Relief depicting beheading on one of the panels of the South Ball Court at Tajin, Veracruz, Mexico

Decapitation discovery reveals gruesome practices of the ancient Incas

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Featured image: Relief depicting beheading on one of the panels of the South Ball Court at Tajin, Veracruz, Mexico ( Wikimedia Commons )

By Robin Whitlock


I read that the Maya, whilst using blood-letting rituals amongst the aristocracy, did not generally indulge in human sacrifice. The theory was that tribal groups, defeated and displaced by Aztec expansion, brought ritual human sacrifice with them. The sculpture seems to support this.
As far as condescending attitudes to Meso America are concerned, it's possible to be violent and technically sophisticated simultaneously, as much of the human race is currently demonstrating.

Robin Whitlock's picture

Good to see a lively debate going on here. One thing I would point out though is that there are numerous hints in world mythology that indicate human sacrifice, particularly decapitation, was an accepted practice at some point in ancient history. For example, there is the legend attached to the Capitoline hill in Rome in which the hill got its name because a skull was discovered while the foundations were being laid for the Temple of Jupiter (from the Latin ‘caput’ meaning ‘head’). Anne Ross in Pagan Celtic Britain argues that there is ample evidence for head-taking in Celtic Britain and Europe (the ‘head shrines’ at Entremont and Roquepertuse in Southern France may also support this conclusion). The thinking goes, as far as I can remember, that the Celts believed the soul or spirit resided in the head, therefore the Celts often used to decorate their huts with the skulls of enemy chieftains or prisoners, either as trophies or perhaps as ‘guardians’ to ward off evil spirits. But of course that is open to debate and Ross’s arguments have themselves been challenged.


There is ample evidence that human sacrifice, cannibalism, and other such barbaric rites, were widespread and endemic among the ancients of many (if not all) ethnicities. It is often considered part of "religion" but it really was nothing more than powerful instinctive drives left over from our animalistic origins. The so-called Judeo-Christian culture perhaps developed anciently as a revulsion of decent minded individuals against such tendencies. Moses wrote that the law of Noah allowed only the eating of animals, and that the blood of Man was not to be shed. The story of Abraham substituted the sacrifice of animals for humans, and circumcision for infanticide. The Israelites became scattered throughout the nations of the old world, bringing a concept of contempt for the bloodthirsty gods of antiquity with them. The Jews, who were left behind in the land of Abraham, spawned a new religion called Christianity, that substituted even the old animal sacrifices with a benign vegetable communion. That appealed to those scattered Israelites all over Europe and a healthy disdain for the old bestial instincts was thus propagated.

The Meso-American cultures were late to the party and perhaps the "Gringos" were a bit heavy handed in their reaction to their barbarisms, but there is no reason to doubt the general essence of our understanding of history, or the forensic evidence of archaeology in my view.

To think all all native Americans were living in harmony and peace until "the gringos" showed up is unrealistic and simply untrue.

Roberto Peron's picture

Perhaps these victims were not killed by the Inca at all but by some invading people.  I do NOT think we are correct in our assumptions that the people of ancient Mesoamerica were savages! Yet, we continue to portray them as such.  Is it because we just can't admit that Mesoamerica may have had a culture comparable to or even surpassing that of ancient Egypt?  Perhaps these victims were prisoners of war and their decapitations served as a warning to the enemy.  There are many possibilities about what brought about the demise of these victims.  Yet, the old picture of Native Americans as savages is still promoted even in this 21st Century.  I suspect the facts do NOT support that myth.



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