A Sacrificial Sign in Maya Writing

Dmitri Beliaev and Stephen Houston

The human hand is, aside from the face, the most expressive of body parts. Held a certain way, fingers placed just so, it can reassure, offend, accentuate, direct. Among the Maya, as David Stuart observes, an extended pinky stands for elegance and skill. Dancers showed it, scribes too, perhaps to keep ink from smudging or to balance a brush over a page (https://mayadecipherment.com/2018/06/20/the-ugly-writing/).

The hand also inflects terms for making and doing. In English, there are words like “command,” “mandate,” “manipulate,” all taken in part from Latin manus, “hand”; a person can be “handy” (dexterous); and, in Germanic languages, a sense of emotion merges with a tactile sense of “feeling” (e.g., Alpenfels 1955:15–16). The time depth of these notions goes far back, perhaps to a distant past. By various theories, the hand became associated, as humanity evolved, with effective tool use, meaningful gestures, hierarchy, and “goal-directed action” (Cochet and Byrne 2013:531).

The ancient Maya certainly associated the human hand with action and broader sets of meaning (e.g., Houston et al 2006:30; Palka 2002; Stuart 2002). Much gets mapped on this extremity. In Ch’olti’, for example, a Mayan language of the Colonial period, the pinky is the “child of the hand” (v-y-al ca cab [yal ka k’ab]). Ch’orti’, its descendant language, identifies the thumb as the “mother” of the other fingers (u tu’ uk’ab, Houston et al. 2006: 30). But, apart from glyphs like K’AB, “hand” (or syllabic k’a-ba)—and a few characters derived from hand measurements (e.g., a valuable study by Boot 2003:6; see also M. Coe 2003:199–200; Zender 2004)—many such signs show objects being held, scattered, indexed or supported in some way. To tabulate a few: []AL, CHOK, CH’AM, K’AL, TZAK, TZUTZ, along with rarities of more debatable reading. There is, for instance, a hand grasping a stone that may record one of several sounds, JATZ’ (Lopes 2003; Zender 2004:5–8) or perhaps tz’o or TZ’ON (Stuart 1997, see independent work on tz’o by Albert Davletshin [2001]). [1]

To throw a stone is the most basic aggression. Such projectiles are to be found in Maya sites, and doctoral research by Omar Alcover Firpi suggests many more weapons like them exist, often tossed by archaeologists unaware of their function (Alcover 2020). In fact, one complex mythic narrative—hinting at some Maya “rape of the Sabines,” with children and bleeding women, as well as suggestions of forced movement—depicts a male flinging a white stone from a hilly redoubt (Figure 1a). Another glyph, occurring most often in names, represents a hand holding an atlatl. As a glyph, that weapon could be oriented horizontally and vertically in the hand, and is mainly limited to the Early Classic period (Figure 1b, c, d, e). It appears in the name of the Teotihuacan overlord “Spearthrower Owl,” who ruled from AD 374 to AD 439 (Figure 1b–e, Stuart 2000:481–489). Its reading is thought by some to be the same as the hand grasping the stone, JATZ’, “hit, strike” (Davletshin 2001; Stuart 1997). On Tikal Stela 31, there are subtle links to the images just below the glyphs. A figure on the left side of the monument—the ruler on front was his clear focus—orients the atlatl towards the center; on the right side, another figure reverses the atlatl so as to maintain that consistent orientation to the ruler (Jones and Satterthwaite 1982:figs. 51a, b). Both of these companions, likely an earlier king, Yax Nuun Ahiin, in posthumous depiction, wear different headdresses. Perhaps this advertised distinct roles for the same person.

Figure 1. Hands that grasp and hurl: (a) stone-throwing event in mythic time (excerpt, K5451, courtesy of Justin Kerr); and hand grasping atlatl, jatz’oom (b, c, Tikal Marcador:C3, E9; d, Tikal Stela 31:L4; e, Tikal Stela 31:N3, photographs from the Proyecto Atlas Epigráfico de Petén, courtesy of the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología de Guatemala, drawings, Jones and Satterthwaite 1981:figs. 51a, 52a).

The difficulty of analyzing this category of signs lies in their iconic composition. Since they represent a hand holding an object, it is hard to distinguish the basic form of the sign from superimposed glyphs that augment its reading. For example, on Altar 1 from Itzimte, Guatemala, a hand grasps a personified flint that potentially serves as a separate logogram. A royal name at Late Classic Itzimte, Jun Tzak Took’, confirms that the glyphs record two word signs, TZAK and TOOK’ (Beliaev and Vepretskii 2018:fig. 3). A similar pattern occurs on Stela 2 from Río Azul, Guatemala, where a TZAK hand grasps the head of God K (K’AWIIL) in the royal name Tzahkaj K’awiil (Beliaev 2017; Beliaev et al. 2017:118–120). Understanding these examples requires attention to context and variant spellings. Unitary signs, if complex in shape, need to be separated from those with two glyphs.

An undeniable logograph is a hand grasping a hooked obsidian blade, the standard shape for this dark, imported, sacrificial material (Figure 2, see also Houston 2014:23–27, fig. 15).

Figure 2. Obsidian-in-Hand glyph as part of name, Altar de Sacrificios Stela 12:C1–C3 (, Aug. 25, AD 524 [Julian], J. Graham 1972:fig. 35). The photograph appears to depict the blade with a faint sign for “dark.”

When its exotic nature is emphasized, often with Teotihuacan-related imagery, a gob of blood drips off the end. If took’, “flint,” inflicts the injuries of war, often in connection with the Sun God, obsidian, taaj, cuts flesh in acts of sacrifice; in fact, deity impersonators may do some of this work (see also Saturno et al. 2017:4, 8; see also Taube 1991). One implement, flint, seems of the day, the other, to judge from the ‘ak’ab markings on obsidian, of the dark and night (its natural black sheen fits too). In the example above, from Altar de Sacrificios, it is probably no coincidence that the being linked to the “Obsidian-in-Hand” sign is a deity whose mouth fills with blood.

Yet there can be some overlap of function in these materials. A vase from the early 8th century AD shows an otherwise unique image of a figure holding up an obsidian blade. In front, a subordinate displays a split or tear in his bulging back (Figure 3). From that split emerges a serpent, along with a tandem effusion of growth. The person cut in this way seems remarkably unperturbed, for his arms cross in patient subordination. The text above records, in its first part: 13 Ak’bal 1 TE’? Zotz’ ju-ta-ja ‘Flint-Wound”-PAAT?-ti. The unusual verb may relate to Colonial Yukatek <hut.ah ub>, “to saw wood” (Acuña 1993:225) [2] and Colonial Tzeldal <ghut> “to make stripe marking,” “to mark with iron tool” (Ara 1986:298). Another term in Yukatek, hutul, “nacer los brutos animales” (‘to be born, the brutish animals’), correlates with the rip or tear, a common visual allusion to birth or emergence (Cuidad Real 2002:270). At the least, the flint and depiction of the human back gloss the scene. Textually, the serrated flint stands in for sacrificial obsidian.

Figure 3. Splitting or sawing of person’s back with obsidian blade or knife (Robicsek and Hales 1981:fig. 9).

Similar signs for “tearing” or wounding” occur with an obsidian blade or knife (David Stuart, personal communication, 2001). Often, this complex, multi-component sign fuses with another glyph (Figure 4). A warrior at Itzan, Guatemala—his count of captives (20) is impressive—refers to a captive’s name that joins the sign with BAHLAM, “jaguar” (Figure 4b, Beliaev et al. 2020:171, 173). A similar name, possibly of the same individual, occurs at Ixtutz, Guatemala: u-CHAN-na-“Wound-by-Obsidian”-BAHLAM-ma (Figure 4a). Elsewhere, the “Wound-by-Obsidian” may refer to an object. One is “raised up” in a text on a Spondylus shell from Piedras Negras Burial 13, the presumed tomb of Ruler 4 of that site, excavated by Dr. Héctor Escobedo in 1997 (Figure 4c). Or, at Dos Pilas, Guatemala, another is “received,” ch’am, as though something palpable were held in the hand (Figure 4d). Notably, the first bears the obsidian glyph, the second does not, yet the ‘a subfix suggests an equivalence between the variant forms.

Figure 4. “Wound-by-Obsidian” glyphs, obsidian blade and wound or damaged face highlighted in yellow: a) Ixtutz Panel 2, Block 4, S1–T1, text reversed because of clockwise reading order around the panel (photographs by the Atlas Epigráfico de Petén, Russian State University for the Humanities); b) Itzan Hieroglyphic Stairway 1, Block 4, B1–B2 (photograph by Ian Graham, rubbing by Merle Green Robertson); c) Piedras Negras Burial 13 (drawing by Stephen Houston); and d) Dos Pilas Hieroglyphic Stairway 3, Block III:D3 (drawing by Stephen Houston).

Possessed versions, with or without the obsidian, appear on a small altar from the kingdom of Yaxchilan (with ya prefix and an unclear subfix, Figure 5b, Grube and Luin 2014:42–43, fig. 6); Copan Stela J:E8, with subfixed la; and Tikal, Stela 10:G8, also with la (Figure 5c, Jones and Satterthwaite 1982:fig. 15). The earliest form of this sign dates to the 6th century AD. It is the example on Tikal Stela 10 (ca. AD 506). Close review of photos taken in 2013 by the Atlas Epigráfico de Petén of the Russian State University for the Humanities demonstrates that the wounded head bears an element marked by “darkness” on its forehead (Figure 5c). Presumably, this is an obsidian blade. A chronologically close (AD 537) example from Yaxchilan Lintel 37 (Figure 5a, I. Graham 1979:83) represents an obsidian blade adorned by feathers that pierces the wounded head (Fig. 5a). The original form of this sign depicted the direct action of cutting by an obsidian blade. Later, it developed along two parallel lines: (a) omitting the obsidian element and (b) placing the obsidian in front of the head.

Figure 5. Paleographic shifts and possessed forms of the “Wound-by-Obsidian” sign: (a) Yaxchilan Lintel 37:A4 (drawing by Ian Graham); (b) Tikal Stela 10:G8 (photographs by the Atlas Epigráfico de Petén, Russian State University for the Humanities, courtesy of Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología de Guatemala); and (c) Yaxchilan-area altar, position 7 (photographs by the Atlas Epigráfico de Petén, Russian State University for the Humanities, courtesy of Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología de Guatemala).

These clues point to a word that, depending on inflection, begins with a- and ends in -a’ or -al). It seems very probable, as David Stuart suggests to us, that the basic reading concerned a widespread word yah or ya’, “permanent wound,” and a related concept of “pain, soreness” (e.g., Barrera Vásquez et al. 1980:958–959; Kaufman 2003:1338; Wisdom 1950:764; Polian 2017:682, has yah, “lesión permanente, achaque [herida que nunca sanó por completo y sigue doliendo],” ‘permanent wound, achaque [injury that never heals completely and continues hurting]’; drawing on present-day Tzotzil Maya, Laughlin [1975:384] records yayih, “be wounded or cut, be broken up [fruit]”). [3] Perhaps homophones were at play too. The placement of the cut raises the disquieting possibility that the facial wound resulted from flaying. Skin masks appear in a number of Maya images (Houston et al. 2006:20, fig. 1.11), and, as David Stuart also suggests to us, with acute insight, there may be a depiction of a heaped, flayed skin in a scene of captive torture and brutalization (K6674; see also Houston 2008). [4] The hafted, circular “eccentric” above that folded, browned skin resembles excavated blades from Maya caches or burials, and also the Aleut, Inuit or Yupik ulu, ᐅᓗ, a curved implement for skinning and flaying animals (Frink et al. 2002). “Eccentric” lithics may not simply have been for display or insertion into tombs and caches. They sliced soft skin and flesh. The unlidded eyes in the “Wound-by-Obsidian” sign indicate the possible removal of their eyelids and surrounding skin.

A prince of Yaxchilan, Chooj, “Puma,” is also labeled by this conflation, but with BAAH, perhaps to mean “Head” or “First” person of “Wound-by-Obsidian,” Baah Ya’ (Figure 6; reading of “puma” from Marc Zender, personal communication, 2004). This accords with a possible ranking of people associated with “Wound-by-Obsidian,” a pattern recalling in turn BAAH with took’, “flint” or te’, “wood, staff” (Houston 2014:27–28, fig. 17).

Figure 6. Unprovenanced lintel, Yaxchilan-area, BAAH-“Wound-by-Obsidian [YA’?-‘a]” CHOOJ ch’o-ko PA’-CHAN-na-AJAW (photograph by Stephen Houston).

The natural advantages of obsidian, its ability to slice cleanly, drives home a connection between what might be described as its surgical use and its role in sacrifice. Another unprovenanced pot shows the Sun God in recumbent, newborn posture, his umbilicus—as understood at first glance—being cut by God L with a dark knife of obsidian (Figure 7). Unexpected inversions and alternations mark the scene: a male midwife, jauntily smoking his cheroot; a companion with dark face (rather like the taaj, “obsidian” personages shown with dark pigment at Xultun, Guatemala (Rossi 2017:93, fig. 4); and a “newborn,” the Sun God, shown, if not old, at least as robust and mature. A scene of birth is complicated, however, by the event—a change-of-state verb that is not yet deciphered—and, possibly, yo?-OHL-la K’INICH-AJAW, “the heart of the Sun God.” The contrived, liminal nature of the date, 13 Chuwen 19 Zip, is made clear by the numbers. It is the highest possible numeral for the trecena, and the most days of the month before it shifted to the next. The small, trilobate “flowers” on the “umbilicus” resemble clotted blood, the cord itself, perhaps, the intestine or a large artery (for a similar, almost vegetal extrusion from a heart sacrifice, see K9227). A nocturnal god saws away at a being who exemplifies the day. A birth looks also to be a painful death. In symbolic terms, the reverse may also have been true.

Figure 7. The “birth/sacrifice” of the Sun God (photographer unknown).

But how to read the “Obsidian-in-Hand” sign? A decisive piece of evidence comes from a vase in the Museo VICAL at the Casa Santo Domingo hotel in Antigua Guatemala (Figure 8a, d). The glyphs are somewhat slovenly or uneven, and a in a style far earlier than the two figures depicted on the pot in Teotihuacan gear (Beliaev et al. 2017). The person to the right is none other than Sihyaj K’ahk’, the Teotihuacan warrior mentioned before; that to the left is otherwise unattested, ku po-ma yo-OHL AHIIN, Kupoom Yohl Ahiin. A likely variant of his name occurs on one of the carved bones from Tikal Burial 116, but there with the “Obsidian-in-Hand” in place of the ku po-ma (Figure 8b). Another Late Classic vase records its owner as someone of precisely the same name (Figure 8c). On that vase, he is known as the “North Dog [tz’i’] Lord,” and the thought comes to mind that this is some reference to a coyote, a canine of higher, drier, northerly lands, such as those of Teotihuacan itself. This reference, as with the Tikal bone or the Museo VICAL pot, may be a Late Classic retrospection of an Early Classic personage, or it pertains to a later individual taking that name.

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Figure 8. Kupoom Yohl Ahiin, “Cutter [of] the Crocodile’s Heart”: a) Museo VICAL vase, B1–B4 (IDAEH registration, drawing by Philipp Galeev); b) Tikal Miscellaneous Text 336 (drawing by Sergei Vepretskii, cf. Moholy-Nagy 2008:fig. 195, h, which omits some of these features); c) unprovenanced “codex-style” vase (drawing by Stephen Houston; and d) the Museo VICAL vase (drawing by Philipp Galeev).

Current narratives about relations between the Maya and Teotihuacan correctly highlight a few important people, but there are other figures mentioned as well. One known as “Sihyaj ‘Dart’,” may, for example, not be Sihyaj K’ahk’ but, Houston believes, a distinct figure with his own, later arrival (cf. Hombre de Tikal:F5). A number of plates and pots indicate a larger field of dramatis personae at this critical time of interaction. OHL for “heart” is a logograph deciphered by Houston in 1989—the reading was signaled by a prefixed yo syllable and a postfixed la; the AHIIN, “crocodile,” finds confirmation in a spelling of ‘a-hi-*na on a vase at the Museo Popol Vuh in Guatemala City (K3058, David Stuart, personal communication, 2001).

Kup is key here. The root is attested in Ch’olti’, the language closest to most Classic texts: cupu, como palo u otro cosa equivale, “as in wood or other equivalent thing” (Robertson et al. 2010:306). Even closer is an entry in a dictionary of Colonial Tzotzil: kup, “afeitar a tijeras…cortar con sierra…matar sacrificando hombres,” ‘cut with scissors…cut with a saw…kill sacrificing men’ (Laughlin 1988, I:225). Or, in the same source, in fuller exposition: kupvanej ta moton ch’u, “human sacrifice,” with the connotation of sawing in a rite “endured” with “pain” (Laughlin 1988, I:225). There are other revealing details: “sacrificar y matar hombre comunmente dicen: xekupvan, jkup, i.e., corto o aserro. aquel acto de sacrificar asi. kupvanej ta smoton ch’u, porque xekupvan no es propiamente sino cortar como aserrando” (‘to sacrifice and kill people they usually say: <xekupvan, jkup>, i.e. cut or saw; that act of sacrificing like this [is] <kupvanej ta smoton ch’u>, because <xekupvan> is not properly [to cut] but to cut like sawing’) (Laughlin 1988, III:749). Edward Calnek, drawing on colonial Tzeltal, identifies a category of priest involved in human sacrifices: <ghcupauh> “sacrificador” (‘sacrifice’), and <ghcupvinic> “sacrificador” (‘sacrificer’) (Calnek 1988:1). The last term is of special interest because it is translated as “cortador de hombres” (‘cutter of men’), a specialized category of ritual specialist (Calnek 1988:49).

The form of a transitive root with an agentive suffix -oom is also found in the jatz’oom plausibly deciphered by colleagues (see above). A striking feature of the probable burial of Yax Nuun Ahiin at Tikal is its richness, including many features linked to Teotihuacan. But it also held a crocodile (Wright 2005:90, 91). The bones may not be preserved from that long-past excavation, but a reasonable inquiry is whether they present osteological evidence of heart extraction. Indeed, this may have been one of the roles of the figure on the vase at the Museo VICAL, Kupoom Yohl Ahiin, “Cutter [of] the Crocodile’s Heart.”

Heart extraction from animals is well-known in Mesoamerica, undertaken with felines, deer, turkeys, and other creatures (Tiesler and Olivier 2020:184; see also Chávez Balderas 2017). Done with deft motions of an obsidian blade, it would go quickly with a crocodile: necessarily so, unless the animal were drugged, made unconscious or tightly bound. Without such preparation, the beast would have been most uncooperative. Indeed, a Postclassic mural from Structure Q.95 at Mayapan, Yucatan, shows a bound crocodile floating in water, its lashed snout hissing out fragrant breath (Millbrath et al. 2010:7–8, fig. 7). This mural lay flat on the floor, with some stucco “lipping” on the sides. The conceit seems to have been of a mythic sea in correct, horizontal orientation. Those stepping on it were in the figurative act of wading. Or this was more than a visual conceit. The lipping hints at the presence of a shallow stuccoed basin, although, as Karl Taube points out to us, its location in a temple summit makes this less likely. What may be a jeweled spear penetrates its abdomen, close to the thorax. Alternatively—the painting is damaged and heavily restored—the wound may represent the results of heart extraction, the jewels an effusion of precious blood. [5] In Mesoamerica, crocodiles were often identified with the earth, an aged creator god, and reenactments of prior destructions of the world (Taube 2018 [1989]. For one ritual in early colonial Yucatan—the practice was doubtless pre-Conquest—a crocodile (lagarto) was painted and presumably sacrificed (de la Garza ed. 1983, 1:72; Taube 2018 [1989:110]).

Kupoom Yohl Ahiin pertains to animals. A final, telling piece of evidence comes from a vase in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (Figure 9). A disembodied deity, an incense bowl on its head, tugs away at the innards of a prone captive. This god with jaguar ear—close to that of a variant read TE’, but showing a world tree—is also mentioned further on, in a discontinuous text placed in various locations on a dark background. The date may be 7 Ben *6 Mak (there is repainting here), but the event for this horrific scene is ku-pa-ja, kuhpaj, “he is being cut, sawn, sacrificed.” This must rank as one of the most vivid evocations of heart extraction through or below the thorax.

Figure 9. Kuhpaj, ku-pa-ja, as glyph for heart sacrifice (K1377, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Landon T. Clay, 1988.1179)


[1] The tz’o reading is supported, as Stuart notes, by spellings such as ja-?tz’o-ma, “beater?” (K2058), tz’o-na-ja, “shoot, throw,” in a ballgame context (Yaxchilan HS 2, Step VII:Q1; El Peru HS 1, Blocks XIV-XIV, Ian Graham field drawing), tz’o-no/’o?-niA-AKAN-na, “Groaner [Who] Throws [Stones]” (K791), and tz’o-to-la EK’ HIX, “Twisted Star Jaguar,” a term for a jaguar way enveloped by a snake, its whole body festooned with star signs (K1230, K1652, K5632). Tz’on is attested in Yukatek, in connection with rifle shots but also blowguns, and in Chontal for “shoot,” a transitive verb (Barrera Vásquez et al. 1980: 889; Knowles 1984:475). An unpublished “codex-style” sherd records nu?-tz’o/TZ’ON XIB above an image of young, mythic blow gunner; he may also relate, as an ‘a-SIBIK?-TE’, to a kind of celt/mirror bedecked tree nearby. The asterisms are notable in a number of these images: the jaguar way and, in the scene at Yaxchilan, dwarves with stars and evident tails or flatulence—tropes for meteors? In Room 2 of the Bonampak murals a figure in its band of asterisms above a battle appears to fling or shoot stars with an atlatl (Miller and Brittenham 2013:fig. 196, and personal observation by Houston during videography of the original). Some years ago, Marc Zender pointed out to Houston clues to a reading of ‘A Chak Ju’te‘ for a title attested on a carved shell at Aguateca (‘a-CHAK-ka ju-‘u-TE’) and, in logographic form, on a small but exquisitely painted vase from Burial 196 at Tikal (AJ-CHAK-JU’T?-TE-‘e, Culbert 1993:fig. 84; Inomata 1997:fig. 14). This is close to a Ch’orti’ word for “blowgun,” probably of onomatopoeiac origin from sudden aspirations of air: huht te’, “blowgun” (Wisdom 1950: 472). The logographic version at Tikal could derive from Ch’orti’ hut, ‘face of person or animal, front side or surface; facial appearance, manner or expression, appearance” (Wisdom 1950: 474). Thus, the epithet at Aguateca, which pertains to a royal youth, reads, “He of the great (chak) blowgun.” The title may have been literal, a reference to an accomplished hunter if of small game. Or there was a more freighted allusion: a youthful identity blended with the “hero twins” who blowgun the Principal Bird Deity out of a primordial world tree (e.g., K1226).

[2] The gloss hutahul, “saw wood” (Barrera Vásquez et al. 1980:258), seems to be an erroneous transcription of <hut.ah ub>, which, in the Vienna Dictionary, spells an active stem *hutah and a passive stem *hutub in one line (see also Bolles 2001, http://www.famsi.org/reports/96072/h/hut_huztic.htm).

[3] If merely a variant, the flint with the wounded back may read Ya’ Paat.

[4] The scene appears below, in an image courtesy of Justin Kerr (K6674). For comparable, crescentic blades—some are full crescents, others partial, some perforated, others not—see W. Coe (1959:figs. 11, 16k), Pendergast (1, 1979:fig. 23a; 2, 1982:figs. 37a, 62d, 63d; 3, 1990:figs. 17e, i, 158h, 160, c, e), Willey (1972:fig. 169, 170, who calls them “Elaborate Perforated Forms”). Many have basal tangs or knapped outsets near the handle. Perhaps, as in the image here, they helped to fit a carved mount. One wonders, with disquiet, what might be in the pink vase with basketry lid. Other organs or body parts? For a depiction of an eccentric in use, see K8351 and https://mayadecipherment.com/2016/07/22/maya-stelae-and-multi-media/. To judge from Aztec carvings, such flaying involved heart sacrifice, as revealed by sutured, transverse cuts across the chest (https://www.artic.edu/artworks/12742/ritual-impersonator-of-the-deity-xipe-totec; Museum der Kulturen Basel, Sammlung Lukas Vischer). Yet whole-body flayings may been one of several practices. Smaller, buccal flayings appear on some figurines and at least one ceramic mask (Schmidt et al. 1998:#102, 114, 115). These could have resulted from the V-shaped incisions seen in the glyph. Less thorough flayings might have taken place in pressed conditions on the battlefield—compare with the scalps secured rapidly by Plains warriors and other groups, including Europeans (Grinnell 1910:303–306). More elaborate processing of bodies perhaps occurred with captives under fuller control.

[5] The rendering by Barbara Escamilla Ojeda shows the sacrificial crocodile (Milbrath et al. 2020:fig.7).

[6] Not just adults experienced the agony of heart extraction. There are infants or mannikins too (black and white photograph by Stephen Houston, color by Justin Kerr, used with permission).

Acknowledgements As always, friends helped with our research. These include Nicholas Carter, Charles Golden, Albert Davletshin, Simon Martin, Andrew Scherer, Josh Schnell, David Stuart, Karl Taube, Alexandre Tokovinine, and Marc Zender, and, kindly providing a pre-publication article, Vera Tiesler and Guilhem Olivier. Note that this essay employs the spellings and spelling conventions favored by Robertson et al. (2007). “K” numbers identify photographs by Justin Kerr.


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