Ancient Mayan Necrotic Dagger

Ancient Mayan Sacrifical Dagger

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A variety of methods were used by the ancient Maya to perform human sacrifice:


Human sacrifice was relatively rare in Maya culture but important rituals such as the dedication of major building projects or the enthronement of a new ruler required a human offering. The sacrifice of an enemy king was the most prized offering, and such a sacrifice involved decapitation of the captive ruler in a ritual reenactment of the decapitation of the Maya maize god by the Maya death gods. In AD 738, the vassal king K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat of Quiriguá captured his overlord, Uaxaclajuun Ub’aah K’awiil of Copán and a few days later he ritually decapitated him; such royal sacrifices were often recorded in Maya script with the “ax event” glyph. The decapitation of an enemy king may have been performed as part of a ritual ballgame reenacting the victory of the Maya Hero Twins over the gods of the underworld.

Sacrifice by decapitation is depicted in Classic period Maya art, and sometimes took place after the victim was tortured, being variously beaten, scalped, burnt or disembowelled. Sacrifice by decapitation is depicted on reliefs at Chichen Itza in two of the ballcourts (the Great Ballcourt and the Monjas Ballcourt). The Hero Twins myth recounted in the Popol Vuh relates how one of each pair of twins (the Hero Twins themselves and their father and uncle) was decapitated by their ballgame opponents.

Heart removal

During the Postclassic period (c. 900-1524) the most common form of human sacrifice was heart extraction, influenced by the method used by the Aztecs in the Valley of Mexico; this usually took place in the courtyard of a temple, or upon the summit of the pyramid-temple. The sacrifice was stripped and painted blue, which was the colour representing sacrifice, and was made to wear a peaked headdress. Four blue-painted attendants representing the four Chaacs of the cardinal directions stretched out the sacrifice out over a convex stone that pushed the victim’s chest upwards; An official referred to as a nacom in Landa’s Relación de las cosas de Yucatán used a sacrificial knife made from flint to cut into the ribs just below the victim’s left breast and pull out the still-beating heart. The nacom then passed the heart to the officiating priest, or chilan, who smeared blood upon the image of the temple’s deity. Depending upon the exact ritual, sometimes the four Chaacs would throw the corpse down the pyramid steps to the courtyard below where it would be skinned by assistant priests, except for the hands and feet. The chilan would then remove his ritual attire and dress himself in the skin of the sacrificial victim before performing a ritual dance that symbolised the rebirth of life. If it was a notably courageous warrior who had been sacrificed then the corpse would be cut into portions, and parts would be eaten by attending warriors and other bystanders. The hands and feet were given to the chilan who, if they had belonged to a war captive, wore the bones as a trophy. Achaeological investigations indicate that heart sacrifice was practiced as early as the Classic period.

Other methods

Late Classic graffiti from a structure buried under Group G in Tikal depicts a sacrifice bound to a stake with his hands tied behind his head; the victim was disembowelled. At the Classic period city of Palenque, a woman in her twenties was entombed alive to accompany a deceased nobleman as a funerary offering.

At the Sacred Cenote in Chichen Itza, humans were hurled into the cenote during times of drought, famine or disease. The Sacred Cenote is a naturally occurring sinkhole eroded from the local limestone; it is approximately 50 metres (160 ft) wide and drops 20 metres (66 ft) to the water surface, with the water another 20 metres (66 ft) deep. The sides of the cenote are sheer. Human sacrifice was practised right up until the Spanish conquest of Yucatán, well after the decline of the city.

At times sacrifices were tightly bound into a ball and were bounced in a ritual reenactment of the ballgame.

Ancient Mayan Necrotic Dagger

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