Bloody Rituals: Human blood found on Ancient Mayan arrowheads

We’ve previously covered Mayan religious rituals and as you know, they used to be quite bloody and gruesome, by today’s standards. Keep reading to find out more about a recent study that not only confirms this, but provides additional insights into the Mayan culture.

Who, what, when, where, why?

Mayan archaelogical site in Guatemala.

Mayan archaelogical site in Guatemala. Source:

Last month, a team of researchers from Southern Illinois University led by Professor Prudence Rice have conducted a study of 108 Mayan arrowheads at a burial site in Zacpeten, Guatemala. Their research confirmed that the people of the Mayan civilization have employed obsidian arrows in their religious rituals. The blood on the arrowheads is said to be some 500 years old and a mix of human and animal blood, although it is currently difficult to tell which animals in particular. The analysis conducted by the team at the Laboratory of Archaeological Sciences at the University of California tells us that the arrowheads date back to 1400 AD.

Bloody Rituals of the Mayans

Mayan arrowheads.

Mayan arrowheads. Source:

The researchers believe that the arrows were part of a bloodletting Mayan ritual. During this ritual, an arrow cut earlobes, tongue or genitals of the subject of the sacrifice in order to spill blood. The blood was intended as nourishment for the gods, which is consistent with the Ancient Mayan belief that each person had a “life force” that gods needed in order to live. We’ve previously spoken about the human sacrifices which were a significant part of the Mayan culture and also intended to please the gods. The bloodied arrowheads seem to correspond with this aspect of the nation’s traditions.

Although the researchers haven’t confirmed this for certain, it is believed that the bloodletting ceremonies that took place 500 years ago were voluntary. This distinguishes them from the human sacrifices we mentioned earlier – those were largely political prisoners and slaves. It also seems that most volunteers survived the ceremonies.

What do they tell us?

Depiction of Mayan animal sacrifice to gods.

Depiction of Mayan animal sacrifice to gods. Source: Pinterest

The researchers have yet to establish the individual stories behind each arrowhead. However, the volunteers are likely to be important figures, such as chairmen. This is because the Mayans believed that the life force of the chairmen was the strongest and gods would be especially grateful for the bloodletting. The chairmen participated voluntarily in birth and coming-of-age ceremonies, which involved bloodletting. The Mayans believe that it would bind their life force to that of their ancestors.

The origins of the blood found on the discovered arrowheads are yet to be fully determined, but if history taught us anything, it’s that we still have a lot to learn about ancient civilizations, and the Mayan civilization is one of the most mysterious of all, even to this day. So there could very well be a lot more to the arrowheads than currently meets the eye.

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