Researchers in Mexico announced Wednesday that they had found blood cells and fragments of muscle, tendons, skin and hair in 2000 year old stone knives, naming it as the first conclusive evidence of a large number of stone implements used for human sacrifices.
The National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico says that the find clearly corroborates the existence of later cultures that used the obsidian knives in human sacrifice. Other physical evidence like cut marks on bonesof ancient human skeletons, previously offered indirect evidence of the practice.
- Obsidian knives
Researchers in Mexico had realized what they believed were fossilized blood stains in stone knives over 20 years, but the institute says they carried out a methodological examination using a scanning electron microscope to positively identify the human tissues in 31 knives from the Cantona deposit in the central state of Puebla, Mexico.
The collection of stone knives is from the little known Cantona culture, which blossomed just after that of the mysterious city-state of Teotihuacán. Cantona was preceded by more than 1000 years by which they practiced human sacrifices most famous in the region, the Aztecs.
The archaeologists who found the knives gave them to researcher Luisa Mainou from the restoration laboratories of the anthropology institute two years ago. With the help of specialists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, they were studying them thanks to the electron scanning microscope and found that they contained red blood cells, collagen, tendon, and muscle fiber fragments.
While historical accounts of the time of the aztecs, as well as drawings and paintings from previous cultures, have suggested that the priests used knives and other instruments so as not to put their lives at risk during bloodshed rituals, the presence of remains of muscle and tendon indicate that the cuts were deep and intended to cut off body parts of the victims. "These findings confirm that the knives were used for sacrifices.”Says Mainou.
Susan Gillespie, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida who was not involved in the research project, said it was the first time let her know that such remains had been found in obsidian knives. “It is a convincing demonstration that these knives were used to cut human flesh.Gillespie says in an email.
He says other studies have found traces of organic debris as well as food in ancient artifacts, so "with the right conditions these remains can be preserved for long periods”. Gillespie says that human sacrifice practices described by the Spanish conquerors o depicted in the above paintings include the removal of the heart, the decapitation, the dismemberment, disembowelment and skinning of the victims.
Interestingly, the find announced on Wednesday has already begun to shed some light about the murky sacrificial practices of pre-Hispanic cultures, who believed that human blood was a kind of vital liquid and necessary for keep the balance of the cosmos.
For example, some tested knives contain more traces of red blood cells, while others more skin, and others much more muscle and collagen, "which suggests that these tools were used for different purposes according to their shape”Says Mainou.
Gillespie says the find also suggests the intriguing possibility that the sacrificial knives were deposited through a ritual, without washing, in a special place after having been used.
It has long been suspected that the Spanish conquerors may have exaggerated the stories of massive human sacrifice in pre-Hispanic cultures to make their Indian subjects appear more brutal and less worthy of compassion.
“Archaeological confirmation of human sacrifices is important to support or disprove post-conquest historical accounts and pre-conquest sacrificial imagesGillespie writes.
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