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Central American stone monuments and smaller statues depicting tied persons, fi gures either holding severed heads in hands or suspended on a rope as a trophy, grindstones (metates), or ritual tables, plates with anthropomorphic heads on the edges and separate similar heads correlate with ceremonial practice of various Central American tribes. This practice implied human sacrifice, ritual and common cannibalism. Iconographic data of the late 1st – the fi rst half of the 2nd millennium AD correspond to archeological and historical sources as differentiated human sacrifi ce was described by many chronists, relevant observations being documented ethnographically. Paying specifi c attention to the head of a victim is distinctive of Central American customs: heads were stored in special places in every settlement. The common practice of mummifi cation trophy heads and conditions of their storage explain the small size (not reminding of a skull at all) of the heads in the hands of victorious fi gures. Besides, heads of worshiped members of the communities were mummifi ed in a similar manner. For the peoples of Central America death on a sacrifi cial altar was similar to death in a battle and was considered to be a decent way of ending one’s life as souls of fallen warriors were destined to ascend to heaven where the gods resided. Customs of ritual sacrifi ce, cannibalism and the cult of trophy heads of the Central American peoples may be linked to overcoming the life–death opposition.


Central America, stone sculpture, ritual sacrifice

Ekaterina G. Devlet

Institute of Archaeology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia

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