Human Remains


Human remains played a part in numerous ritual activities including burial, ancestor veneration, caching, bone retrieval from tombs, human sacrifice, war trophy taking, and others. It is also possible that a single deposit can be the result of several of these activities. For example, after the interment of an important individual, their burial might be reopened, a bone removed, and this bone might subsequently be the object of ancestor worship (Deal 1987: 175; McAnany 1995: 60-63). Alternatively, captives may be sacrificed and dismembered and some of their remains may be taken as war trophies (Landa 1941: 120), others deposited in caves (Tozzer 1941: 119) or otherwise cached. Human remains were significant in ritual practices for a variety of reasons. The sacrifice and dismemberment of humans provided blood nourishment for deities and reenacted events that formed the universe at creation (Freidel et al. 1993: 204 and 281). Heads with articulated vertebrae (Thompson 1970: 178-179) and remains lacking skulls are often used as dedication caches. Remains can also be used for healing (Love 1986: 218).

Human Teeth and Mandibles

Human teeth and mandibles seem to have had a special significance at Zacpetén. Mandibles, often with articulated vertebrae, are common offerings. At Teotihuacan, buried soldiers who appear to have been sacrificed wore mandibles and false mandibles made of shell. These may have been trophies given to successful warriors (Sugiyama 1989: 98), a point supported in Colonial Maya literature (Landa 1941: 123). Tlalok, the Central Mexican rain deity was often depicted as a “jawless head” (Schele and Mathews 1998: 416) and some mandible removal may be associated with him. Mandibles and the tongue were considered to house the power of speech and the soul of the individual and their removal the may have caused the destruction or appropriation of that power (Nash 1967: 457-461; Prufer and Dunham 1997: 43). Teeth with evidence of cutting at the roots and false teeth made of shell were found in an artificial tunnel excavated by the author at Ixlú. False teeth were also found at Zacpetén. Teeth and teeth substitutes seem to have been presented as offerings.