politics & history 14 Brutal Human Sacrifice Techniques Throughout History

T L Perez
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Humans have always had a dark side, and this list of brutal human sacrifice methods explores it in graphic detail. Maybe when you think human sacrifice, you picture grand and graphic Aztec or Mayan ceremonies. While civilizations such as these certainly did their share of brutal sacrificing, they were by no means the only ancient civilizations that participated in death rituals. 

From ancient China to Ireland and Egypt, civilizations throughout history developed quite a few human sacrifice methods. Mostly, these were religious human sacrifices, though sometimes they were carried out as punishment, or on account of local traditions. Those who sacrificed humans used a number of brutal techniques to do so, including decapitation, strangulation, whipping, burning, cannibalism, and burying victims alive. If anything, this list demonstrates the disturbing creativity of human bloodlust. 

Dismembered: The Chinese

Dismembered: The Chinese is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 14 Brutal Human Sacrifice Techniques Throughout History
Photo: Xuan Che/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

One of the most powerful empires in Chinese history, the Shang Dynasty, lasted for more than 500 years, and is the first recorded period in ancient Chinese history. It was also home to brutal techniques focused on ripping apart the bodies of the those sacrificed. 

Shang human sacrifice victims were disemboweled, split into halves, beheaded, or chopped to death. The most common ceremonies were pit, foundation, and internment sacrifices. For pit sacrifices, young men were ripped apart and buried without their possessions. Foundation sacrifices involved children and infants, while internment sacrifices focused on young women.

At least seven more brutal human sacrifice techniques were practiced during the Shang Dynasty. Some of the people sacrificed were prisoners of war, others criminals. The Shang also made sacrifices to river gods. 

That's intense, but has nothing on this.

Stabbed and Burned Alive: The British

Stabbed and Burned Alive: The ... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 14 Brutal Human Sacrifice Techniques Throughout History
Photo: Thomas Pennant/National Library of Wales/Public Domain

You'd be forgiven for thinking of the infamous desert hippie festival Burning Man when you hear "wicker man" and "burning." When they convene in the desert, attendees of Burning Man build and ignite a large humanoid wicker frame. This practice was taken from the movie Wicker Man, which itself drew inspiration from ancient druidic practices of the British isles. 

As it turns out, the ancient British left no written historical records of their own, so much of what we know about ancient Britain is based on Roman writings. Julius Caesar, for instance, wrote that Druids built massive wicker men, loaded them with human and animal sacrifices, and lit them on fire. Others suggest this is Roman hyperbole designed to make the British out as savages. From a logistical standpoint, how would you cram hundreds of people into something made of wicker and expect (A) the structure not to collapse and (B) the victims not to rip the thing to shreds and escape? 

Whether or not human sacrifices actually happened in wicker effigies, evidence exists of human sacrifice in ancient Britain. Bodies found in bogs show evidence of ritualistic murder, and there may even have been cannibalism involved. 

Hanged Upside Down and Beaten: The Hawaiians

Hanged Upside Down and Beaten:... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 14 Brutal Human Sacrifice Techniques Throughout History
Photo: Arman Manookian/Public Domain

Early Tahitian invaders of Hawaii practiced a number of brutal human sacrifice techniques, victimizing descendants of the Polynesians who initially settled the Hawaiian islands. Those sacrificed were mostly prisoners of war, though some were tribe members who broke laws or committed taboo acts. Sacrifice techniques "ranged from strangulation to bone breaking and removal of intestines." Ritualistic offerings to Ka (god of war) and Lono (god of agriculture) were hanged upside down upside down and beaten to death. 

Buried Alive: The Ancient Egyptians

Buried Alive: The Ancient Egyp... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 14 Brutal Human Sacrifice Techniques Throughout History
Photo:  tonimihaylova/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

In the golden age of Ancient Egypt, pharaohs were buried with effigies of their retainers (servants and other followers), but pharaohs of the first dynasty (about 3218 to 2886 CE) were buried with their actual, living retainers, in a practice known as retainer sacrifice.

These servants (and sometimes high-ranking officials) were sacrificed in accordance with religious beliefs. According to these beliefs, servants were meant to continue serving their rulers after they died. Essentially, rulers were so important they needed an entourage in the afterlife. 

As the first dynasty ended, retainers managed to convince pharaohs they could better serve if left alive, to continue carrying out the will of the pharaoh on earth.

Burned Infants: The Ancient Israelites

Burned Infants: The Ancient Is... is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list 14 Brutal Human Sacrifice Techniques Throughout History
Photo: Internet Archive Book Images/flickr/No known copyright restrictions

The term "Ancient Israelite" is likely to conjure images of Biblical characters like King Solomon, and fables like Jonah and the Wale and David and Goliath. Or maybe call to mind far more brutal stories, such as when Abraham almost sacrificed his son, or this tasty nugget from the Old Testament: "Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys."

Considering this degree of savagery, it shouldn't be surprising that archeological evidence indicates Ancient Israelites ceremoniously burned infants. Such sacrifices were made by those who worshiped Moloch, a bull-god who some suggest symbolized the terrifying power of nature. The sacrifice of a child showed the lengths to which the power-hungry people will go to rid themselves of powerlessness. 

Moloch, and the practice of child worship in his honor, stem from a Canaanite tradition. Israelites who worshiped Yahweh did not partake in this brutal practice. 

Children Raised for Slaughter: The Incas

Children Raised for Slaughter:... is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list 14 Brutal Human Sacrifice Techniques Throughout History
Photo:  Nicolas Vollmer/Creative Commons

Like fellow Mesoamericans the Maya and Aztec, the Inca were no strangers to human sacrifice. Not content with garden variety human sacrifice, the Inca kicked it up a notch with child sacrifice. They believed a healthy child was the grandest gift a god could receive. Kids were sacrificed for the sake of increased wealth and good fortune.

Only healthy, strong, and attractive children were suitable sacrifices. The most common forms of sacrifice included, "strangulation, a blow to the head, or being buried alive." Some children were raised solely for the purpose of being sacrificed, and were very well cared for (up until the slaughter), to preserve the integrity and value of the sacrifice. 

Stabbed in the Head: The Mesopotamians

Stabbed in the Head: The Mesop... is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list 14 Brutal Human Sacrifice Techniques Throughout History
Photo: Internet Archive Book Images/flickr/No known copyright restrictions

Like the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, the royals of ancient Mesopotamia were buried with the rest of their household. This included some members of the royal court, such as soldiers, handmaidens, and servants. Human remains found at an archeological site in Ur (now Tell el-Muqayyar, Iraq) attest to more than 2,000 people being sacrificed this way.

In an innocent near-past, experts believed victims of sacrifices in Mesopotamia were poisoned peacefully before burial. Recent discoveries suggest a more brutal practice. According to skeletal remains, victims were stabbed in the head before burial.

Stomachs Ripped Open: The Aztecs

Stomachs Ripped Open: The Azte... is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list 14 Brutal Human Sacrifice Techniques Throughout History
Photo: Illustrator Unknown/British Library/Public Domain

A lot us go right to the Aztecs when we hear "ritualistic human sacrifice," and with good reason. Human sacrifice was widespread in Aztec culture, and sacrificial techniques were brutal. Sometimes, victims had their hearts ripped out and offered to the sun god. Other times, stomachs were ripped open, after which victims were pushed from the top of temples.

Offerings to the rain god, Tlaloc, were made in the first month of every year in the Aztec calendar. Tlaloc required crying children, as it was believed their tears would ensure rain. All told, thousands of humans were brutally sacrificed each year by the Aztecs.