It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convoy were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.This was in 1520 before Cortez completed his conquest of the Aztec empire, which happened in 1521. More:
Excavations at a site just east of Mexico City are yielding dramatic new details about that moment when two cultures clashed — and the native defenders, at least temporarily, were in control.
Faced with strange invaders accompanied by unknown animals, the inhabitants of an Aztec-allied town reacted with apparent amazement when they captured the convoy of about 15 Spaniards, 45 foot soldiers who included Cubans of African and Indian descent, women and 350 Indian allies of the Spaniards, including Mayas and other groups.
Artifacts found at the Zultepec-Tecoaque ruin site, show the inhabitants carved clay figurines of the unfamiliar races with their strange features, or forced the captives to carve them. They then symbolically decapitated the figurines.
"We have figurines of blacks, of Europeans, that were then intentionally decapitated," said Enrique Martinez, the government archaeologist leading this year's round of excavations at the site, where explorations began in the 1990s.
Later, those in the convoy were apparently sacrificed and eaten by the townsfolk known as Texcocanos or Acolhuas.
The bloodiness of the brief chapter of dominance by the indigenous group is sealed in the second name of the Zultepec ruin site, Tecoaque, which means "the place where they ate them" in Nahuatl, the Aztec language.
When Cortes' soldiers returned to the town, they found that townspeople had strung the severed heads of captured Spaniards on a wooden "skull rack" next to those of their horses, leading some to think the Indians believed that horse and rider were one beast.
When Cortes learned what happened to his followers, he dispatched a punitive expedition of troops to destroy the town, setting into motion a chain of events that actually helped preserve it.
The inhabitants tried to hide all remains of the Spaniards by tossing them in shallow wells and abandoned the town.
"They heard that he (Cortes) was coming for them, and what they did was hide everything. If they hadn't done that, we wouldn't have found these things," Martinez said.