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Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Doctor of Philosophy




Millaire, Jean-Francois

2nd Supervisor

Longstaffe, Fred J.

Joint Supervisor


This dissertation investigates the dietary and residential patterns, using stable carbon, nitrogen and oxygen isotope analyses, of human sacrifices from the Mexica’s (Aztec) Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan and the Templo R of Tlatelolco (in Mexico City), and a non-sacrificial Mexica group from Ecatepec (Mexico State). These skeletal collections date to the Postclassic period (A.D. 900–1520). This work uses a biocultural approach by incorporating bioarchaeological, archaeological, isotopic, and ethnohistorical evidence to examine the life histories of the sacrifices.

The phosphate oxygen isotope analysis revealed that the individuals from Ecatepec were locals to the Basin of Mexico. Similarly, the Templo R sacrifices were locals or long-term residents to the Basin, except for one individual. There was more variability in the geographical residencies of the Templo Mayor sacrifices, with some identified as long-term residents and others as non-locals to the Basin. The possible regions of residency for the non-local sacrifices agree well with the regions conquered by the Mexicas during specific Imperial reigns. These findings demonstrate that the sacrifices could come from different regions of Mesoamerica, particularly for rituals held at the Templo Mayor. The sacrifices, however, could also be Mexicas and individuals who lived in the Basin of Mexico for a long period who became integrated into Mexica society prior to their sacrifice.

The carbon and nitrogen isotope compositions from bone collagen indicated that there was little variability in the diets from Ecatepec, which mainly incorporated C4/CAM plants and animals raised on C4/CAM foods, C3 plants, and some lacustrine foods from the Basin of Mexico lakes. There was more dietary variability among the sacrifices from both temples. The Templo R diets were heterogeneous, indicative of a diverse food menu, while the Templo Mayor diets had the lowest nitrogen isotope compositions, demonstrating the consumption of terrestrial meat and overall less meat. As such, the sacrifices included a wide range of individuals from different locations and with different social identities. Hence, this work showcases the idea that the Mexicas established an effective system of obtaining sacrifices for their ceremonies through an array of ways (e.g., tribute, war, gifts, slavery, commoners).

Summary for Lay Audience

While there are countless mentions of human sacrifice in Aztec codices and Spaniards’ accounts, little is known about those who were chosen as sacrifices for the many Aztec ritual ceremonies. Who were sacrificed by the Aztecs at their sacred temples? Were these individuals Aztec residents or foreigners from other regions of Mesoamerica? This dissertation examines these questions within a bioarchaeological perspective by analyzing the skeletal remains, via stable carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen isotope analyses, of a sample of adult and subadult sacrifices from the Templo R of Tlatelolco and the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan during the Postclassic period (A.D. 900–1520). Dietary and residential patterns are revealed through the stable isotope data and interpreted alongside the bioarchaeological and archaeological information, and the ethnohistorical sources. The results from this study suggest that a wide range of individuals were selected as sacrifices by the Aztecs including war captives, tribute prisoners, slaves, commoners, and in some cases, children from commoner and noble households.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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