Editorials | July 2007
|Human Sacrifice and a New Discovery|
Allan Wall - PVNN
Mexico has a wealth of pre-Hispanic archaeological sites and new discoveries are constantly being made.
Sometimes discoveries are made by accident. In 1978, workers in downtown Mexico City were digging down in order to install some cable, and they accidentally discovered the Aztec temple called the Templo Mayor, which has since been excavated and had a museum put on the site.
In the spring of 2007, another accidental discovery, at a construction site, revealed a gruesome example of child human sacrifice.
The tomb was found near Tula, about 50 miles north of Mexico City. Tula was the capital of the Toltec culture, which thrived from the 900s to the 1100s. The Aztecs looked up to the Toltecs as their civilizers.
The most famous tourist attraction at Tula is an archaeological site which was the Toltec capital city. It includes the famous “atlantes” - statues of Toltec warriors which originally served as pillars to holding up a temple.
This new discovery at Tula is of a tomb containing two dozen sacrificed children. They appear to have been sacrificed between 950-1150, during the Toltec Golden Age. Apparently, all but one of them were between the ages of 5 and 15.
Why do the archaeologists think they were sacrificed? For one thing, the ritualist manner in which the skeletons are placed together indicates sacrifice, also, the cut marks on their bones are consistent with it. And within the tomb, an idol of Tlaloc, worshipped as a rain god, was found, which would provide the motive for the sacrifice.
An interesting detail, too, is that a turquoise artifact was recovered from the tomb. Turquoise was a mineral found in what is now the U.S. Southwest, so this artifact may have been from there, having traveled the long distance from the Southwest to Tula, on the trade routes.
Human sacrifice was widespread in the Mesoamerican civilization.
The term Mesoamerica refers to the common pre-Hispanic civilization existing in central and southern Mexico, and Central America. Just as European civilization included various cultures, so Meso-American civilization included various cultures (the Maya, Zapotec, Toltec, Aztec, etc.,) who shared common civilizational features.
Some contemporary Mexicans are reticent to recognize the existence of human sacrifice among the cultures of Mesoamerica. As a result, a far-fetched explanation has been cooked up to explain it away. I’ve been told by some Mexicans that this or that Mesoamerican culture did not practice human sacrifice but were actually engaged in advanced medical techniques which the Spaniards misunderstood.
However, archaeological and historical evidence is all quite clear that human sacrifice was practiced in Mesoamerica. The Spaniards reported it in their chronicles. The archaeological record is replete with evidence for human sacrifice. There are depictions of it in Mesoamerican artwork. And archaeologists have found the skulls and skeletons of the sacrifice victims. At the Templo Mayor Museum a visitor can actually see the skulls of the sacrificed.
Even Mesoamerican mythology supports the archaeological evidence. The Aztecs, who practiced it on a large scale, believed that human sacrifice was necessary in order to keep the universe functioning.
Of course, Mesoamericans were not the only people on the planet to practice human sacrifice. In fact, there are examples of it in various cultures throughout the globe. Some of my Anglo-Saxon ancestors practiced human sacrifice. I’m not trying to cover that up, but that’s definitely an ancestral custom I don’t wish to practice myself!
The reticence of some Mexicans to admit the reality of human sacrifice is related to ambivalent attitudes about Mexican history. The modern nation-state of Mexico has both European and indigenous roots. Without both the Spaniards and the Indians, today’s Mexico would not exist.
The Mesoamerican civilization produced some great cultural and technical achievements. For one thing, consider that all their structures were built without the use of iron tools and without draft animals. And, their astronomical science was highly advanced.
Mexican students should be taught about the cultural accomplishments of their indigenous forebears. However, sometimes the teaching of Mesoamerican history goes too far the other way, and presents Mesoamerica as some sort of paradise.
But just as the Old World had war, slavery, tyranny and human sacrifice, so did Mesoamerica. On that the historical record is clear.
Mexican history is often presented as just one big melodrama. But a more nuanced view allows one to appreciate the accomplishments of its various without denying their obvious cruelties.
Allan Wall is an American citizen who has been teaching English in Mexico since 1991, and writing articles about various aspects of Mexico and Mexican society for the past decade. Some of these articles are about Mexico's political scene, history and culture, tourism, and Mexican emigration as viewed from south of the border, which you can read on his website at AllanWall.net.
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