The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

Human Sacrifice in the Late Prehistoric American Bottom: Skeletal and Archaeological Evidence


Illinois State Archaeological Survey, University of Illinois

March 26, 2015 , Gateway Ballroom 3 Add to calendar

Evidence for human sacrifice in the American Bottom is best known from Mound 72 at the Cahokia Mounds. Evidence for ritualized sacrifice includes the careful placement in 4 features of numerous young women in rows and layers, and in a 5th feature, the presence of both men and women, some with evidence of violent death. In one additional feaure, four adult males were placed with linked elbows and heads and hands cut off, argues for a violent and ritualized death and burial.

Investigatons conducted by Illinois State Archaeological Survey researchers at the East St. Louis Mound Center 7km from Cahokia indicate a clear association between sacrificial (or offertory) burials and human elements (e.g., crania) and the removal of large freestanding community posts. In contrast to Mound 72, these sacrificial burials occur only as a single interment located either directly over or within one of the entrance/exit ramps of the post pit.

Although the scale and context of human sacrifice vary between Cahokia and East St. Louis we argue that the apperance of dedicatory offerings such as human sacrifice coincides with the dramatic rise or 'Big Bang' of the Cahokia polity in the early Mississippian period in the American Bottom. Although large marker posts were often a component of community settlements prior to the Mississippian period, the sudden apperance of human sacrifice at this critical juncture of time clearly reflects the rapidly changing ideology and worldviews of the Mississippian people as the negotiate a new world.