Why Did the Mayans Sacrifice Humans?

The Mayans sacrificed humans for religious reasons, such as dedicating a temple, entreating gods for favors and preventing natural disasters. Human sacrifices also marked special occasions, such as the coronation of a new king. Sometimes losers in sporting games were sacrificed as the price of defeat.

Mayans did not practice human sacrifice as often as the Aztecs, as their ceremonial sacrifices usually involved slaughtering animals, such as jaguars, dogs, deer or parrots. Religious and political leaders also performed ritual bloodletting from their own body parts, such as the ears and tongue. The blood was then smeared on idols or ritually burned. However, during festivals and rituals, Mayans occasionally practiced human sacrifice on purchased slaves and prisoners. Excavations show that young children were also used as sacrificial offerings.

Most often, the victims were held down by their four limbs while their hearts were quickly extracted. Sometimes they were shot with arrows, thrown from a height or decapitated. The heart and blood were integral to the ritualistic significance of the event. Human sacrifices marked political events, such as coronations, to make the ruler appear more god-like. Human sacrifices after sporting events may have been payment to the deities that assisted the winning team.