When you think of the word ‘sacrifice’ in terms of ancient religious practices, one of the first images to come to mind is probably the offering of a slaughtered animal. From appeasing the gods to keeping evil spirits away, there are many different reasons that cultures have indulged in sacrificing for the greater good. However, in some cultures , the sacrificing goes beyond the simple chicken, cow, or other creature. In the past, humans were also used as sacrificial offerings.
Why Human Sacrifice?
Depending on the culture and religious beliefs, human sacrifice could mean a variety of things to those who followed the practice. If a new building, temple, or even a bridge was built, it was not unheard of for cultures to sacrifice humans as part of the dedication ceremonies. Just take a look at some of the Chinese legends that claim that thousands of people were entombed in the Great Wall of China.
Religion often played an important role in sacrificial practices with some civilizations. Some cultures believed that a priest could tell the future by ‘reading’ the body parts of a killed prisoner or slave. According to Strabo, after stabbing a victim with a sword, the Celts believed they could foretell the future just by analyzing the death spasms that followed.
When taking a look at the practices of the Mongols, Scythians and some Mesoamerican chiefs, human sacrifices were known to take place after the death of a king, high priest or respected leader. Many of the sacrifices ensured that the leader would have his servants and family members by his side when he reached the next life. The majority of their household would be killed, including their lovers and slaves.
For some, when a natural disaster, such as famine, earthquakes, droughts, and volcanic eruptions, occurred , some cultures believed their misfortune was the work of angered gods. Human sacrifices took place as a way to regain their good favor with the gods. The Cretans are a good example of this, as they attempted to prevent the destruction of their island in this manner.
An Example of Human Sacrifice?
During an excavation that took place in 1981 on the prehistoric site at Fiskerton in Lindisfarne, archeologists uncovered part of a human skull surrounded by spears, tools, swords, and other objects. The skull showed that the back of a man’s head was badly damaged. Excavators warmly named the skeleton Fissured Fred , a man that lived about 2,500 years ago who was hit by a sword that had left behind a chip mark in the back of his head. While a couple of bones were found with the skull, the rest of Fissured Fred’s body was not discovered.
One of the theories surrounding the death of Fissured Fred is that he was a victim of human sacrifice. Circumstantial evidence suggests that he was, as his remains were blended with a collection of weapons and equipments that seemed to have been thrown into water and sacrificed as well. Evidence of human sacrifice was prevalent during the period of the Iron Age, spanning locations like Denmark, Germany and Holland. Many victims have already been uncovered in peat bog , in a completely preserved state.