Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Fash, William Leonard

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Anthropology


Maya mythology; Mayas--Antiquities; Sacrifice--Honduras; Copan Site (Honduras); Honduras--Antiquities


In this thesis, I will examine the role of Maya religion, evidence for sacrificial rituals among the Maya, and the role these sacrifices played in eighth-century Copan, Honduras. I will also examine the Hieroglyphic Stairway cache, its association to Structure 10L-26, and its implications for our understanding of the nature of ancient Maya society and religion. The ancient Maya were once considered a peaceful people -- quite the contradiction of the rest of ancient Mesoamerica. Recent discoveries have changed this perception. Painted murals, carvings on stone, and painted scenes on ceramic vessels have always shown scenes of sacrifice and warfare; it has only been recently that we have been able to appreciate these scenes for what they are. Ethnohistoric accounts of the sixteenth century describe in graphic detail the exploits of the Postclassic Maya. Blood was a significant part of ancient Maya ritual life, and our new understandings show that the Maya let blood on every important occasion. It was used as an offering to seal ceremonial events, such as when kings would perform an auto-sacrifice and offer it to their ancestors. Personal bloodletting allowed the Maya elite to demonstrate their legitimacy and communicate with ancestors who would reappear as visions on these important occasions. A primary role of warfare was to provide the state with sacrificial victims, whose blood was then drawn and offered to the gods. Archaeological investigations have also encountered evidence of blood sacrifice and warfare. The discovery of a ritual cache beneath the altar of the Hieroglyphic Stairway of Structure 10L-26 at Copan, Honduras, raises the question of the role of human sacrifice in Classic Maya. Structure 10L-26 is known for its themes of ancestor worship in the context of sacrifice and warfare. The Hieroglyphic Stairway cache is one of the most elaborate of its kind. The cache contained a lidded ceramic censer. Inside the vessel were two exquisitely carved jades, which were already 200-year-old heirlooms when the cache was buried, a lanceolate flint knife (possibly used in penis mutilation or heart extraction), stingray spines, and a spiny oyster shell with the dried remains of human blood let in auto-sacrifice. Also buried in the cache were three elaborately flaked eccentric flints in the form of lance heads. These artifacts are all associated with ancestor worship, sacrifice, and, to some extent, warfare.


Bibliography: pages [101]-107.


v, 107 pages




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