Mexican experts have found the first temple of the Flayed Lord, a pre-Hispanic fertility god depicted as a skinned human corpse, authorities said Wednesday.
Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said the find was made during recent excavations of Popoloca Indian ruins in the central state of Puebla.
The institute said experts found two skull-like stone carvings and a stone trunk depicting the god, Xipe Totec. It 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 victims and then donning their skins. The ritual was seen as a way to ensure fertility and regeneration.
The Popolocas built the temple at a complex known as Ndachjian-Tehuacan between A.D. 1000 and 1260 and 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 god had been found before in other cultures, but not a whole temple.
Michael E. Smith, a professor of anthropology at Arizona State University, wrote that “the innovation is that they have an altar dedicated to Xipe Totec, not just the presence of the god.”
But Smith also noted that such “first” finds are “often not very important, and not infrequently such stories are wrong.”