Modern Cuicatec Use of Prehistoric Sacrificial Knives


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American Antiquity

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Three Mixtec human sacrificial knives of the late Postclassic period were found in 1957 at the Cuicatec village of San Andres Papalo in northern Oaxaca, Mexico. They were being used to sacrifice chickens and turkeys as offerings in curing ceremonies at a ruined prehistoric site on top of the mountain which rises above the village. Offerings of food and drink are made to the spirit of thunder who lives on the mountain top and who has power to control longevity and cure the sick. The three knives and a conch trumpet were stored in a ceremonial cave near the village. One wooden handle is plain; the others are carved to represent a human hand and the head of a serpent. The handles lack the elaborate mosaic decoration which distinguishes the few prehistoric sacrificial knives in museum collections. These three knives constitute material evidence for the survival of a prehistoric ritual system which involved the making of blood sacrifice to rain gods on mountain tops. The shift from human to animal sacrificial victims is probably the major change in the prehistoric pattern.

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