Anthro Ticker

Sacrificial Virgins: Sex, Violence, and Imagination

Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives

What is it with men who see sacrificed women and immediately begin to fantasize about their beauty and virginity?

This was the story told about the Maya “Sacred Well”, the Cenote at Chichen Itza, as popularized by an interview Alma Reed conducted with Edward Thompson,  in 1923 in the New York Times, where Reed wrote

prisoners of war and virgins of flawless loveliness were sacrificed at the cenote. From early childhood the maidens had been cared for with physical perfection as a goal. Their spiritual training had martyrdom for the public good as its ideal. (Reprinted in El Palacio)

As the joke I heard went: I understand how the physical anthropologists can tell they are female; but how can they tell they were virgins?

As recently as 2003, the writer of a National Geographicfeature about Maya underwater archaeology in Yucatan still felt the need to mention (and…

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