aeRoman Violent Rituals 
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MenuHomeAviationHumansOriginsScienceWeb LinksSite MapContact Remains of ceramics, figurines, burned objects and other seemingly innocuous artifacts found throughout Central America have been identified as evidence for violent destruction rituals enacted against buildings and their inhabitants, according to a new book.

Entitled "The Archaeology of Settlement Abandonment in Middle America," the book describes evidence supporting fierce termination rituals enacted by the Maya and other early Central American civilizations. Previously, researchers believed the remains were just random debris.

"(Archaeologists) thought that lower-class squatters left garbage in those once-magnificent (Mayan) buildings after kings and nobles left," said Takeshi Inomata, director of the Aguateca Archaeological Project in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Arizona, and co-editor of the new book. "Now new evidence suggests that many of these deposits resulted from termination rituals as drastic outcomes of violent conflicts."

A typical termination ritual involved the destruction and burning of buildings. Inomata said in some cases, invaders dug holes into floors so that walls and roofs could be pulled down into them.

"At the same time they scattered a large amount of smashed ceramic vessels, ground stones, and stone tools, as well as a smaller amount of jade and shell ornaments," Inomata told Discovery News. "Some scholars suspect that the ritual involved feasting in and around the buildings. Afterwards, they may have smashed vessels they used in feasting and destroyed the building."

The destruction of buildings, and temples in particular, represented the spiritual defeat of the enemy, in addition to the victory in bloody physical battle. The Maya appear to have thought buildings and certain objects were animated and charged with supernatural powers, which required the releasing of their spirits before the structures were torn down.

Termination rituals were conducted throughout Mesoamerica, Inomata said, including at the metropolis of Teotihuacan in central Mexico, at the ancient Mayan sites of Aguateca in Guatemala, Tikal in Belize and Yaxuna in Mexico, as well as in the American Southwest, where Navajos would ritually destroy and abandon houses after the death of a family member.

David Freidel, professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University, and one of the first archaeologists to identify evidence for termination rituals, agrees with Inomata's findings.

Freidel said, "Ritual deposits can vary, but signature items include grinding stones in some abundance, water jars, prismatic blade bloodletters, fragments of chipped stone knives and projectiles and, surprisingly, precious items like greenstone carvings of earspools, lip plugs, often broken up."

Aside from violence against humans with the knives and bloodletters, Freidel said at a Teotihuacan pyramid, sculptures were ritually "wounded" by cutting. The fragments were then painted red and scattered around the building as a warning for others not to rebuild.

Freidel said the recognition of termination ritual deposits is making researchers much more cautious about clearing "debris" away from archaeological sites.

September 25, 2003

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