Vera Tiesler | UC MEXUS, University of California Riverside | School of Anthropological Sciences Autonomous University of Yucatan, Mérida, Mexico


In this work, I wish to discuss some of the multi-layered native meanings of ritualized violence and human sacrifice among the ancient Maya and their mortuary expressions. For time reasons (10 minute expositions) I will center my talk around a number of elements of debate that are key to Session 1, by putting Maya sacrificial mortuary signatures in context with common funerary practice in the area.

One of the cornerstones in my work is the native understanding of the human body with its its physical and ethereal characterists. These provided meanings and occasions for physical embodiment and transformation during ritual. In the case of Maya ritual violence, embodiment could either acquire the form defacements and de-personalizion of victims prior to and during occision, and/or divine co-habitation of gods in all ceremonial participants and specifically in the individual(s) to be sacrificed.

Pertinent to physical embodiment is also the role of sometime forced blood-letting and the pain that could be inflicted to victims before their death. Subsequent cratophonous, catharticnotionsin ritual killing find their outlet in the form of violent body destruction, donation and the partitioning of body segments and essences. Some of these elements can be generalized for other cultural ambits that staged human sacrifice while others are suscribed to the native landscapes of Mesomerica and the Maya.

Apart from the physical embodiment in the induced violence per se, I will trace and discuss the taphonomic signatures that were left byspecificpractices of peri-, and postsacrificialbody processing,which were integrated parts of most acts surrounding human sacrifice. These span ritual burning, decapitation, heart extraction, dismemberment, flaying, and defleshing, just to name a few. Examined in culturally relevant contextual units, the taphonomic signatures stemming from such non-funerary treatments are proxies for disentangling the succinct mortuary pathways that distinguish induced death from natural death and related reverential treatments of the dead. The succinct mortuary pathways and ritual histories find material expressions in many Classic Maya human cache deposits with marks of perimortem violence and in the mythical imagery depicted on ancient Maya sculptures and ceramic vessels.

It is telling that the forms of ritual killings that were performed in large Classic period Maya epicenters like Palenque and Calakmul appear distinctive from those enacted in the hinterland hamlets of their kingdoms. Unsurprisingly, an increase in violent body treatments (ritual or not) is perceived towards the close of the Classic, towards and after the Maya collapse.


giulia osti15