In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Spread and Practice of Nephite/Lamanite Cannibalism and its Influence on Other Ancient Cultures

Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon
The complex migration history held by the Pueblo and more specifically the Hopi and their relationship to the ancient civilizations in the South namely the Aztec, Maya and Olmec is one of the main reasons that I started this blog.  In general I have put much of my focus on correlations between book of Mormon groups thought to have been in Mesoamerica and correspondences they have with the Hopi, or any of their Anasazi predecessors.  Some of my favorite interrelations have been the connections between the peaceful "People of Ammon" and the Hopi.  Researching their parallels has brought interesting insights to my studies.  This blog post is still aiming at connections between the histories of these groups but with a focus on the more gruesome side of the pendulum.  Rather than focusing on the peaceful people of the Book of Mormon I am starting this post by quoting a sad and brutal part of the Lamanite and Nephite history in Moroni 9:8-10 which takes place around 400AD. and states,

"8. And the husbands and fathers of those women and children they have slain; and they feed the women upon the flesh of their husbands, and the children upon the flesh of their fathers; and no water, save a little, do they give unto them. 
9. And notwithstanding this great abomination of the Lamanites, it doth not exceed that of our people in Moriantum.  For behold, many of the daughters of the Lamanites have they taken prisoners; and after depriving them of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue-
10. And after they had done this thing, they did murder them in a most cruel manner, torturing their bodies even unto death; and after they have done this, they devour their flesh like unto wild beasts, because of the hardness of their hearts; and they do it for a token of their bravery."

Aztec Cannibalism from Codex from Machilabechiano
Here we have the charge of cannibalism among the Nephites and lamanites.  The topic of cannibalism can be an emotionally charged and controversial issue  when applied to the ancients of the Maya, Aztec and especially the Anasazi.  We know through traditional stories that the migration routes of many of the clans that make up the Hopi and Zuni and other Pueblo tribes today lead through the Ancestral Pueblo home of Chaco Canyon in north western New Mexico.  My most recent visit of Chaco has sparked my interest in their position of the migration process.  With the above noted cannibalism present in the declining Nephite/Lamanite society, I ask the question what signs do we have in the progenitor societies that this practice continued?

Well it's been a commonly known fact from the diaries of the Spanish conquistadors and priests that cannibalism existed in a large degree among the Aztecs who would be considered one of the successor civilizations following the Nephite/Lamanite/Mayan time period.  Aztec war expeditions would be used to claim more sacrificial victims.  Most of the sacrifices involved tearing out the heart, offering it to the sun and a little blood to the idols.  The corpse was then tumbled down the steps of the pyramid and carried off to be butchered.  The head went on the local skull rack, displayed in central plazas along the temple-pyramids.  At least three of the limbs were the property of the captor if he had seized the prisoner without assistance in battle.  Later, at a feast given at the captor's quarters the central dish was a stew of tomatoes, peppers, and the limbs of his victim.  The remaining torso, in Tenochtitlan at least, went to the royal zoo where it was used to feed carnivorous mammals, birds, and snakes. 

Archaeologists excavating at an Aztec sacrificial site in the Tlatelolco section of Mexico City between 1960 and 1969 have uncovered headless human rib cages missing the limb bones.  Along with these remains were some razor sharp obsidian blades, which are believed to be used in the butchering process.  Also discovered were piles of human skulls, which apparently had been broken open to obtain the brains, possibly a choice delicacy reserved for the priesthood, and to mount the skull son a ceremonial rack.

Anthropologist Christy Turner
at Chaco Canyon
The late Anthropologist and Professor at Arizona State University Christy Turner and his late wife Jacqueline Adams Turner put together a controversial but ground breaking book entitled, "Man Corn" named after the Nahuatl word tlacatlaolli, a "sacred meal of sacrificed human meat, cooked with corn".  In their book the Turners discuss 76 Anasazi sites where cannibalism or other violence occurred (most notable and the primary location is in Chaco Canyon).  Of the 76 sites 31 were located in New Mexico, 18 from Arizona, 16 from Colorado, 10 in Utah, and one from Casas Grandes (Paquime) in northern Mexico.  Of the 76 cases the Turners confirmed 54 instances of cannibalism.  The sites that do exhibit cannibalism show equal frequency of victims among adult male and females.  The majority of the cannibalism appears to have taken place between 900-1300 AD (with some instances taking place before and after).

As I stated earlier the idea of cannibalism among the Anasazi is a controversial one to say the least.  This is because the Hopi and many other Pueblo tribes state that their traditional stories and histories do not speak of any sort of cannibalism.  They do not deny violence and other hideous instances that spawned migrations in the past but the act of cannibalism usually denotes a degenerate society of savages which creates a negative connotation on the whole perspective of the Hopi and Anasazi.  This has been highly disputed among anthropologists and archaeologists and traditional Native Americans as well.  Some of Turners earlier studies were on a group of bones found on Polacca Wash on the Hopi Reservation that he stated showed all six of his forensic signs of cannibalism.  He traced this activity to the traditional stories of the destruction of the ancient Hopi village of Awatovi, which is partially why many Hopi find the claim absurd.  He did advise that if any of the forensic signs were missing than the claim of cannibalism was dismissed immediately.  These signs include the following:

cuts from dismemberment
 1. Cuts: Bones show signs of chopping, dismemberment, butchering and cutting by stone tools.  These are distinct marks especially when cutting tendons on round bones.  Stone scrappers also leave a distinctive scratch pattern.

Anvil abrasions
 2. Anvil abrasions:  These are faint parallel marks caused when a bone (skull) is braced on a larger stone and then a smaller stone is used to smash or crack it open.  Slippage takes place when the blow hits causing the distinctive scratches.

Burns on skull
 3. Burns: Skulls in particular, often show burn-marks on the back or top of the head.  These burns indicate that the head was set, face up, on coals in order to roast the brains.

Crushed bone exposing the marrow
 4. Marrow: Large bones have been broken open for the marrow.  marrow is a rich source of protein, but to get to it, the bones must be smashed open.

Crushing Vertebra for bone cake
 5. No Vertebrae: Most of the vertebrae and spongy bones are missing.  This is because they are full of marrow and can be used to make what is called "bone cake" (commonly done with animal vertebrae) or to extract grease through boiling. 

Pot Polish seen through
 magnifying glass
6.  Pot Polish: Pot polish is evidence that bones have been boiled in a ceramic pot.  Bones that have been cooked in a clay pot show a faint beveling and polishing at the tips from scraping against the coarse interior of the pot.  Many of these bones have been broken to the same size as animal bones to fit into the Anasazi pot.

Awatovi Ruins
 Awatovi was a village destroyed in the 1600's because a lot of the residents had converted to Christianity and also practiced witchcraft under the influence of the Spanish friars.  The other Hopi villages decided to purge this tribe and did so by killing all the men inside of the kiva and escorting the women and children away. According to Turner the women and children were then tortured, and dismembered to be eaten.  He traces the practice of cannibalism that would have been present at this case in Awatovi back to other Anasazi locations, in the four corners region but in particular to the location of Chaco Canyon where he has found bones showing all six designated cannibalistic signs. 

Turner is supported by other archaeologists and anthropologists in his findings but he also has those who disagree who state that the bone damage and boilings could have been done as a way to purge witchcraft minus the cannibalism.  This is an option that could easily be the truth but the problem is that at another site in Colorado called Cowboy Wash the smoking gun seems to have been found.  The Hopi tribal Archaeologist Kurt Dongoske in defending against cannibalism suggested that cannibalism could not be proven until " you actually find human remains in prehistoric human excrement".   At Cowboy wash archaeologists found three kivas with all the signs of cannibalism except in the third kiva they found what was classified as "macrobotanical remain".  These remains were tested by the University of Nebraska and confirmed that the remains were coprolite formed from digested human meat.  It was later tested by the University of Colorado for the presence of human myoglobin (a protein found only in skeletal and heart muscle and could not get into the intestinal tract except through eating.  It tested positive, human DNA in ancient excrement.

I don't know how to dispute those findings but with all things archaeology I don't set anything in stone.  With that said Emory Sekaquaptewa who was a Hopi Tribal Council member stated, "I believe there were times in the Southwest when cannibalism was necessary.  As a child, I heard stories of historic Pueblo people's resorting to eating other people during times of extreme stress." (Swentzell) "There were also people who had traditions of human sacrifice, who were also not admitted (into Hopi)."

Turner proposed that this cannibalism came from civilizations from the south mainly in Mesoamerica with the Toltec and Aztecs.  he stated, "We propose that these southerners were practitioners of the Xipe-Totec (or Maasaw) and the Tezcatlipoca- Quetzalcoatl (plumed serpent) cults.  They entered the San Juan basin around AD. 900and found a suspicious but plaint population whom they terrorized into reproducing the theocratic lifestyle they had previously known in Mesoamerica.  The Mexicans achieved their objectives through the use of warfare, violent example, and terrifying cult ceremonies that included human sacrifice and cannibalism.  after the abandonment of Chaco, human sacrifices, and cannibalism all but disappeared, suggesting some kind of prehistoric discontinuity."

Paquime in Chihuahua Mexico
So here we have the successor civilizations that followed the Nephite/Lamanite societies still showing the practice of cannibalism for a time.  Although the practice was at a different level with each civilization (some more than others) it looks as though the practice did continue through the Mayan (Nephite/Lamanite), Toltec, Aztec and Anasazi societies as well. Another interest correlation is the route this practice spread.  It appears to be the same route used for mass trading between these societies.  This was a northern route from Mesoamerica Guatemala area north through Mexico all the way to northern Mexico to the Paquime location and continued northward into what is now southern United States in the Anasazi, Mogollon, and Hohokam area.  Relics and practices between these societies also stand as proof of influence from Mesoamerica.  With that said I currently know of no cannibalistic evidence in the Hohokam society which is ironic being further south and more influenced by Mesoamerica.  This may be because research on the Hohokam has only grown in recent years and some of their largest excavation sites have been buried by the Gila River Native community for preservation (Snaketown).  Future research of the Hohokam my be able to further this cannibalistic suggestion. 

In closing I would like to add that when Nephites put this evil practice into play they did it as an act of bravery as stated in Mormon's second epistle to his son Moroni noted above.  It seems it was this same mind set that existed among the Aztecs and possibly the Anasazi.  Brutality never was bravery and although it makes for an interesting correspondence in this study of cannibalism and the Book of Mormon, the fact that we are putting this study together off of the remains of civilizations shows that the Lord will not protect those who uphold and practice these barbaric acts.   It is also of interest that around this same timeframe that Chaco Canyon was abandoned and places like Mesa Verde, Montezumas Castle and other cliff dwellings  became the hideout homes as if hiding from someone or something.  Well that all makes since in this light.



  1. Good article but you are looking in the wrong place, wrong time lines, wrong areas of the world.

    The Nephites / Lamanites never lived in Central or South America, had nothing to do with the Anasazi.

    They were the Hopewell tribes in the heartland of the United States. Most of their main cities being located in Tennesse / Iowa / Mississipi valley.

    Native Americans from the west even have legends of running in the large white skinned canabalistic races in the Tennesses area who built great mounds, large cities, and were very proud and rich (Nephites at the end of their run)

  2. Someone should correct that last sentence it actually makes "sense." (not since).