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Human Sacrifice in Ancient Mesoamerica: New Evidences and Theoretical Perspectives

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 81st Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL (2016)

The topic of sacrifice and human sacrifice in ancient Mesoamerica needs to be revisited in light of new evidence,theoretical models, and interdisciplinary and comparative approaches. The central question that scholars attempt to grapple with when it comes to bloodletting rituals, sacrifice of animals, or humans, is why? Why do humans collectively hurt themselves and or kill innocent animals and other human beings? Past theoretical approaches have immortalized and universalized cosmological principles and applied these uniformly to multifarious cultures in diverse time periods and in different regions of Mesoamerica. These outdated models have neglected unique interpretations, independent articulation, and sometimes wholesale reworking of inherited or imported sacrificial ideologies.These same models do not track permutations in ritual practices and concomitant artistic representations of these practices. This symposium addresses ritual sacrifices from new perspectives that include economic, political, and military motivations as well as agricultural, calendrical, and astronomical influences. A consideration of sacrificial ritual practices at all levels of social stratum (shamanism on elite and commoner levels) offers a more holistic perspective. This symposium will be interdisciplinary and will include site specific as well as comparative approaches and will be based on new iconographic, epigraphic, and archaeological evidences.


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  • Documents (7)

Documents

  • Earth Offerings as Sacrifice in Formative Period Coastal Oaxaca (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Arthur Joyce. Sarah Barber. Jeffrey Brzezinski.

    This paper considers the relationship between sacrifice and the people, practices, and objects assembled on later Formative period public buildings in the lower Río Verde Valley, Oaxaca. Excavations in public buildings at numerous sites in the region have found evidence for ceremonial practices including the emplacement of earth offerings, the interment of human bodies in cemeteries, and ritual feasting. The objects emplaced in public buildings as offerings included ceramic vessels, greenstone,...

  • The Harvest of Souls: Mimesis, Materiality, and Ritual Human Sacrifice in Mesoamerica (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Rubén Mendoza.

    The art and science of ritual human sacrifice is a fundamental axiom of Mesoamerican social violence. Accordingly, interpretive constructs for human heart excision and ritualized dismemberment remain keyed to synchronic ethnohistorical and iconographic frames of reference or practice. Though ritual dismemberment, decapitation, and cannibalism have been traced to remote antiquity in highland Mesoamerica, the cosmological underpinnings of human heart excision, and its corollary technologies of...

  • Homicide or Deicide? The Function of Deity Impersonation in Mesoamerican Sacrificial Rituals (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Mark Wright.

    In Mesoamerican belief systems, deity impersonation rituals temporarily transformed human agents into divine beings. While donning the accoutrements of specific deities during ritual activity, they merged with and became literal embodiments of those gods, essentially becoming both functionally and ontologically divine for the duration of the ritual. In rituals of human sacrifice, both victim and executioner were typically bedecked in the costuming of specific gods, indicating that these were...

  • Human Sacrifice at Tula: Reputation, Representation, and Actuality (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Keith Jordan.

    Since the mid-twentieth century, it has been a staple of the archaeological and art historical literature on Tula, echoed in popular coverage of the site, that its art is dominated by themes of human sacrifice, and that Toltec involvement in this practice exceeded that of prior Mesoamerican cultures in scope and intensity. In fact, there are no direct representations of human sacrifice in Tula’s art. Although the eclectic Tula art tradition drew on many sources, it rejected the graphic...

  • The Iconography and History of the Hacha in Classic Veracruz (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Rex Koontz.

    The hacha has long served as a key element in the yoke/hacha/palma complex of portable sculpture known chiefly for Classic Veracruz (c. 100-1000 CE) and closely related to the Mesoamerican ball game. Scholars have rightly associated hacha iconography with a specific decapitation sacrifice and related that sacrifice to rites surrounding rubber ball game. While this iconographical analysis is sound, it does little to explain the appearance of the hacha as a new category of material object, as well...

  • The Myth of the Willing Human Sacrificial Victim in Ancient Messoamerica: Transformation of the Symbolic Complex of Ritual Sacrifice in Ancient Oaxaca and Teotihuacan (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Linda Hansen.

    Past scholarship concerning human sacrifice in ancient Mesoamerica has suffered from oversimplification and misuse of traditional theoretical models of sacrifice. In addition, many scholars are still suffering a hangover from a twentieth century Western scholarly binge that romanticized notions of an iconic, peaceful Maya civilization (a type for all Mesoamerica) with exceptional interactions with nature. As a result, pan-Mesoamerican cosmological principles are still endorsed as the ubiquitous...

  • Sacrifice at Midnight Terror Cave, Belize (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Cristina Verdugo. Lars Fehren-Schmitz. James Brady.

    Skeletal data from Midnight Terror Cave (MTC) have recently been used to suggest that individuals with physical deformities would have formed a class of “social outcasts” who were preferentially selected as sacrificial victims. Close scrutiny reveals a number of flaws in the data used. The extraction and sequencing of DNA recovered from a number of the bones in question is used to clarify the situation. Considering the size of the MTC assemblage, well over 100 individuals, the authors are...

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America