Connection to Other Mexica Works
The most prominent and most evident characteristic of the tzompantli is the skulls that cover three of the four walls. In Mexica culture, the skulls are symbolic of death and sacrifice. Especially since the stone tzompantli were representations of the actual skull racks that displayed the skulls of the sacrificial victims, any Mexica who looked upon the stone tzompantli would be instantly reminded of death and the place of the dead. Miclantecuhtli is the Lord of the place of the dead and would have taken the sacrificial victims to their final resting place after their sacrifice, decapitation and their skulls were placed on a tzompantli. The tzompantli was located on the north side of the Templo Mayor and according to Broda, Carrasco and Matos, "in Aztec cosmology Mictlampa (the place of the dead) is located by the north quadrant"3. The Mexica may have believed the tzompantli's location on the North Plaza as being symbolic for them traveling north after their own deaths.
The tzompantli can also be compared with the Tlaltecuhtli plaque which was found at the base of the staircase to the Templo Mayor. This plaque was also associated with death and sacrificial victims. After the victims were made to go on their backs at the top of the Templo Mayor, their chest cavities were opened with a flint knife and their hearts removed. Then their bodies would be thrown down the steps and land on the Tlatecuhtli plaque or another just like it. This plaque has an earth monster with an open mouth which is associated with its devouring of humans. While the victims' physical corpses may have landed on this plaque, they would have been dismembered and their heads could have ended up on a stake positioned above the tzompantli. Some historians like Michael Harner believe that the rest of their body may have been used as a protein source for the man that captured the sacrificial victim or for the priests.
The head of Coyolxauhqui is another Mexica monument that can be connected with the tzompantli. This stone bust of Coyolxauhqui is a decapitated head that has been taken off the sister of Huitzilopochtli. According to Mexica mythology, Coyolxauhqui raised an army of hundreds of siblings to attempt to kill their still unborn brother Huitzilopochtli. Huitzilopochtli came out of the womb fighting and successfully defended himself against his sibling attackers, decapitating Coyolxauhqui.
This bust, in contrast to the skulls of the tzompantli, is much more pneumatic and represents a recently decapitated head, instead of the bare, exposed skulls. It is possible this difference is because Coyolxauhqui was a deity and in Mexica mythology whereas the skulls of the tzompantli were commoners who became sacrificial victims.