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AIS 101: Dec. 2 , 2013. Today, Begin Lecture on Human Sacrifice in Mesoamerica . Return Midterm Exam #2. Tomorrow, Continue Lecture on Human Sacrifice. Wed., Guest Lecture by Crit Callebs Thur., Topic to be Determined

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ais 101 dec 2 2013

AIS 101: Dec. 2, 2013

Today, Begin Lecture on Human Sacrifice in Mesoamerica. Return Midterm Exam #2.

Tomorrow, Continue Lecture on Human Sacrifice.

Wed., Guest Lecture by CritCallebs

Thur., Topic to be Determined

Fri., discuss questions for final exam;review some of the most important things we have learned this quarter; give you a summary of your scores and overall percentage

our last day of class is friday dec 6 attendance is required of all students
Our Last Day of Class is Friday, Dec. 6 Attendance is Required of All Students

The Day of Ultimate Epistemological Enlightenment!

this question will be on the final exam
This Question Will Be On The Final Exam

What are the four sources of Information on Mayan Human Sacrifice? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each one? Describe the osteologicaltaphonomic evidence for Maya human sacrifice presented in class, did you find it convincing? Why or why not?

what are t he sources of information on mayan human sacrifice

What Are The Sources of Information on Mayan Human Sacrifice?

Spanish Accounts

Maya Writing, Inscriptions, and Art

Contextual Evidence

Osteological Evidence

human sacrifice was practiced by many cultures
Human Sacrifice was Practiced by Many Cultures
  • Canaanites 3500 – 1100 B.C.
  • Carthaginians 300 – 140 B.C.
  • Chimu and Inca – A.D. 1000 – 1535
  • Gauls 500 B.C. – A.D. 300
  • Scythians 700 B.C. – A.D. 600
  • Polynesians A.D. 1700 and earlier
  • And others…..
important points to ponder as we study anthropology and history
Important Points to Ponder as We Study Anthropology and History:
  • Cultural Relativism—an individual’s actions and beliefs must be evaluated in terms of their cultural context, not your own.
  • And we should keep in mind that the ethics and morals of today can not be superimposed on the past…..right?
  • But can these ideas be taken too far…can they imply that there are no universally immoral acts?

Archaeological Evidence for Human Sacrifice

at Tenochtitlan and Surrounding Regions

Bound and Decapitated Individuals at Teotihucan (100 – 600 C.E.)

(Sugiyama 2004)

At Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan, skulls with perforations for display on “skull racks” (Smith 2011 and References Therein) and associated ritual items

Archaeological Samples from Electra, Tlatelocoma and Tlateloco (Pijoan and Lory 2007)

And other sources:


Evidence of Cannibalism and/or Human Sacrifice at Electraand Tlatelocoma

  • Intentional bone breakage
  • Evidence of exposure to heat
  • Anvil or hammerstone abrasions
  • Cutmarks
  • Extensive absence of certain bones such as vertebrae and coxae
  • Bone polishing

Aztec Human Sacrifice

  • The Aztec world existed in a delicate harmony maintained by placating the deities
  • To them, sacrifices not murder, religious obligations
  • Human Sacrifice also had political significance
  • In many ways the Aztecs were a very moral and sophisticated society

Aztec Poets elaborated on the nobility of a death upon the sacrificial alter:“Perhaps thou wilt merit death by the obsidian knife.”(de Sahagun 1577) “May his heart not falter. May he long for the flowery death by the obsidian blade. May he savor the scent, savor the freshness,and savor the sweetness of the darkness.” (de Sahagun1577)


Skullrack at Chichen Itza

Photo from on 30 Nov 2006

what was the role of human sacrifice in maya religion
What was the role of human sacrifice in Maya religion?
  • An invisible sacred quality (k’uh) inhabited all things in the universe
  • The world was an ordered place, controlled by an array of deities, humans must behave property and observe certain rituals or the deities would be unhappy

The aim of bloodletting and human sacrifice was to offer (k’uh) to the dieties

  • These rituals were not common but occurred for major events the dedication of a new temple or inauguration of a new ruler
  • Captured rulers were decapitated
  • Removal of the heart
  • Offerings of incense flowers and food are made today by the Maya
what are t he sources of information on mayan human sacrifice1

What Are The Sources of Information on Mayan Human Sacrifice?

Spanish Accounts

Maya Writing, Inscriptions, and Art

Contextual Evidence

Osteological Evidence

spanish accounts
Spanish Accounts
  • Numerous accounts but the authenticity can be questioned, at least the scale they describe.
maya written sources
Maya Written Sources
  • Pre-Conquest Maya Written Sources Madrid, Dresden, Paris, and Grolier Codices.
  • Axe Event Glyphs on Stelae.
what are the sources of information on mayan human sacrifice

What are the Sources of Information on Mayan Human Sacrifice?

Spanish Accounts

Maya Writing, Inscriptions, and Art

Contextual Evidence

Osteological and Evidence

maya human sacrifice1
Maya Human Sacrifice?

Contextual Evidence


“into this well they had the custom of throwing men alive, as a sacrifice to the gods in time of drought.”

“They also threw into it many other things, like precious stones and things that they prized.”

-de Landa

contextual archaeological evidence
Contextual Archaeological Evidence

The Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza

Numerous Human Bones Recovered, mostly male subadults (Tiesler 2005 and Alanis 2004)


Internments in Mound E – 37

( from Fowler 1984:606)

why are they interpreted as sacrificial victims
Why are they interpreted as sacrificial victims?
  • Ritual preparation of bodies but lack of grave goods or prepared graves.
  • All that could be identified were adult males
  • Body positions—face down hands and feet in positions suggest they were bound
  • Three burials were “trophy heads”, one was decapitated, one with severed limbs, two cut in half at the waist, one with a severed foot and one with a mutilated foot

Tiesler, Vera and Cucina Andrea 2006 Procedures in Human Heart Extraction and Ritual Meaning: Taphonomic Assessment of Anthropogenic Marks in Classic Maya Skeletons. Latin American Antiquity 17:493-510.

what is taphonomy
What is Taphonomy?

The study of the processes that affect animals and plants from the time they die until they either disintegrate or become fossilized. Greek for the laws of burial.

taphonomic inferences
Taphonomic Inferences
  • Patterns of anthropogenic lesions may permit us to distinguish the probable cause of death
  • Perimortem violence is prone to leave unhealed lesions in the form of fractures, stab marks and sharp force trauma in fresh bone, sometimes these marks can be difficult to distinguish from postmortem damage.
a procedural reconstruction
A Procedural Reconstruction

-Common pattern of spine affected ventrally and ventrolaterally (left) at level of 10th to 12th vert.

-All cutmarks are regular and straight, penetrated 1-4 mm and compress the impacted bone without displacing the bone to either side

-All lesions have same morphology, likely made by similar procedures and tools

-Absence of cuts on sternum or anterior ribs

experimental replication
Experimental Replication
  • Three approaches to heart replicated on cadavers with obsidian knives: horizontal and parasternal transthoracic access and subthoracictransdiaphragmatic access.
  • Tests also preformed on effects of removing other organs
  • Most efficient means of heart removal by horizontal access beneath lower ribs, leaves traces on lower thoracic verts.
other possible sources of the cutmarks
Other Possible Sources of The Cutmarks
  • Post-mortem evisceration/cleaning
  • Rodent gnawing
  • Root etching
  • Post-depositional disturbance
  • Excavation damage