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The European Invention of Aztec Human Sacrifice

European perspectives and Christian prejudices have profoundly influenced the perceptions and interpretations of the ancient cultures of Mexico and Central America since the beginning of the Spanish conquest, nearly 500 years ago. Indigenous spirituality, for example, was – and sometimes still is – described in terms of idolatry and witchcraft. Particularly the sanguinary image of human sacrifice by heart extraction, followed by cannibalism, is omnipresent in the historical chronicles about the Aztec civilization and still dominant in contemporary scholarship. Sensationalist representations, propagated by popular scientific works, as well as by novels and films, have impacted the public at large until the present day. Actually, clear archaeological and historical evidence for a religious custom of making human sacrifices is conspicuously lacking. A critical analysis of the early colonial texts provokes serious doubts about their veracity. Alternative interpretations for supposed references to human sacrifice in pre-colonial visual art and archaeological data should be explored seriously. It is time for a re-examination of those engrained stereotypes, not only to gain a better understanding of the indigenous cultural heritage, but also to assess how western ideas about other peoples in general are still under the spell of colonial propaganda.

When: Wednesday February 28, 5 – 6 pm
Where: Piano Lounge, Green College
Speaker: Maarten E.R.G.N. Jansen and Gabina Aurora Pérez Jiménez, Heritage of Indigenous Peoples, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University