Re: human sacrifice

Kristoffer Lindqvist (
24 Sep 1996 10:31:59 GMT

In article <51u76t$>,

>Remember a couple of things. First, unlike Old World food crops, maize
>and beans (the dominant Mexican crops) provide a decent amount of
>complete protein.

Actually neither provides COMPLETE protein by itself (maize is
deficient in the amino acids lysine and tryptophan while beans lack
methionine) but when eaten together a complete protein is formed (i.e.
they are complementary proteins to use a nutritional term).

>Off on a tangent...the people who reconstruct these functionalist
>arguements (a la Marvin Harris) would argue that "making sense" isn't
>relevant. The Aztecs didn't say "Gee if we sacrificed people, we could
>eat them and solve our protein shortage." Instead, they might
>say that they make themselves one with the sacrifice by consuming
>it. However, a cultural trait, like sacrificing people and eating them
>could be reinforced *because* it solved a problem: a protein shortage.
>(To use Harris' distinctions: The protein shortage would be an
>etic explanation; Aztecs would have expressed an emic explanation.)

I never ment to imply that protein shortage could be THE
allmighty reason behind the sacrifices, I merely wanted to point out the
view. But this doesn€t rule out the possibility that the sacrifices
indeed helped when crops were scarce without being the source of the
As most of you probably have figured out I€m no Ph.D., just
a novice anthropology student. I therefore am of the opinion that I know
too little to come out and say that I€m convinced that the
protein-theory is right. But I found the theory quite interesting !
Still, I would like to throw out a few more personal ideas in favor for
the functionalistic view, and I hope that if anyone out there has
anything intelligent to say for or against the following arguments would
1) The sacrifices might have served as population regulators;
since the sacrifices were a culturally accepted way of killing people
it could have been a convinient way of disposing unwanted people (like
people useless for the society (why feed them ?) and people perceived as
dangerous). I understand that the Aztecs also sacrificed prisoners, this
way they didn€t require guarding or food. If this would be the case the
sacrifices might have played quite a significant role in preserving
2) The sacrifices could theoretically aid the political
stability. Firstly by feeding the ruling elites when crops were scarce
and secondly by, as Keesing points out, strenghtening the warfare moral
(success in war was a way to rise to noble status, thus escaping the
possibility of being served for lunch !).


Kristoffer Lindqvist