Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (NIAH) has discovered the first temple dedicated to Xipe Totec, an Aztec deity whose named roughly equates to "The Flayed Lord."
An important diety in both , , and Aztec culture, was known as the brother of three other major gods—Tezcatlipoca, Huizilopochtli, and Quetzalcoatl. Of these brothers seen as the creation gods, Xipe Totec stood out as the god of spring harvest, planting. Like Persephone in Greek mythology, Xipe Totec was associated with both the rebirth of spring and death.
For 40 days every spring, an impersonator would dress up as Xipe Totec in bright colors and jewelry. Then this impersonator, along with war captives, would be ritually sacrificed to the god in order to assure a good harvest. Once they were killed, their skins would be flayed. Priests would then wear these skins in the hopes of ensuring regeneration across society, from crops to fertility.
The temple, built in a complex known as Ndachjian-Tehuacan in the east-central state of Pueblo between A.D. 1000 and 1260, was originally built the native Popoloca Indians. While depictions of Xipe Totec are well known, with in , this appears to be the first known temple dedicated to the god. NIAH's archaeologists found two skull-like stone carvings and a stone trunk depicting Xipe Totec, with an extra hand growing out of one arm.
This extra hand appears to suggest Xipe Totec wearing the flayed skin of a sacrifice.
Susan Gillespie, a University of Florida archaeologist who was not involved in the project, 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.”
There's much in ancient Mesoamerican culture that remains a mystery to archaeologists. Last year, NIAH archaeologists discovered a burial system they had never seen before.