Volume 3, Issue 1, 2015
J. Marla Toyne
The Body Sacrificed
A Bioarchaeological Analysis of Ritual Violence in Ancient Túcume, Peru
Human lives and bodies become transformed into sacred offerings during sacrificial rites. We can recognize these transformative actions in the archaeological record based on the location of human burials – often in association with sacred spaces – and the evidence of peri-mortem manipulation of the bodies. This paper will describe and discuss the different ways in which human bodies have been manipulated in ancient Andean rites of human sacrifice as specific death rituals, outside of traditional or normative mortuary practices. I introduce the concept of the “body sacrificed” as a means through which to identify particular ritual significance in the treatment of these special sacred offerings. I use an example of human sacrifice from Túcume on the Northern Coast of Peru, as well as comparison with other documented sacrifice traditions across the Andean region. Using a bioarchaeological approach can help elucidate sacrifice rituals and practices with the focus on identifying and interpreting the physical manipulation of the body via evidence left on the skeleton. Furthermore, with comparative ethnographic data, we can identify the symbolic meaning in human burial arrangements and the manipulation of the bodies. I argue that the treatment of the body reflects specific symbolic gestures as part of the ritual process and that the death of the individual is only the part of a more complex process. Thus, we can elucidate possible meanings behind these transformative sacrificial rites in pre-Hispanic times.