxcala, Mexico, found disturbing new evidence of the way in which 550 individuals had met their deaths in the early 16th century. Events appear to have unfolded as follows. In 1520 the Spanish-led travelers were en route to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan – now Mexico City – when they were captured. Over the course of several months, they were then imprisoned before being sacrificed to the gods and consumed as food.
The discoveries are significant, too, as they help to dispel the belief that indigenous Mexicans did little to resist the Spanish invasion. They also suggest that history could have turned out very differently for the region. Hernán Cortés, the man who would conquer the Aztec empire, had himself been part of the ill-fated group. And if he had been captured and killed, then history might have followed a very different path.