Re: Anthropophagy

Gerold Firl (
5 Jan 1995 12:44:43 -0800

In article <3e9m0n$> writes:

> Those interested in Aztec nutrition may want to read Ortiz de
>Montellano's book on Aztec Medicine, Health, and Nutrition (Rutgers Univ
>Press, 1990). Briefly, Ortiz de Montellano dismisses the notion that
>ritual cannibalism was undertaken as a protein supplement on the grounds that
>it was insufficent in quantity and quality when compared to the diets available
>to urban residents of Tenochtitlan. He notes that annual tributes of corn,
>beans, chia and amaranth brought to the city in large quantities provided
>sufficent calories, nutrients and protien which exceeded WHO nutritional
>standards and would have been available to the resident population of between
>40-150,000 inhabitants.

As I stated earlier, cannibalism may not have been *necessary*, from a
nutritional standpoint, but in no way does that preclude it from being a
part of the aztec lifestyle. Unfortunately my copy of _plagues and peoples_
is loaned-out right now, so I can't check it for the dimly remembered
reference to cannibalism. As I recall, McNeil states that after the bodies
were rolled down the pyramid, they were carted away and butchered. De
Montellano, judging from the synopsis quoted above, appears to dismiss
anthropophagy on the basis of a lack of nutritional necessity; far more
must be considered however. The aztecs may have eaten people not because
they *had* to, but because they *wanted* to. The aztec empire was built on
conquest. The aztec religion was built on human sacrifice. The aztec empire
fed on surrounding tribes; I don't find it unlikely that aztecs fed on
neighboring tribesman.

I seem to recall very high figures for the number of ritual sacrifices on
the pyramid of the sun; 100 per day? 500 per day? Are these peak numbers,
or averages? How many meals would be provided by a single prisoner of war??
I would guess that a 150 lb man, if butchered like an animal, would
probably provide about 40 lb of edible meat; if a typical serving is about
1/2 lb of flesh, then about 80 people could dine on one person. If 100
people were sacrificed per day, then 8000 people, out of a total population
of 40 - 150,000, could eat human. That is a significant.

If the sacrificial victims weren't eaten, what was done with their bodies?
Were they buried? Burned? Carted out of the city, over the causeways, or
dumped into the lake? Were they composted first?

But do we have to speculate? Are records of aztec cannibalism reliable, or
are they dismissed as spanish propaganda? I can certainly see how the
spaniards might have exagerated the "bad" points of the aztecs, but on the
other hand, I can also see how the aztecs might have combined the function
of cathedral and abattoir in a single structure.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf