Saturday, April 14, 2007

It's A Tough Job But Somebody's Gotta Hew It

Human Sacrifice, Power, and Ritual in Moche Society and Visual Culture

[Note: Roy beat me to this topic by a few mere seconds.]

My fellow bloggers are such good friends. They didn't even blink when I invited them to go to a lecture on human sacrifice with me. It was fascinating. The speaker, Steve Bourget, worked for several years on an archeological expedition in Peru involving the Moche people who practiced human sacrifice from 200 to 700 A.D.

Human sacrifice was used to reinforce the political power of rulers by linking them with gods and the priest caste who led the sacrificial ceremony. The victims were prisoners-of-war, sometimes hundreds at a time, who were led nude to the ceremonial site. They were killed by blunt head trauma using a club-like tool or by throat laceration. Many murals and other forms of Moche artwork depicted the killing as being done by humans dressed like animals (foxes or feline characters---like Tony the Psycho kitty?) who would collect the blood in a cup and pass it to the ruler god-figures. The corpses of the victims were defleshed and the skeletons were laid out symmetrically in patterns that seemed to hold some unknown meaning for the culture. Bourget theorized that the sacrifices were used to reset the natural order of the Moche world, particularly during times of heavy El Nino storm seasons when mud would flood the temples and the seas would team with creatures not usually seen in the region.

And then there was the penis issue. (C'mon, it's a psychiatry blog. You're going to see the word 'penis' eventually.) All of the sacrificial victims were men who were depicted on ceramic ceremonial vessels and on murals as being led to the slaughter with erect penises. Guys, correct me if I'm wrong but I would expect imminent death to be a bit of a challenge to the performance issue. I'm guessing the pottery artists were taking a bit of license here. Anyway, after the sacrifice the pottery vessels with the victims' depictions were broken and the fragments scattered about the burial site. The only parts of the vessel left intact were the little pottery penises. Being good academicians, these were counted and reported as the MNP (minimum number of penises) for each archeological site. Roy seemed particularly fascinated by this. Dinah and I were too busy chortling.

Women were nowhere to be seen anywhere in the sacrificial scenes or ceremonies. Bourget explained the female role was largely featured in the fertility iconography, which made sense. We didn't stay through the whole question-and-answer session to learn if this involved any little ceramic breasts.

So that's how we spent the afternoon. I'm grateful to my friends for sacrificing their time to be with me. Especially Roy. After today I think he may not mind being under the floorboards with all of his ceramics intact.