Charles Mann posted a link to this excellent blog post addressing the ‘public’ response to the “largest single incident of mass child sacrifice in the Americas” as reported by National Geographic. Carl Feagans appropriately acknowledges the horrific nature of this event, but then, as a disciplined archeologist, applies a disciplined approach to his historical thinking and wonders why would the Chimú people would resort to such horrific means of appeasing their gods. First, the context:
In the same period, between 1400-1450 CE, there is evidence that shows that an El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event which actually peaked at around 1425 CE. In addition, the presence of the mud layer over the normal sand of the region is indicative of wide-scale flooding, a result of the torrential downpours that an ENSO event brings.
Then the analysis:
From their point of view, the gods were punishing them, angry at them, or—at the very least—lacking appeasement.
So they sacrificed to the gods.
But they probably didn’t go straight to 140 children and 200 young goats. [ ]
. . .
The Chimú people very likely tried to appease the gods with small sacrifices. Then moved up to human adults. When that didn’t work, they may have arrived at the conclusion that they must give up something to the gods that was precious.
So, when you read the story National Geographic posted a few days ago, don’t read it thinking that the Chimú people viewed children as any less precious or valuable than we do. As a society, they were in dire straits. It may have been the case that children were already dying of disease, hunger, or even violent attack from the Inca, who finally subdued the Chimú in 1475 CE.
On a somewhat unrelated note, Feagans’s post confirmed my suspicions that I am not missing much by not being on Facebook. The outrage of the masses judging the past doesn’t sound all of that interesting to me.