A report by the Associated Press stated that a pile of 1,789 human bones surrounding the skeleton of a young woman was discovered by Mexican archaeologists in Mexico City’s Templo Mayor. The burial was found about five meters (15 feet) below the surface, next to the remains of what may have been a “sacred tree” at one edge of the plaza, the most sacred site of the Aztec capital.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History said the find was the first of its kind, noting the Aztecs were not known to use mass sacrifice or the reburial of bones as the customary ways to accompany the interment of a member of the ruling class.

University of Florida archaeologist Susan Gillespie, who was not involved in the project, called the find “unprecedented for the Aztec culture.” She wrote in an email that, “Although the bodies of sacrificial victims have been found in burials of elite persons in Mesoamerica going back to at least the Preclassic period, funerary deposits for Aztec elites have only rarely been encountered.”

Few of the bones bore cut marks suggesting a ritual heart extraction might leave a mark. But the institute added that it didn’t seem likely the dead were sacrificed on the spot to accompany the burial because their bones were found separated. The researchers discovered the skulls of seven adults and three children in one pile, long bones like femurs in another grouping, and ribs in another.

Physical anthropologist Perla Ruiz, who was in charge of the dig, said that the burial might suggest the bones were disinterred from previous burials and reburied with the woman. While some pre-Hispanic cultures disinterred bones as part of ancestor worship, it isn’t clear the Aztecs did.

The burial dates to about 1481 to 1486, based on the “stage” of temple buildings at which they were found. The Templo Mayor, like many sites, was rebuilt by successive generations, one stage atop another.

Another unusual finding was the “sacred tree,” actually a rather battered oak trunk found “planted” on a small, round platform near the burial at what would have been the edge of the temple complex. It may be a couple of decades older than the burial.

The Aztecs, like other pre-Hispanic cultures, venerated trees, believing they had spiritual importance.

Institute archaeologist Raul Barrera said it may be related to the four sacred trees the Aztecs believed held up the sky, but Gillespie noted it could also have been a tree or trunk brought in for an annual ceremony.

“It seems to have been positioned there for a span of time, perhaps for a special ceremony or to create a particular vision of a sacred landscape, but then abandoned as uses of that limited sacred space changed over time,” Gillespie wrote.

Barrera said the tree trunk appeared to have been split, perhaps intentionally.

The Aztec people were certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica from the 14th to 16th centuries. Such discoveries are evidence of the rich legacy of the ethnic group. Mexico is ethnically very rich and its rich history attracts visitors from all over the globe. Mexico was also the home to the famous Mayan civilization