Mayan Bloodletting at Chichen Itza: Any Worse than Ours?

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Society at Chichen Itza in Yucatan, Mexico is too often remembered for the human sacrifices and not for its impressive engineering. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Society at Chichen Itza in Yucatan, Mexico is too often remembered for the human sacrifices and not for its impressive engineering. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

On our way from Cancun to the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza, our tour guide takes care to note that the Maya should not be seen as savages. That he feels obligated to say that makes me think that other tourists must have referred to them as such, most likely because of their tradition of making human sacrifices. People capable of constructing such grand structures—without the aid of electricity, motors, computer simulations, forklifts, or trucks—seem unlikely ‘savages’ to me.

Chichen Itza skull

An image in the ball court at Chichen Itza. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

The Mayan ability to do math—to calculate necessary angles and place the structure known as El Castillo so that the image of their snake god would appear within shadows along its steps on equinoxes—still perplexes. Perhaps who exactly the boorish, rude, ‘uncivil’ ones are should be reconsidered in history. As our guide noted, our present-day culture makes far more vicious sacrifices by sending certain people off to war. The Maya were offering themselves so that their crops would grow. Whose purpose, exactly, was savage?

© Lori Tripoli

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