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Understanding ancient human sacrifice in Mexico

Figure from the research showing the location of Non-Grid 4 site on the northern end of the now-extinct lake, once located in central Mexico. Reprinted with permission from Pacheco-Forés et al., Journal of Anthropological Archaeology,, (2021). The article is published open access via a CC-BY- NC- ND license.

January 19, 2021

Who were the people being sacrificed in Mexico more than a thousand years ago? And why were they chosen for ritual violence?

Sofía Pacheco-Forés, a onetime graduate student with Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change, wanted answers to these questions, so she turned to archaeological chemistry. The findings were recently published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.

“We found that most sacrificial victims were migrants (70%): They were born outside central Mexico, but moved to central Mexico at some point during their lives prior to being sacrificed,” Pacheco-Forés said. “In ancient Mexico, where you were from was a very important marker of social belonging. The fact that a majority of victims were migrants suggests that these people may have been targeted for violence because they were migrants and thus social outsiders.”

The research was conducted at a site called Non-Grid 4, which is near present-day Mexico City. Remains from more than 180 sacrificed individuals have been discovered at the site. Non-Grid 4 was once surrounded by water from a now-extinct lake, and researchers suggest the sacrifices made there were to deities of rain, water and earth.

Pacheco-Forés analyzed the chemical composition of bones and teeth to determine where the individuals spent most of their lives.

Pacheco-Forés is continuing her research about the social identities of past peoples as an assistant professor of anthropology at another prestigious university. She graduated from ASU with a PhD in anthropology in 2020.

The paper, “Migration, violence, and the “other”: A biogeochemical approach to identity-based violence in the Epiclassic Basin of Mexico” published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. Co-authors of the paper include School of Human Evolution and Social Change Associate Professor Christopher Morehart, Regents Professor Jane Buikstra, Professor Kelly Knudson, and School of Earth and Space Exploration Professor Gwyneth Gordon.

Article source: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology

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