While the Pre-Columbian Aztecs are infamously known for their extensive human sacrifice rituals including heart removal, it was the earlier Mayans that perhaps, it originated from in Mesoamerica, dating as far back as at least, 250 AD. The predominant tool used in access to the heart and its removal was a bifacial flaked stone leaf-shaped dagger blade such as this. The blade resembles a leaf with a tapered base end that is sometimes unfinished (as in this specimen) since this end was set into a handle.
This is a Mayan bifacially flaked flint leaf blade of EXCEPTIONALLY fine workmanship. It shows a very finely knapped surface from masterfully-skilled pressure flaking done over the entire surface. The symmetry is perfect with an original sharp tip as made. The long tapered cutting sides are also perfectly made and completely intact with no damage. The base was left unfinished because this would have been inserted into a handle, either made of bone, stone or wood, and in many cases, elaborately decorated. The flaking throughout the entirety of both sides is so exceptionally fine that it left a wonderful dimpled surface. This surface has aged into a beautiful mottled pattern when it patinated over the years. Dagger blades like these of the finest craftsmanship, were only made the by most skilled artisans as their use was considered for a higher purpose in service to the gods.
As irrefutable evidence of authenticity and a completely unaltered, original state, the entire surface features original sediment and minerals impacted deep in all the flake scars and micro-crevices of the stone. The original collection label is intact but can be easily removed with acetone or nail polish remover, without damaging the underlying stone.
During the pre-Columbian era, human sacrifice in Maya culture was the ritual offering of nourishment to the gods and goddesses. Blood was viewed as a potent source of nourishment for the Maya deities, and the sacrifice of a living creature was a powerful blood offering. By extension, the sacrifice of human life was the ultimate offering of blood to the gods, and the most important Maya rituals culminated in human sacrifice. Generally, only high-status prisoners of war were sacrificed, and lower status captives were used for labor.
Human sacrifice among the Maya is evident from at least the Classic period (c. AD 250–900) right through to the final stages of the Spanish conquest in the 17th century. Human sacrifice is depicted in Classic Maya art, is mentioned in Classic period glyph texts, and has been verified archaeologically by analysis of skeletal remains from the Classic and Postclassic (c. AD 900–1524) periods. Additionally, human sacrifice is described in a number of late Maya and early Spanish colonial texts, including the Madrid Codex, the Kʼicheʼ epic Popol Vuh, the Kʼicheʼ Título de Totonicapán, the Kʼicheʼ language Rabinal Achi, the Annals of the Kaqchikels, the Yucatec Songs of Dzitbalche and Diego de Landa's Relación de las cosas de Yucatán.
Heart extractions and sacrifice have been viewed as a “supreme religious expression among the ancient Maya". The removal of the still-beating heart was considered a great offering and meal for the gods. A bifacial leaf-shaped flaked blade made of obsidian, chert or flint was the tool of choice to pierce the chest and extract the heart. The ritual began with a dispersal of blood taken from either the mouth, nose, ears, fingers, or penis, typically with a sharp tool made from animal bone or an obsidian blade. They then positioned the victim on a stone or wooden altar. Next, access to the heart would be achieved by vertical axial sternotomy, left transverse thoracotomy, transverse bilateral sternothoracotamy, or transdiaphragmatic access. Most probably access would be accessible from below the diaphragm, as this allowed for easy access and not much blockage from bones. Following access, the heart was exposed to retrieval. If accessed through the sternum, the ribs would be pulled apart, or tissue would be cut through if accessed through the diaphragm. The actual removal of the heart would then be continued by cutting any attaching ligaments with a bifacial tool.
During the Postclassic period (c. 900–1524), the most common form of human sacrifice was heart extraction, influenced by the method used by the Aztecs in the Valley of Mexico. This usually took place in the courtyard of a temple, or upon the summit of the pyramid-temple. The sacrifice victim was stripped and painted blue, which was the color representing sacrifice, and was made to wear a peaked headdress.
Of all the ancient cultures of the Americas, no civilization has held more intrigue and secrets for so long as that of the Mayans. In 1960, their language code of glyphs was finally deciphered and forever changed our view of what we initially thought was a peaceful and harmonious society. On the contrary, the Mayan Culture of the latter years was bathed in the blood of vicious warfare and astounding levels of human sacrifice. Their technology was so advanced it is no wonder many believe they received intelligence from extra-terrestrials. Despite our recent discoveries of Mayan mathematics, astronomy and calendar technology, the Mayans still leave us with many mysteries. Their love of war caused them to manufacture spectacular weapons with inherent beauty and artistry. Their ceramics depict a fascinating culture of status, sacrifice and deep religious devotion to a number of strange gods.
Archaeologists divide the Mayan Culture into different periods - LATE PRE-CLASSIC / PROTO-CLASSIC (300 BC - 300 AD), EARLY CLASSIC (300 AD - 600 AD), LATE CLASSIC (600 AD - 830 AD), TERMINAL CLASSIC (830 AD - 950 AD). The earliest days of the Maya date back to 2000 BC when small farming villages first appeared in the highlands and Pacific coastline of Guatemala. Crops such as corn, squash and beans made up the staple of their diet and are believed to have been brought from previous migration through Mexico. The Maya pottery styles were unique to the early Maya settlements, though. By 1000 BC, villages sprang up in the lowland regions. The Maya lived in the same locations for centuries and in a continuous state of architectural improvement and expansion leading up to the magnificent 'super-cities' we associate with them today. By 300 AD. full-scale cities were being built with stone featuring massive plazas, temples and pyramids reaching 20 stories high.
It is no wonder that some believe that extra-terrestrial beings brought their knowledge to the Maya. By 300 AD, the first inscriptions suddenly appeared in Maya sites. These early inscriptions were so beautiful it was as if the gods had delivered it to the Mayan themselves! Forward to 600 years later and the inscriptions cease. The first comprehensive writing system in Pre-Columbian America was invented by the Maya. Among the mysteries of the Maya are their amazing understanding of astronomy along with the development of an accurate calendar and mathematical system. Their number system was based on units of 20 and included a concept of 'zero'.
The skills of the Mayan craft are exemplified in their stone and wood carvings, flaked stone objects, pottery and personal adornment. Much of their art centers around their devotion to a religion that is both fascinating and gory. Blood-letting rituals were the norm and many acts of war were motivated by the capture of vast numbers of their enemies for ritual human sacrifice that would run for days on end, forming lakes of blood and fat at the bases of their stone pyramids that defy architectural explanation.
Our understanding of the fascinating MAYAN CULTURE was completely wrong and misinterpreted until as recent as the 1960, when major achievements were made in the deciphering of their glyph language. Elaborately designed ceremonial cities lacking any obvious defenses initially led us to believe that the Mayans were a peaceful theocracy living in ideal harmony with their environment and each other. We could not have been further from the truth. Lowland city-states lived in constant warfare with one another and the thirst of their gods for human blood and sacrifice seemed impossible to satiate.
Perhaps a lesson for us today, recent scientific analysis of the demise of the highly advanced Mayan civilization now answers the biggest mystery of all - "What ever happened to the ancient Mayans?". Long-term high population density (500 people per square mile - the highest in the world at the time) of unbelievable proportions put a strain on their agricultural system that was impossible to sustain. The effects of nutritional deficiencies are evident in bone and tooth analysis on graves dating to the Late Classic Period. It is most probable that starvation put unbearable sociopolitical stress on the society to either kill each other for food or die of hunger necessitated by the technological advancement of warfare and its escalation.
- Fiedel, Stuart J., Prehistory of the Americas, 1992 - Freeman and Company, Early Man in America, 1973
- Hirth Kenneth, Obsidian Craft Production in Ancient Central Mexico, 2006
- Muser, Curt, Facts and Artifacts of Ancient Middle America, 1978
- Phillips, Charles, The Complete Illustrated History of the Aztec and Maya, 2008