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. 

Stabbed and Burned Alive: The British
Stabbed and Burned Alive: The ... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 14 Brutal Human Sacrifice Techniques Throughout History
Photo: Thomas Pennant/Wikimedia Commons/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. 

Dismembered: The Chinese
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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 burned, 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.

Some of the people sacrificed were prisoners of war, others criminals. The Shang also made sacrifices to various gods. 


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: John Webber/Wikimedia Commons/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 included strangulation, bone-breaking, and the complete removal of intestines. 

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:  Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr/Public Domain

In the golden age of Ancient Egypt, pharaohs were buried with effigies of their retainers (servants and other followers), but pharaohs of the 1st dynasty 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.