Archaeology Explained – Religion and Sacrifice

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One misconception about the prehistoric American Southwest is that people were always peaceful and just wanted to live in harmony. The truth is we see a massive influence from Mesoamerica(ancient Mexico) where religion was based on bloodletting and human sacrifice. The common belief was if blood was not given, the world would come to an end. With that said, Mesoamerican groups were not just blood thirsty. Groups such as the Maya and Aztecs created monumental architecture that rivaled what was created in Rome. Picture 1: Here is a bowl that was recovered at a Mimbres/Mogollon Classic Period (AD 1000 – 1130) site called Eby Ranch. This bowl depicts a priest dressed as a horned serpent (suggesting worship of what the Aztecs later called Quetzalcoatl) performing human sacrifice.

Picture 2 and 3: Here are drawings from publications showing how Mimbres individuals were buried. These burials carry religious significance and relate to what we find in the Mayan territories. Mimbres burials reflected the Mesoamerican religion by depicting the under-world, present world, an axis mundi, and and the upper world. Individuals were buried under their home (underworld representation). Above the burials there were wooden ladders(axis mundi representation) leading to the sky(upper-world representation). Indeed, these burials helped structure the world around them.

Notice how a black on white decorated ceramic bowl was placed over the face. These bowls have kill holes at the bottom of the vessel which mimicked Mayan bowls with similar kill holes. The Mayan and Mimbres believed when an individual died the spirit needed to leave the body and transfer back into the underworld. Thus, a hole was carefully punched into the botttom of the vessel.

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