Tower of Skulls

For many years, anthropologists [ many of them] have doubted traditional accounts of human  sacrifice, cannibalism, torture, and  general irritability among MesoAmerican Indians – mainly the Aztecs and Maya.

Progress in archaeology and the translation of the Mayan script have greatly weakened this trend.  When you find towers of skulls, racks of skulls, skull masks, you start to think that something about the Aztec empire wasn’t exactly kosher.  Same when you find skeletons of young women at the bottom of Mayan cenotes.


Who to believe?  Conquistadors.  And Bernal Diaz is fun: he had a hell of a story to tell.


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172 Responses to Tower of Skulls

  1. akarlin says:

    We should be thankful to the conquistadors and the Spanish Inquisition. By purging the Chaos cults of Mesoamerica, they preempted the real Inquisition from taking an undue interest in our planet.

  2. Martin L. says:

    Greg, I am deliberately hijacking here but I’d love to hear your current thoughts on mainstream science drawing a link between HHV 6/7 and Alzheimer’s. Thanks.

  3. The veracity of Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s stories has been questioned, especially since he reports having counted 100,000 skulls, but in the reconstructions of the tzompantli of the main temple there can not be more than 1,800; However, recently archaeologists have discovered a tower of skulls that responds point by point to the description of Spanish chroniclers, including Bernal Díaz del Castillo.

    Here is a link, it is in Spanish. Translate it.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      Yeah, there’s no doubt that Castillo’s story lost nothing in the telling, but there’s also no doubt that it was basically true. The defenders of the Aztecs and Mayas sort of remind me of neo-Stalinists trying to defend old “Uncle Joe”: “Yeah, Robert Conquest said that Stalin may have killed twenty million people, and it was only 10 – 15 million! See, he wasn’t that bad…” In both cases, even allowing for some stunned exaggeration, the numbers are horrific.

      • Jim says:

        Yes, human sacrifice was certainly a widespread practice throughout Mesoamerica. The Maya raised some children for the purpose of sacrificing them. Even the meanest of the Conquistadors were horrified by the bloody aspects of Mesoamerican culture.

        In the Old World wars were fought to establish tributary clients and grab some loot or slaves. Unless one was a real nuisance or threat genocide was not the norm. But in the many wars of Mesoamerica genocide seems to have been the normal goal of contending polities.

        On the other hand the Vikings were a pretty bloodthirsty bunch.

    • Zimriel says:

      Diaz is trustworthy on the general sociology of the Mexica. Where he is less trustworthy is on his fellow Spaniards. See now Matthew Restall, Montezuma Met Cortés.

  4. Archaeology Student says:

    In 2014 I participated in a Maya archaeological dig. There were a variety of experts and professors from different disciplines working on the site, such as forensic anthropologists, geographers, and soil scientists, mostly from the US. Many of them had spent decades excavating Maya sites. I was surprised by their unabashed enthusiasm for Maya culture. They appeared to be wholehearted admirers of all things ancient Maya (for example it was common to sport tattoos of Maya glyphs). When I ask questions, such as why didn’t the Maya develop metallurgy, or a more advanced marine technology, the answers were always, “they had no use for it, the technology they had was superior anyway” or something to that effect. Gradually, I felt comfortable enough to broach the subject of cannibalism, head binding, human sacrifice, etc. which up to that point had never been alluded to on the dig. I was expecting to hear denials that the Mayans had ever done anything of the sort. To my surprise, the same archaeologists cheerfully admitted the widespread cannibalism, human sacrifice, and head binding of the Maya! It apparently did not alter their admiration for the culture in the slightest degree.

    There was I should add, one Australian scientist on the dig (his background was more in biological science than archaeology) who did not seem to share the prevailing sentiment. He was pursuing a thesis that was investigating if led poisoning had influenced the behavior of the Maya.

    • gcochran9 says:

      We need more archaeologists that are Maya-curious rather than Maya-simps.

      • reinertor says:

        I think it’s possible to be impressed by Maya and Aztec culture (at least, certain aspects of it) without necessarily denying that they were horrible cannibal cultures just barely out of the stone ages, if at all.

        • Jim says:

          They were quite far out of the Stone Ages in the ordinary sense of that term although technically their use of metal was pretty limited. They had cities, agriculture, complex government etc. not Stone Age at all.

          • reinertor says:

            I think most Eurasian Bronze Age cultures typically used a lot of bronze weapons, whereas Aztecs and Mayas rarely used them, even for the human sacrifice they used obsidian tools. So, stone age tools.

            Actually I think their achievements are more impressive considering their limited use of metals, their lack of domesticated animals (especially lack of horses), lack of wheel (or apparently the axle), etc.

            It was a strange and fascinating combination of truly Stone Age barbarism and elements of a most refined high culture. Certainly not boring.

            • Jim says:

              Although stone tools were most common in Mesoamerica I think it is misleading to refer to people who had cities, farming, writing, complex social stratification, monumental architecture etc. as “Stone Age”.

              • reiner Tor says:

                Misleading, as in, who would be misled?

                I think it’s a good point that their technology wasn’t very advanced, and yet they managed to build those impressive societies nevertheless. I don’t think anyone reads these pages without a basic understanding of the important facts, for example that the Mesoamericans had large cities or beautiful art and complex societies.

              • Zimriel says:

                Suppose we say “Neolithic” or “Chalcolithic”? There were some fairly well-organised polities in Anatolia, Egypt, along the Med, and especially Ubaid-era Iraq (although Uruk, likely the first true empire, might have been Bronze Age).

              • reinertor says:

                Yes, Chalcolitic is a good description of Mesoamericans at the time of discovery.

            • Usage ceremonial stone tools while having bronze weapons was the norm in Eurasia.

    • Jim says:

      A lot of the art and architecture is marvelous. The moral values of the Maya and other Mesoamerican cultures are highly repugnant to most people in our culture including probably the archaeologists you mention. Contemplating their culture is for us a combination of horror and amazement. It is difficult for us to acknowledge the beauty of buildings in which horrible atrocities (to us) routinely took place.

  5. Keeley’s War Before Civilization came out over 20 years ago. That hasn’t been enough time for the basic ideas to set in?

    • reinertor says:

      And War in Human Civilization by Azar Gat ten years ago.

    • Bies Podkrakowski says:

      I have read “War Before Civilization” because someone recommended it. After this recommendation I expected something deep and profound, that will change how I look at the human history. It was interesting, but there was nothing earth-shattering for me. Keeley’s observations and interpretations of archaeological finds were common sense, just people behaving as people. It was supposed to be revolutionary?! Strange.

  6. reinertor says:

    Someone wrote in a comment that the Mesoamerican religions looked like something out of a Lovecraft story. An example would be the cult of Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god. (Half of the main Aztec pyramid, the Templo Mayor was dedicated to Tlaloc. ) Tlaloc required children to be sacrificed to him. (Adults were also sacrificed I think.) The children’s tears were supposed to be a sign of abundant rainfall, so priests often tortured the children on the way to the sacrificial altar, unless they were crying anyway.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      yes – i’ve always wondered if this is where Lovecraft got his inspiration

    • epoch2013 says:

      “There is increasing “skeletal evidence for perimortem collective lethal violence” in the LBK culture, Meyer and colleagues write, “as well as possible torture, mutilation, dismemberment, and cannibalism” at this and other European sites such as Herxheim, Germany.”


      “The researchers explain that the demography is very interesting — this site actually lacks the skeletons of children, who “are actually numerous throughout the known examples of massacres and ritual dismemberment” in the Early Neolithic.”

      There might have been something similar in early Neolithic Europe.

      • reiner Tor says:

        Yes. Though as someone wrote, the Aztecs were already in the bronze age, in that they were capable of producing bronze tools, for example they did produce bronze axes (though no bronze weapons for some reasons).

        I don’t doubt that my ancestors were also cannibals at some point, the interesting thing is that the Aztecs did it on a mass scale while already being highly developed, unlike Europeans, who stopped it (or at least dialed it back) by the time of reaching Aztec level development. While the Aztecs seem to have used the higher development to organize ever larger scale religious festivals with mass sacrifice of humans.

        • Greying Wanderer says:

          yes – that’s the odd part

        • Jerome says:

          “While the Aztecs seem to have used the higher development to organize ever larger scale religious festivals with mass sacrifice of humans.”

          They had religion. We use politics.

  7. Steve in Greensboro says:

    I particularly recall from Bernal Diaz’ account a description of an Aztec temple, the interior walls of which were caked with blood as were the persons of the temple priests. We can admire the pre-Columbian art, architecture and math, while findIng the casual murder of innocents abhorrent and worthy of destruction (as I am sure future generations will abhor our own present day death culture.)

    • Jim says:

      The art and architecture were certainly impressive. Note though that much of the art is graphically violent. These people are not like the Minoans with charming representations of dolphins.

      The mathematical and astronomical achievements of the Mesoamericans tend to be greatly exaggerated. They were nowhere near the level of the Babylonians let alone the Greeks.

      As for our “present day death culture” whatever you are referring to it is nothing like the death culture of the Mesoamericans. The gods of Mesoamerica were a very malevolent bunch and the Mesoamerican view of reality was a very grim one. This comes across clearly in the “Popul Vuh”. Nobody is to be trusted. Neither gods nor men.

      • OriginalJ says:

        I was once banned from a forum for suggesting that proclivity for such cultural practices might have some degree of genetic basis, and that therefore immigrants from Mesoamerica might prove a tad disruptive in the long run.

  8. Greying Wanderer says:

    the methods used by central America based cartels often feel like an echo of this

  9. David Chamberlin says:

    Those Aztecs were just full of fun.
    1) Feed the Sun God still beating human hearts or the sun will stop dead in it’s tracks, ttps://
    2) Cool ball game. Kind of like soccer because you couldn’t use your hands to move the ball. The ball was heavy and hard as hell causing severe injury to players, but they were highly motivated to endure these painful injuries because the losing team was frequently sacrificed. They had a point system which determined the winner of most games. Very rarely was the big heavy ball pushed through a ring high above the court but when it was all hell broke lose. The audience scattered as quick as they could and the goal scoring team pursued them. Caught spectators had to give up their worldly possessions to the player who caught them.
    3) Sex race. Women lined up in front of the men while a crowd watched. After the start no man could pass an uncoupled with women without having sex with them. The audience was greatly amused when men were unsuccessful in getting it up after the first or second time.

    Number 1 is absolutely true but sadly I cannot verify if 2 and 3 are. I was told about the players pursuing the audience if they scored a goal for all their worldly possessions in a lecture at Chichen Itza, it could be bullshit. Number 3 I read in a history book years ago but I cannot confirm it.

  10. Jim says:

    Ball games were a very big part of Mesoamerican culture. The heads of the vanquished were often used as the ball.

  11. kamas716 says:

    I’m pretty sure there was a good reason the surrounding tribes were willing to line up and fight with the Conquistadors against the Aztecs

  12. Jaim Klein says:

    The Aztecs were no more crazy than other peoples. They came from the north and were few, they had a hard time to establish themselves in a bad neighborhood. They had to pay yearly tribute to the natives like the early Athenians to the Minotaur, in virgins, till they found their foot and established their well publicized regime of terror, with theatrical human sacrifices and skull pyramids a-la-Ghengis Khan and Tamerlane. Terror Realpolitik worked for them for a time, till appeared a fearless leader – Hernan Cortes – and all the native peoples followed him.

    The following is funny: Since Cortes had less than a hundred Spanish soldiers with him to rule some fifty million mesoamericans, he baptized the remaining elite Aztecs with Christian names, and being the only people with government experience, he used them as his governors.

    • Jim says:

      Their empire was very new at the time of Cortes and not well-consolidated. Also they had recently been repulsed by the Tarascans. The Aztecs tend to get a lot more popular attention than the greatest of the Mesoamerican cultures, the Toltecs, because the Aztecs were the strongest power at the time of European contact.

      • reiner Tor says:

        I was into Mesoamerican cultures as a teenager and read a number of books about the topic, though some of what I read was later proved to be wrong.

        I usually thought that the Central Mexico cultures had a more advanced agriculture, but that the Maya were more advanced culturally (e.g. more advanced writing, mathematics, etc.), and within Central Mexico I thought it was Teotihuacan. I thought that after the collapse of the Classical Age (which happened within a century or two across the whole of Mesoamerica), a sort of dark ages type era followed, which gradually reached the earlier heights. Therefore, I always thought that Tula must have been the most impressive center at the nadir of Mesoamerican culture, something like Aachen compared to both earlier (Rome) and later (high medieval, renaissance) centers.

        Was that the wrong impression?

        What good books would you (or anyone else) recommend on the topic?

        • Jim says:

          Tula was the greatest power. They seemed to have conquered at one time much of the Yucatan. I think there has been a tendency to exaggerate the differences between the Maya and the other Mesoamerican cultures.

          • reiner Tor says:

            It’s unclear how unified Toltec domains were. But as a civilization they seemed to me somewhat less impressive than the Aztecs, though I mostly infer that from the smaller pyramid sizes, which is probably a pretty stupid metric. It’s possible that they were actually more refined and had more developed technologies.

  13. Space Ghost says:

    If you’re a 16th century Spaniard, how do you stumble upon this civilization and not conclude that it’s literally demonic?

    • reinertor says:

      Especially since Aztec depictions of their gods often literally looked like demons.

      • engleberg says:

        So the White Gods stuff wasn’t a compliment.

      • Jim says:

        Mesoamerican gods were not your friends. They were highly psychotic, totally untrustworthy, terrible tyrants and greatly to be feared.

        • dearieme says:

          Well Jehovah wasn’t a barrel of laughs. Ask the Amalekites.

          • Jim says:

            But at least Jehovah had some notion of justice. He was a tyrant but if you obeyed his commands, at least if you were one of the chosen people, you might be rewarded and at any rate not punished. The Mesoamerican gods behaved in a totally capricious way. You could only hope that a sufficient number of sacrifices might placate them for a while.

            • Jim says:

              In the recent history of the West we often think of religion as a system of beliefs which provide comfort – the “opium of the masses” idea. There was nothing in the least bit comforting about the religious beliefs of Mesoamericans. Their religious beliefs were very scary. Such beliefs provided no comfort but lots of fear.

              • Jim says:

                “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, your rod and your staff – they comfort me.”

                The Mesoamerican gods were the meanest son-of-a-bitches in the valley.

              • Jaim Klein says:

                Life was precarious for mesoamericans. If the rains failed, they would be starving next year. A midnight razzia from another tribe and they would become cochinita pibil . Would putting on tephilin satisfy Heaven? But having fulfilled their daily quota, Aztecs could be reasonably sure that the sun would rise and rains would fall and their wives would be fertile. Religion supplied them with a lot of psychic comfort as well as with Blue Ribbon meat.

              • Jim says:

                I think religion supplied very little comfort to Mesoamericans. It wasn’t like you were making a bargain with someone who was even remotely trustworthy. A hundred virgins sacrificed for a good crop this year. No matter what you did you lived in fear of what the gods might do. Mesoamerican gods were not notable for telling the truth or keeping their promises. Anything they said or did might be a cruel trick.

            • dearieme says:

              Jehovah seems pretty capricious to me and much more to be feared that loved. “Murderous fascist git” just about covers him.

    • Coagulopath says:

      Pedro de Alvarado massacring worshippers at the Feast of Toxcatl probably seemed more reasonable back then than it does now. I mean, what’s a few more bodies on the pile?

  14. Abelard Lindsey says:

    Could this be why violence seems to be so common in modern-day Mexico and Central America?

    • Jaim Klein says:

      You mean because the Spanish conquistador heritage they carry in heir blood?

    • David Chamberlin says:

      I don’t think their heritage has much to do with the present day violence in modern-day Mexico and Central America. Up through 1990 Mexico was a wonderful place to go for road trips. Cheap, beautiful country, warm and friendly people, loads of great places to visit whatever your interests were. Things have changed radically for the worse. Three factors have created this situation. Narco terrorism, over population, and man made weather change. The seasonal rains that farmers depend on in places like Guatemala and the Yucatan have radically changed as the surrounding forest has been chopped away.

      That doesn’t mean that their violent heritage and genetics has nothing to do with their violent streak, I am sure it does, but I doubt that much. One thousand years ago the Scandinavians were some of the most violent people on earth terrorizing parts of Europe with their berserker Vikings raids, now they are some of the most peaceful law abiding people on earth. Intelligence is highly inheritable but violence not nearly so much.

      • OriginalJ says:

        I call BS on your thesis. In 1968 sleeping in a VW camper next to a paved road, a friend with his wife and children were accosted by armed men. Despite guns leveled at him he had the balls to start the vehicle and race (as much as that underpowered creature could do) away to the nearest police post. It had in it one old cop with a Mauser. The banditos cruised back and forth in front of the post for a hour before desisting. My friend would never return to Mexico. An ornithology professor at my grad school had been shot in the back by his Mexican assistant while collecting birds in 1940. Luckily it was bird shot. The assistant did the shooting to steal the shotgun. I could go on with other examples. Mexico has always been dangerous for gringos. Mexicans raided into the U.S. from the establishment of the Republic of Texas until, well until now. The border was always a low-level war zone.

        Cite your evidence that violence isn’t very heritable. I submit that interpersonal violence is at least inversely correlated with intelligence because the intelligent can foresee the negative consequences of being violent.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      yes imo – not so much the scale of it (as you can have cultures with lots of casual but non-extreme violence) but the extreme cruelty of it.

      on the other hand the things they do are similar to the sort of tortures inflicted on south African farmers so maybe not specific to a particular culture but an indication that base human behavior is extremely nasty and centuries (or millenia) of farming have partially tamed it but more so in some populations than others.

      it would be interesting to know if there’s an ethnic component to these cartels and gangs i.e. are a lot of their recruits from more recently HG sub populations within their respective countries.

    • moscanarius says:

      Violence there is very high, but then… currently it’s also very high in all of Latin America (higher than in most of Africa, if the statistics are true), even in the countries with indigenous ancestry from tamer tribes – and it has been raising over the last three decades; the modern aztecs were much quieter just thirty years ago.

      I think it should be attributed to the unholy combination of (1) a population kinda prone to violence, (2) a stupid judicial system whose architects are 90% European and believe their job is to import every progressive crap from Europe, assumikng the Aztecs and the Germans are just the same, and (3) the general stupidity of law operators, which is exacerbated by the complexity of the imported regulations.

  15. reinertor says:

    The reasons for the large-scale human sacrifice might be, in no particular order of importance:

    very young civilization, i.e. both population and culture close to the primordial ancestral brutality of widespread cannibalism and genocidal violence once also common elsewhere; hence, Mesoamericans were probably genetically more violent than Eurasians, there was not sufficient time to cull genes for aggression from the population
    very large population densities (especially relative to the development level of civilization; i.e. probably higher population densities than in ancient Sumer) due to the relatively high caloric yields of maize and low availability of domesticated animals (less produce was used as fodder, more to directly feed humans); also very low parasite load compared to Eurasia; hence, availability of lots of humans; it also resulted in relatively high levels of organization to capture them and force them to the altars
    elites’ taste for human flesh in the absence of tastier meats like pork, beef, mutton etc.; so they really liked the human sacrifices (whom they could eat afterwards)

    All this might have created a vicious cycle, where large-scale human sacrifice and mass slaughter further selected for violent genes (or genes resulting in more tolerance of violence), slowing down the domestication of humans in that part of the world.

    • Anonymous says:

      Population density was likely comparable to Sumer or possibly slightly lower (Tenochtitlan at its height looks like it had a population density comparable to Uruk at its height, though Tenochtitlan was around twice the size of Uruk, Sumer as a whole probably had a max population of around 1.5mil, Moctezuma II’s empire prior to Cortez probably ruled over around 5mil but spread over a significantly larger area). Sumer was also horrifically violent in the early periods, and the violence was highly ritualised.

      What’s interesting to me about Mesoamerican violence is that it appears to have gotten WORSE over time rather than better. Ritual bloodletting was almost certainly spread around the region by the Olmecs, but there’s very little evidence that the Olmecs practiced human sacrifice. Bloodletting was an everyday practice for the Maya, and human sacrifice seems to have become more and more common throughout their history. By the time the Aztecs arrived sacrifice was industrialised. Their entire civilisation was centred around procuring sacrificial victims.

      • Ivan says:


        Do you have a reference for “Sumer was also horrifically violent in the early periods, and the violence was highly ritualised” ?

        As far as I know, there’s some archeological evidence for human sacrifice during one royal burials:, where they found 70 victims who appear to have been poisoned rather than “ritualistically”slaughtered.

        No Sumerian text provides direct evidence for either human sacrifice or “he vnow if it didiolence was highly ritualised”, though. Not that i did not happen, we just do not k

        • Ivan says:

          Sorry, not sure how the last paragraph got mangled. Should be:

          No Sumerian text provides direct evidence for either human sacrifice or that “the violence was highly ritualised”, though. Not that it did not happen, we just do not know for sure.

    • BB753 says:

      Maybe the abundance of human flesh made animal husbandry unnecessary. Why bother taming and breeding peccaries or quails when you had maize-driven human overpopulation?

  16. Rosenmops says:

    The Natives in Canada seem to have a tendency to violence. in 2014, 32% of people accused of homicides were aboriginal. They are 5% of the population. A very high portion of them are alcoholics–so they may be killing each other in drunken fights.

    Note that the article emphasizes that a disproportional number of aboriginals victims of homicide, and only mentions near the end that an even more disproportionate number of aboriginals are accused of homicide.

    The Canadian government, the press, etc. tend to portray aboriginals as victims, and ignore information that shows them in a bad light. There are a lot of lawyers and bureaucrats who make a living off portraying aboriginals as victims of evil white colonizers.

    • reinertor says:

      But they were hunter-gatherers, so expected to be violent. Mayas and Aztecs were agricultural, so expected to be more domesticated types, yet they were apparently more violent and bloodthirsty than most such cultures. I think for example neither Sumerians nor ancient Egyptians practiced cannibalism, certainly not on such a large scale.

        • reinertor says:

          I think it doesn’t depict anything on the scale of Mesoamerican cannibalism. It rather reinforces my point that as Egypt got more civilized, it was slowly phased out.

          Maybe (probably, even) that would’ve happened eventually in Mesoamerica, too. But it seems that cannibalism was extremely widespread relative to its civilizational level, compared to ancient Egypt or Sumer or whichever Eurasian civilization. (I think even compared to Peru.)

          • Jim says:

            I doubt that Mesoamerican civilizations were moving on any track toward convergence with Old World Civilizations. The psychotic elements of their cultures seemed to be increasing over time not decreasing.

          • Finland says:

            In Mexico there was a tendency to increase human sacrifice, I don’t know about cannibalism there, but most Peruvian cannibalism was about eating dead relatives.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        that would be my take – unless they had a specific cultural reason for culling them i expect recently HG populations to have more psycho genes which get gradually culled out over time if/when people adopt farming – so to me the Aztecs etc seem a little out of place in that model.

        one explanation might be time – they hadn’t had enough time to select out the psycho genes but if so then you might expect to see a similar pattern of human sacrifice / cannibalism in the early stages of other civs declining over time.

        another possible explanation might be higher population density leading to more extreme competition?

        or Cthulhu/demonic – which is my instinctive but irrational take.

        • Michael H says:

          At the time of the arrival of the Spaniards agriculture and civilization had been present in Mesoamerica for thousands of years. But if this entailed a human domestication process, selecting against nasty HG genes, the Aztecs hadn’t beent part of that:

          “The origin of the Aztec people is uncertain, but elements of their own tradition suggest that they were a tribe of hunters and gatherers on the northern Mexican plateau before their appearance in Mesoamerica in perhaps the 12th century CE; Aztlán, however, may be legendary. It is possible that their migration southward was part of a general movement of peoples that followed, or perhaps helped trigger, the collapse of the Toltec civilization.”

          • Finland says:

            Southern Uto-Aztecan languages have a maize-based vocabulary, ruling out the Aztecs having been hunter gatherers when they replaced the Toltecs. Northern Mexico and the wider Aridoamerica were not exclusively hunter gatherer: some of the Chichimecs did farm there, and domesticates like maize were well established.

        • capra internetensis says:

          Greater disease burden in the Old World? – hence less need to keep the (other guy’s) population in check manually?

  17. dearieme says:

    I’m not much impressed by the naivety of these comments. Our ancestors (us = Europeans) were a bunch of head-hunters, for heaven’s sake.

    • Joe says:

      It’s true, I naively believe that if I am the very late descendant of a violent people, I must celebrate the violence I encounter today.

    • reiner Tor says:

      Yes, but in other parts of the world, by the time they built impressive cities, people ceased to be headhunters. Cannibalism was no longer in vogue in Eurasia in complex Bronze Age civilizations.

      So this needs an explanation, why Mesoamericans were still so over the top bloodthirsty cannibals, relative to ancient Sumerians.

      I just thought of another reason. The lower parasite load meant that it was less dangerous to eat humans than in other parts of the world. So add that to my list above.

      • Jaim Klein says:

        That is debatable. Eating pigs is not without risk, specially if uncooked. I think the reason of shedding cannibalism is that it is socially disruptive. Would you send your children to a school with practicing cannibal teachers?

        • reinertor says:

          I already wrote that, cannibalism tends to alienate those being eaten. This is probably reason enough for its discontinuation over the long run – polities which didn’t practice it will be more stable, and will find allies easier.

          Yes, probably eating humans is not any riskier in terms of health (other than the relatives of the eaten eating you) than eating pork.

          • gcochran9 says:

            “not any riskier” – sure it is. Prion disease, at minimum. Probably other infectious diseases.

            • reinertor says:

              I thought prion disease is only a risk if you eat someone who was infected. It was an issue if you were eating the dead from within your own family, who had died of the disease, but it’s not a big issue if you just kill healthy young people and then eat them. Or at least it shouldn’t be riskier than eating beef – one can get Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease from it, too, after all.

              • gcochran9 says:

                There are spontaneous cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and they are infectious. Any population with a fair amount of mutual cannibalism – say within the group, or back and forth between two groups – would run into it eventually and have a kuru epidemic.

                I am now imagining a single unconventional member of the Fore tribe visiting San Francisco in 1978.

                The problem with British beef only came into existence because of industrial cannibalism.

              • reiner Tor says:

                I stand corrected.

            • Toad says:

              Not to mention all the saturated fat and cholesterol.

      • Finland says:

        The Japanese were noted head hunters though, so this isn’t about the degree of civilization. And why do people overlook he European use of human body part medicine into early modern times? I will even doubt cannibalism itself disgusted the Spaniards – only the association with paganism, and the risk of being eaten.

        • reinertor says:

          As far as I know, the Japanese never ate their enemies. Not within recorded history.

          Medicine is a little different, for example no one was killed for the medicine, they just took it from people who died anyway.

          • gcochran9 says:

            Sure they did. [ Many written reports and testimonies collected by the Australian War Crimes Section of the Tokyo tribunal, and investigated by prosecutor William Webb (the future Judge-in-Chief), indicate that Japanese personnel in many parts of Asia and the Pacific committed acts of cannibalism against Allied prisoners of war. In many cases this was inspired by ever-increasing Allied attacks on Japanese supply lines, and the death and illness of Japanese personnel as a result of hunger. According to historian Yuki Tanaka: “cannibalism was often a systematic activity conducted by whole squads and under the command of officers”.[108] This frequently involved murder for the purpose of securing bodies. For example, an Indian POW, Havildar Changdi Ram, testified that: “[on November 12, 1944] the Kempeitai beheaded [an Allied] pilot. I saw this from behind a tree and watched some of the Japanese cut flesh from his arms, legs, hips, buttocks and carry it off to their quarters … They cut it [into] small pieces and fried it.”[109]

            In some cases, flesh was cut from living people: another Indian POW, Lance Naik Hatam Ali (later a citizen of Pakistan), testified in New Guinea and stated:

            … the Japanese started selecting prisoners and every day one prisoner was taken out and killed and eaten by the soldiers. I personally saw this happen and about 100 prisoners were eaten at this place by the Japanese. The remainder of us were taken to another spot 50 miles [80 km] away where 10 prisoners died of sickness. At this place, the Japanese again started selecting prisoners to eat. Those selected were taken to a hut where their flesh was cut from their bodies while they were alive and they were thrown into a ditch where they later died.[110]

            According to another account by Jemadar Abdul Latif of 4/9 Jat Regiment of the Indian Army who was rescued by the Australian army at the Sepik Bay in 1945:

            “At the village of Suaid, a Japanese medical officer periodically visited the Indian compound and selected each time the healthiest men. These men were taken away ostensibly for carrying out duties, but they never reappeared,”[111]

            Perhaps the most senior officer convicted of cannibalism was Lt Gen. Yoshio Tachibana (立花芳夫,Tachibana Yoshio), who with 11 other Japanese personnel was tried in August 1946 in relation to the execution of U.S. Navy airmen, and the cannibalism of at least one of them, during August 1944, on Chichi Jima, in the Bonin Islands. The airmen were beheaded on Tachibana’s orders. Because military and international law did not specifically deal with cannibalism, they were tried for murder and “prevention of honorable burial”. Tachibana was sentenced to death, and hanged.[112] ]


            • Finland says:

              I assume he meant what Arens called cultural cannibalism: armies in wartime are prone to cannibalism out of necessity.

              • gcochran9 says:

                ” armies in wartime are prone to cannibalism” No, they’re not.

              • Finland says:

                Well, if we’re quoting Wikipedia.

                And: “In 1503, a group of Qizilbash militants ate the corpses of their enemies after taking over a fort in east Iran.” … “In 1612, Polish troops stationed in the Moscow Kremlin resorted to cannibalism, in the aftermath of a prolonged siege.” … “A party of Cossacks under Vassili Poyarkov cannibalized the corpses of Siberian aborigines they had previously killed.” … “There are eyewitness accounts of cannibalism during the Siege of Leningrad (1941–1944), including reports of people cutting off and eating their own flesh.”

                Omnivorous animals do all kinds of things in harshl situations, not least humans where following taboos would be costly. As Buddhists the Japs had a cannibalism taboo, if maybe not as strong a one as Catholics. I’m sure some individuals acquired a taste for human flesh, because people did elsewhere: Liver-Eating Johnson did in America.

              • gcochran9 says:

                Prone to cannibalism? No. You can read about a zillion wars in western or classical civ and run into very, very few cases of people killing others for food.
                And there’s a world of difference between people eating those already dead ( like those people in the plane crash in the Andes) vs killing them for food.

                While the Japanese did it quite a bit in WWII, and not just because of food shortages. They reveled in their assholishness.

              • Finland says:

                @gcochran9, I’m not so sure the difference matters outside of ethics. You say there’s a world of difference between people eating those who are already dead vs killing them for food, but cannibalism is just another way carnivores/omnivores(*) can get emergency protein, so I’d predict it to be more common among people like soldiers most exposed to low food supplies or limited menus – the need to survive means this would apply even in Japan where the taboo is strong. Even if we are agreed there’s poor documentation for cannibalism by soldiers before the modern era, it still has a much better record than the kind of cannibalism that interests criminologists, or the kind of cannibalism US-based anthros loved denying. My own guesses are most historical examples of military cannibalism were under-reported because it was unremarkable when people needed meat, and additionally it was shameful in many literate societies, but the behaviors of other animals predict it happens during wars especially long sieges. And that actually is when you do see it in historical records.

                (*) And even herbivores like Yakut horses, they will nibble or lick the carcasses of other horses.

              • gcochran9 says:

                You’re wrong.

              • Finland says:

                @gcochran9, please explain why. The actual text you quoted actually says military and international law did not specifically deal with cannibalism as late as the 40s – why might that be?

              • gcochran9 says:

                I don’t think I can, and I’m pretty sure it’s you, not me. The idea that ” armies in wartime are prone to cannibalism” is absurd.

              • reiner Tor says:

                Yes, I meant something like that. This was just a relatively short episode of Japanese history. Still I find the cannibalism more than a little disturbing.

                I also think Greg has a point about it being unusual.

                Still no comparison to the Aztecs.

              • Finland says:

                @gcochran9, I don’t get why my presumption is wrong. Compared to other portions of the global population, soldiers with low supplies must’ve been prone to it because its just a form of the non-cultural and non-pathological subsistence cannibalism which must be the commonest kind. As regards the Japs, weren’t they stretched without supplies? They didn’t have much to fight tropical diseases with, for a start.

              • gcochran9 says:

                Because it was extremely rare, almost non-existent, that’s why your presumption is wrong. What are you, a Martian?

              • gcochran9 says:

                When I think about a possible practice in the military, I think about actual military history, going back to Classical times (or even Kanesh) . It can be hard to communicate with someone who doesn’t know much about the actual record [most people] and thinks that a personal notion or some fucking ‘theory’ should be the guide, rather than the historical record.

              • Finland says:

                @gcochran9, Lots of things are attested rarely in history if their existence is under the radar, and its impossible to tell how common they were. Recently I was reading about human and animal vivisection in Classical antiquity, but I couldn’t find much concrete about how common it was, even though occasional references are enough to prove it happened. I’m sure lots of things were like that.

              • gcochran9 says:

                In the one case where we know of many examples, , Japan in WWII, you say it isn’t typical.

                Over the rest of military history, where we know of almost no cases over thousands of years, you say ” armies in wartime are prone to cannibalism” .

                You’re nuts.

                [ An especially abhorrent aspect of the heavy fighting on the Kokoda Track during the Australian fighting withdrawal is the failure of any Australian taken prisoner by the Japanese to survive capture. The Japanese are known to have frequently murdered prisoners of war, singly and in batches, on little if any provocation. Resistance appears to have been especially effective in provoking murderous instincts in the Japanese military. The Japanese were infuriated by the strong resistance to their advance put up by the Australians on the Kokoda Track. They had suffered heavy losses, and the Australian fighting withdrawal had seriously disrupted their timetable for crossing the mountains and had caused their own troops to run short of food. In those circumstances, the Japanese would not want to waste their own food on prisoners of war whom they had been taught to despise. The circumstances point to a strong probability that all captured Australians were immediately executed by the Japanese. Even more horrifying, is the evidence that the Japanese killed and ate captured Australians when they had not exhausted their own food supplies.

                As the Australians pursued the retreating Japanese along the Kokoda Track, they came upon evidence that the Japanese had been eating captured Australian soldiers. After a fierce clash with the Japanese at Templeton’s Crossing, an Australian patrol was forced to withdraw and leave behind six Australian dead and four wounded. Reinforcements arrived on the following day, and the Australians were able to attack again and capture the Japanese position. The Australians troops were horrified to find that the Japanese had been eating both the wounded and dead Australians who had been left behind on the previous day. Corporal Bill Hedges describes the ghastly scene:

                “The Japanese had cannibalised our wounded and dead soldiers..We found them with meat stripped off their legs and half-cooked meat in the Japanese dishes (pots)”.

                One of Corporal Hedges closest comrades was among the butchered bodies. He said:

                “I was heartily disgusted and disappointed to see my good friend lying there, with the flesh stripped off his arms and legs; his uniform torn off him.”

                Shortly afterwards, the Australian corporal was appalled to discover that the Japanese had not resorted to cannibalism because of starvation. He said:

                “We found dumps with rice and a lot of tinned food. So they weren’t starving and having to eat flesh because they were hungry.” ]

          • Finland says:

            Whether someone was killed for the food/medicine or not, is irrelevant to the definition of cannibalism, or to the power of taboos surrounding it. If the Spaniards were practicing such medicines then it must be the context of Aztec cannibalism that alarmed them. There might also have been social contexts to Aztec acceptance: one source claimed the elites saw the meat as worthless, but it was taken to market.

            No the Japanese were not cannibals, but they hunted and displayed heads as trophies. This is something toned down for non-Japanese, but its widely known as history in Japan. The practice spread from Kyushu and might be a borrowing from Southeast Asia.

            • reiner Tor says:

              I don’t think it’s irrelevant if someone was killed to be eaten or if they just ate someone who had already died. The taboo against the former is way stronger, if for nothing else then because it breaks two taboos at once. The murder part is considered to be an especially vile thing, much more so than your garden variety murder.

              • Finland says:

                I think we’re now confusing different things: the biology of cannibalism and its cultural history. There’s a difference but these things have to overlap if you take the naturalistic view of culture. Taboo only relates to cultural practices of avoidance. When you’re talking about subsistence then actual need begins to override any food taboos, though a history of need might be what led to rare cultural encouragement in some parts of the world, pace Marvin Harris.

              • reiner Tor says:

                I think it’s you who are conflating two highly different things, one is resorting to eating already dead people in times of famine, and the other is deliberately killing someone to eat, especially in the absence of famine. These are very different things.

                For one, not killing someone is not a “food taboo” but a quite different (and usually much stronger) taboo. A Jew or a Muslim might eat pork in times of famine, but still wouldn’t kill anyone. On the other hand, it’s possible that people would commit murder to avoid hunger while still avoiding human flesh.

                So it’s two different taboos.

                Killing people for eating can only exist in a highly regulated way in any complex society. The only method to do so is through religion. So Aztec cannibalism was highly regulated through religion. But nevertheless it’s essence didn’t change: it was killing people (and in brutal and painful ways, to boot), and then eating them. Maybe eating wasn’t the sole point of killing (there were ritualistic reasons, and also humiliating the enemies), but it sure wouldn’t have been so large scale if they hadn’t eaten the sacrificial victims.

              • Finland says:

                @reiner Tor, You are obviously right that killing =/= eating; but that’s why its irrelevant to the subject of cannibalism – which is a food taboo.

                Taboos against murder don’t tell you not to kill, they tell you who is off limits. Suppose it was wrong for an Aztec to eat another Aztec – would it have been seen as wrong, or even as cannibalism, if he ate a Toltec? I think that played a role when cannibalism was present in warlike societies, because most human cultures were not universalists. Might it even explain the Japanese behaviour?

              • reiner Tor says:

                “You are obviously right that killing =/= eating; but that’s why its irrelevant to the subject of cannibalism – which is a food taboo.
                Taboos against murder don’t tell you not to kill, they tell you who is off limits. Suppose it was wrong for an Aztec to eat another Aztec – would it have been seen as wrong, or even as cannibalism, if he ate a Toltec?”

                But then we just shifted the problem from cannibalism to why Aztec religion was so liberal regarding the murder of non-Aztecs (while also permitting them to be eaten afterwards). Moreover, it wasn’t just that the Aztec religion permitted many Tlaxcaltecs or whoever to be killed, it permitted, and even compelled its adherents to kill a lot of them and then compelled them to eat those killed.

                I don’t think examples of cannibalism during famine are helpful.

              • Anonymous says:

                @reiner Tor, I get the confusion. I’m trying to understand this as a zoologist: why cannibalism is rare yet widepread in animals – not just man – is well known; I’m looking at any case of what Arens called cultural cannibalism in that light, as there must be a biological reason at the root. Somehow in Mexico and Melanesia something rare but universal in human communities came to be culturally mandated and encouraged; what caused that?

              • Jaim Klein says:

                There are two kinds of cannibalism: (a) Starving people driven by necessity, like sailors lost in the ocean in a small boat. (b) Fighters ritually humiliating and intimidating enemies, like the Aztecs and the Japanese armies. I think there are no other scenarios for cannibalism, and as soon as the situation changes, cannibalism is forgotten. There were no cases of cannibalism in Mexico after the Aztec regime dissolved five hundred years ago.

      • DataExplorer says:

        Carthaginians sacrificed their own children by burning them, possibly alive.

        • dearieme says:

          Aren’t there various allusions to child sacrifice in the Old Testament?

          Given how late in the day the OT was written, it’s impressive that the authors knew about child sacrifice. Or maybe it went on for longer in the Levant than I realised.

    • Depends on how far you go back. I think you have to back a ways to find East Anglians and inland Swedes engages in cannibalism and human sacrifice. People even fifty years ago were physically crueler than we are, but distinctions matter.

    • Coagulopath says:

      This is true. Though I would generally state that Europeans voluntarily ended their excesses and brutalities. The Aztecs didn’t – they were forced to do so by Europeans. And as with the world of fashion, the old ways are retro chic waiting to happen.

      Sacrifice, Magdalena learned, was an excellent way to maintain power. She established a “blood ritual” which was enforced whenever someone questioned her authority. Dissenters were beaten, maimed, and set on fire by believers. With the victim barely breathing, the bloodletting would begin.

      The blood was collected into a chalice and mixed with chicken blood, as well as marijuana or peyote. The concoction was then presented to the goddess and her holy men. Magdalena told the cult that consuming human blood allowed her to live forever; it was the nectar of the gods.

      The grisly rituals continued for roughly six weeks. By the end, the leaders were dissecting the beating hearts of their freshly butchered victims. Magdalena proclaimed herself the reincarnation of Aztec goddess Coatlicue, mother of the sun, stars, and moon.

  18. To be fair to anthropology, here’s Marvin Harris, one of the best selling anthropologists from a generation ago:

    “As well-trained, methodical butchers of the battlefield, and as citizens of the land of the Inquisition, Cortes and his men … were inured to displays of cruelty and bloodshed. … Still they were not quite prepared for what they found in Mexico. Nowhere else in the world had there developed a state-sponsored religion whose art. architecture, and ritual were so thoroughly dominated by violence, decay, death, and disease.” (Cannibals and Kings 1977, p. 147)

    Harris goes on to cite Diaz at some length on Aztec sacrifice. Harris was pushing the ultra-materialist theory that the lack of protein from domesticated animals in Mexico led civilizations there toward cannibalizing their neighbors; the religious stuff being just a rationalization of the hunger for meat.

    • reiner Tor says:

      That’s forty-one years, almost two generations ago.

      The ultra-materialistic explanation makes little sense in and of itself, since they had other, easier to obtain sources of protein, like wild animals, insects, or turkey. But I’m sure it was a factor, since probably human flesh was considered a delicacy.

      It’s also likely that if a warrior caste resorted to supplementing its diet with human flesh, it would be highly regulated by religion (the only mechanism capable of truly regulating it in a premodern setting), because otherwise society would break down if people were simply hunted to be eaten.

      Anyway, cannibalism is probably not very good for keeping political power, since it tends to alienate those who are being eaten. It’s kinda strange that Mesoamericans didn’t figure it out, and could easily be the result of the elite’s liking of human flesh.

      • Coagulopath says:

        Anyway, cannibalism is probably not very good for keeping political power, since it tends to alienate those who are being eaten.

        That sounds like a short-lived problem, in multiple senses.

        The ultra-materialistic explanation makes little sense in and of itself, since they had other, easier to obtain sources of protein, like wild animals, insects, or turkey. But I’m sure it was a factor, since probably human flesh was considered a delicacy.

        Maybe cannibalism became a status marker – humans are intelligent and strong prey, and if you can eat them, you’re either very powerful, or enjoy the support of the very powerful. Cannibalism = Aztec bottle service.

        It’s similar to the stereotypical image of a medieval feast, with a wild boar at the center. Boar doesn’t taste great, but it’s a prestige meat – the fact that it exists on the table means you’re a good hunter, or can afford to hire one.

        • R. says:

          Boar .. doesn’t taste great?

          There’s problems with adult male pigs due to boar taint, which is unpleasant to majority of people, but apart from that, pork is very good meat.

        • reinertor says:

          That sounds like a short-lived problem

          Depends. If you want to keep eating human flesh, you need to get it from somewhere. Either from an internal source (oppressed population), or from a nearby country, or a combination of the two. Both groups will take notice, and they will turn against you. So you’ll lose either internal or external stability or both.

          Maybe cannibalism became a status marker

          Probably. But over time it should’ve decreased for the above mentioned political reasons – polities with less cannibalism should’ve been more stable and should’ve found it easier to find allies. (As has eventually happened to the Spaniards.) So it’s interesting that it doesn’t seem to have diminished in importance.

  19. Daud Deden says:

    One wonders the number of skulls hoarded by modern Conquistadors of science.

  20. gothamette says:

    Were the skulls male or female? Can one tell? (Serious question.)

    • gothamette says:

      OK, should have done some research before I clicked but this is interesting:

      Counterintuitive! I’d have thought men’s skulls were thicker. Men’s are longer & wide, not a surprise. I’m assuming the sample is mostly Euro, whatever that means, but I don’t see why there would be a difference in Meso-Ams.

      Now why would natural selection make women’s skulls thicker than men’s? Because it sure ain’t sexual selection. Protecting against a slip and fall back in Paleo days with a baby strapped on your back? This is fascinating.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        “Counterintuitive! I’d have thought men’s skulls were thicker…. Now why would natural selection make women’s skulls thicker than men’s?”

        didn’t know that – interesting

      • Coagulopath says:

        Wow, that’s something.

        Here’s something else (paywalled, sadly): “The skull thickness in Black and White adults of both sexes was studied in Rhodesia by two methods. White women have the thickest, and White men the thinnest skulls. The skulls of women are thicker than those of men in both ethnic groups.”

        So not only do women have thicker skulls, the dimorphism is more pronounced in whites than in blacks. That’s the opposite result to what I would have expected.

        Any ideas on why this would have been selected for? Or is it just a spandrel?

        • gothamette says:

          I wouldn’t have expected that either. As I said the only guess is that the skull thickness evolved as a defense against slipping accidents. But I admit that’s a shot in the dark. Perhaps there is some kind of mysterious secondary genetic benefit, which is conferred to a son, but which comes out in another characteristic?

          Is a puzzlement!

          • MattxXx says:

            Maybe the expanding brain needed more room, and the bigger brain was more advantageous than a thicker skull. Men have bigger brains than women, even if you adjust for body size. Also the brain needs a lot of energy, the body needs to compensate somewhere.

        • gothamette says:

          Why do you think it evolved?
          I don’t know what you mean by “spandrel” in this context.

          • Iain says:

            I didn’t know this either, but googling revealed that “a spandrel is a phenotypic characteristic that evolved as a side effect of a true adaptation. The term is originally from architecture, and the meaning in evolutionary biology is analogous. The biological term spandrel was popularized by Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin in their influential paper “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme”. In the context of evolution, they introduced the term spandrel as a metaphor for characteristics that are or were originally side effects and not true adaptations to the environment. They are traits which confer no adaptive advantage to an organism, but are ‘carried along’ by an adaptive trait.”

            • gothamette says:

              Thank you! Without knowing what it meant, I did anticipate the meaning.

              I don’t honestly know, haven’t a clue, but I think it’s damned interesting. It’s the exact opposite of what I would have guessed, it’s so in Euros & SSAs, but less so in SSAs. Very interesting.

        • gothamette says:

          The link I provided is from China and analyzed “living skulls” so presumably Asian skulls were analyzed. So we have Asian, Euro and SSA skulls all of which show sexual dimorphism. I for one find it interesting although have not a clue what it means.

  21. Citizen A says:

    Simply amazing how much denial there is in reality:

    Propaganda masquerading as reporting.

  22. Greying Wanderer says:

    “please explain why. The actual text you quoted actually says military and international law did not specifically deal with cannibalism as late as the 40s – why might that be?”

    maybe cos it didn’t happen often enough (in Europe) for people to make a specific law about it?

    • reiner Tor says:

      That’s my thought, too. Cannibalism for modern soldiers was considered unusual.

      • Finland says:

        But the Japanese probably had a stronger taboo against cannibalism than did people of European descent; Buddhism specifically proscribes eating human flesh as a taboo, so why would Japanese soldiers be unique in cannibal practices prohibited by their own culture?

        • Ivan says:


          You seem to have a rather naive notions about Buddhism theory and practice in Japan and elsewhere.

          On one hand, all known varieties of Buddhism have a prohibition to kill as a central proscription. On the other hand: “For it is really not he [the swordsman] but the sword itself that does the killing. He had no desire to harm anybody, but the enemy appears and makes himself a victim.” (Suzuki).

          As to cannibalism and Buddhism:
          “For substances of enjoyment, in outer tantras one enjoys three white or pure substances, milk, butter, and curd, and three sweet substances, molasses, honey, and sugar. In inner tantras one enjoys five meats—the flesh of man, cow, dog, horse, and elephant—and five nectars: excrement, semen, brain, blood (seminal fluid of female), and urine.”

          So, “the flesh of man” appears to be kosher as one of “substances of enjoyment”.

          • Finland says:

            Aye, and Tantric Buddhists did perform cultural cannibalism. But what a few Japs did in the Pacific War was not typical for the Japanese then or any time in their past.

            • Ivan says:

              In their past:

              There is some archeological evidence that the Japanese during the Jomon period practiced cannibalism.

              According to Jesuits living in Bungo around 1556, “mabiki”( infanticide) was widespread and not limited to Bungo: “When Almeyda came to Japan (he is exceedingly well known in these regions) in 1554 and met Gago in Bungo and heard from him the custom the Japanese women had of killing with the utmost barbarity those new born children whom they fancied they could not rear on account of poverty he arranged with Gago that the latter should treat with the King for the abolition of this most iniquitous custom somehow or other”.

              From the same Jesuits: “Even towards the end of this century and the beginning of the next they record several cases of cannibalism occasioned by sheer want in time of famine”.

              Mabiki was outlawed as recently as 19th century.

              • Finland says:

                The Wajin are to be identified with the Yayoi of Choshu type coming from North China and landed in Yamaguchi, not with the Jomonese. If you followed the genetic stuff a couple of years ago, the Jomonese diverged from other East Asians before the Mongoloid type had evolved. And famine cannibalism is widespread, so is ‘mabiki’ in times of hardship. This is not like Mexican human sacrifice where something weird was going on.

        • Warren Notes says:

          I’m sure there were those with Buddhist beliefs and sympathies among the Japanese troops, but wasn’t Shinto the official state religion of Japan at the time of WWII?

  23. Anonymous says:

    Worth pointing out that the Mesoamericans were rightly horrified by the Spanish practice of burning people alive. Swings and roundabouts I guess.

  24. reinertor says:

    Can anyone propose a good book on the Aztecs? Or pre-Columbian Mesoamerica?

    • Jaim Klein says:

      Go to the originals: the POPOL VUH, the RABINAL ACHI and the MEMORIAL DE SOLOLA. The Rabinal Achi is an unique transcript of a pre-Colombian ceremonial dance/drama, I may have one of the oldest editions. Chief “Siete Lluvias’ is insulted by his enemies and attacks their fortified castle and is imprisoned. Before being sacrificed he re-enacts his own heroic history and demands a good meal, and a beautiful virgin, and he is granted all. Then he agrees to and is ceremonially sacrificed. The music and the choreography has been lost. Contra Jim, the public much enjoyed the spectacle. The show was financed by choregiai like in Ancient Greece.

    • Bies Podkrakowski says:

      “Aztec”, Gary Jennings, historical novel, surprisingly well researched. Truly charming descriptions of human sacrifices, but beware – also disgusting sex scenes.
      “The Memoirs of the Conquistador” Bernal Diaz Del Castillo, cannot beat the eyewitness.

      Those were recommended to me by commentators here when I was looking for some historical novels about Aztecs and others pre-columbians.

  25. reinertor says:

    I found this:

    She claims that Mexicans were scrupulous to avoid civilian casualties, unlike those horrible Spaniards. The Aztecs were – according to her – shocked that Cortés cut off Tenochtitlan’s water supplies and starved everyone (including women and children) to submission.

    Sounds dubious to me. It’s possible that the Aztecs never used that particular tactic for whatever reason (Mesoamerican warfare mostly consisted of trying to capture warriors for human sacrifice) and so were surprised at its application (and probably were angry at the Spaniards using this effective tactic), but they did sacrifice women and children, too, after all.

    • Jaim Klein says:

      Sounds dubious to me, too. Mexico City is built on a swamp or lagoon, there is no way you can cut their water supply.

      • JerryC says:

        Apparently the lagoon water was not potable. Diaz del Castillo discusses in detail the expedition to destroy the Chapatepuc aqueduct and intecept canoes carrying fresh water into Mexico City.

        • Jaim Klein says:

          There is no information on the city’s sewage disposal infrastructure. Or I have never heard of it. The lagoon must have been strongly polluted. If the inhabitants were reduced to drink it, that may provide a (partial) explanation for the epidemics that decimated them.

  26. reinertor says:

    “about 75% of the skulls examined so far belonged to men, most between the ages of 20 and 35—prime warrior age. But 20% were women, and 5% belonged to children. Most victims seemed to be in relatively good health before they were sacrificed. “If they are war captives, they aren’t randomly grabbing the stragglers,” Gómez Valdés says. The mix of ages and sexes also supports another Spanish claim, that many victims were slaves sold in the city’s markets expressly to be sacrificed.”

  27. Whitney says:

    I just bought that book. That was incredibly serendipitous for me that you recommended a book because I just finished reading about the Incas and now I wanted to move north and I’ve been trying to figure out what to read.

  28. Thagomizer says:

    I have to wonder if there was widespread syphilis. It originated in the area and causes mental problems.

  29. Steven C. says:

    There is a story, from Aztec sources, about what transpired when they settled on an island in Lake Texcoco; which they named Tenochtitlan (The Place of the Prickly Pear Cactus):

    “Journey of a Princess

    When the Aztecs settled at ‘The Place of the Prickly Pear Cactus’, they tried very hard to get along with their neighbors as their main god had instructed them to do. They did not go to war. They did not capture people to feed to their many gods. Instead, they used their own people. It was an honor to be sacrificed. Everyone knew that.
    In a spirit of goodwill, the Aztec emperor sent a messenger to a nearby tribe. The chief of the tribe had been a bit standoffish so far. The emperor was hoping that his message might help to make a new friend. The emperor’s message was an invitation. He invited the chief’s daughter to journey to the Aztec capital to meet his son.
    When the princess arrived at Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital city, she brought with her many servants and attendants, along with a gorgeous wedding dress and presents for her new family. She spent a most enjoyable evening with the emperor and his handsome son.
    A few days later, when her father arrived in the city of Tenochtitlan, he fully expected to attend a wedding. Imagine his surprise when he learned that his daughter had been sacrificed with great ceremony, along with her many attendants and slaves. It was the highest honor the Aztecs could pay.
    Broken hearted, the chief hurried home to his people. That very day, he sent his army to wage war on the horrible Aztecs. The Aztecs won. They went on to conquer tribe after tribe in the valley. Each conquered tribe had to pay tribute to the Aztecs in the form of food, clothing, jewels, and of course, captives to feed the hungry gods. That made the Aztecs very happy and very rich.
    Truly, the Aztecs were not worried that their main god might be angry with them for going to war a little sooner than originally planned. After all, they had tried to get along. And just as soon as they had conquered all the people in the valley, they would live in peace with their neighbors, exactly as their god had told them to do. Surely there could be no confusion about that.”

    When the Spanish arrived, 80% of the Aztec Empire was non-Aztec; most of those tribes joined the conquistadors in overthrowing the hated Aztecs.

  30. Pingback: The Apotheosis of Captain Cook vs How “Natives” Think | Entitled to an Opinion

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