MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico City authorities are running DNA tests to determine the identity and origin of 42 human skulls found at an altar in a drug gang hideout.

The mound of skulls was piled around what appeared to be an altar of an Afro-Caribbean religion.

Mexico City prosecutors said Monday that another 40 jaw bones found in the jumbled pile around the altar do not appear to belong to the 42 complete skulls. In addition, 31 “long” bones, probably from arms or legs, were also found.

Practitioners of at least one Afro-Caribbean religion have been charged in the past with using human bones in their rituals, but Mexico’s own pre-Hispanic religion featured public displays of skulls hanging on wooden racks. Mexico’s present-day “Santa Muerte” cult also worships a skeleton figure.

A raid by hundreds of police on a labyrinthine Mexico City slum complex last week yielded the skulls, two methamphetamine labs, guns, grenades and about 2 ½ tons of marijuana.

The raid occurred in the notorious Morelos neighborhood in north-central Mexico City next to the tough barrio of Tepito.


Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said Sunday genetic profiles from the skulls would be compared to lists of missing persons.

It’s not clear if the skulls belong to gang victims or were stolen from graveyards. Bones also sometimes emerge because of above-ground burial niches and the tradition of cleaning grave sites for reuse after a few decades.

There has been an illicit trade in human bones for years in the city.

However, a more sinister origin for such bones is possible: In 2018, a man in Ecatepec, a slum metropolis on the outskirts of Mexico City, confessed to murdering at least nine women and claimed to have sold their bones to another man.