Cannibalism Among the Native American Indians
Aztalan - Great Lakes Area- Texas
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This is a compilation of works written by S.A. Barret, Ancient Aztalan Book One
Recompiled by Mary Sutherland, based off the above work

There can be no doubt that cannibalism was practiced at
Aztalan.  When S.A. Barrett’s work at Aztalan was undertaken, attention had not
been drawn to the 1892 paper of Somers on cannibalism or to any other mention of this practice as connected with this site. The excavation
here was therefore, approached with an open mind, as so far as the author was concerned.

Very shortly after commencing the work in the first season, our first unmistakable evidence of the practice of eating human flesh was

Fragments of human bones, cracked just as are those of the other mammals for the marrow, had been noted in the refuse heap.  These
were interesting indeed, and suggested cannibalistic practices, but it was when we began to open refuse pits and find there human bone
fragments, associated with whole parts of the dismembered body that the full import of the evidences became apparent.

The first of these to be encountered was in the pits II, 2, 3 where we found not only various broken human bones but where we found a whole
human art with scapula and all arm bones in place, indicative of their complete articulations at the time of deposition. Here, then, was
evidence that the people of Aztalan had dined on human flesh, had broken the bones in order to secure that savory morsel , the marrow,
and that they had  a more abundant supply of human flesh than was required and had discarded superfluous parts along with the other offal
which found its way into this refuse pit.

As our work progressed, instance after instance was encountered where these remnants of cannibal meals were present in the pits. Plates
24 to 31 are replete with illustrations showing unmistakable evidences of cannibalism: here whole arm and leg bones, their skulls and skull
fragments as these would be broken to extract their brains. At another point a hand left in the baking pit, and everywhere fragments of all
kinds of bones broken for the marrow, or possibly in some instances broken in order to reduce the pieces of meat to proper sizes so that
they could be placed in the pot to cook.

All these evidences were intermingled with the bones of all kinds of animals of the chase: deer, bear, elk, buffalo and the like. They were
treated in precisely the same manner, broken and split for the marrow and finally cast into the refuse heap, together with ashes, shells, fish
bones and scales and all the ordinary kitchen refuse of the village.  No more consideration was given to these human bones than to those of
any animal used as food.  There can be no doubt whatever, therefore, that these remains represent the meals of the early inhabitants of

As to the nature of these meals and as to whether these people used human flesh only upon special occasions and ceremonially, there may
be some difference of opinion.

The author is well aware of the fact that it is the commonly accepted belief that wherever aboriginal man practiced cannibalism, he did so as
a special rite. He devoured a bit of the heart, brain or flesh of an enemy in order to acquire some special power, or he ate of some special
part of the body of a captive for some special ceremonial reason.

If this had been the practice here at Aztalan we certainly would expect to find at most a relatively few human bones mixed in with the other
refuse.  A single individual would suffice for such a ceremonial feast. Furthermore, we would not expect to find the bones broken and
purposely cracked for the marrow, and skulls broken open to get the brains. The ceremonial use of human flesh would not require these
practices, and they would be most exceptional.

However, here at Aztalan, the breaking open of skulls and the cracking of bones for the marrow are the rule. The finding of whole bones of
any part of the body is decidedly the exception.

As above mentioned, the ceremonial use of human flesh would give us at most a small number of human bones in our refuse.  But here at
Aztalan they are almost unbelievably numerous. In our work no attempt was made to calculate the percentages of human bones as
compared with those of other species in any given pit or any other given spot.

Somers states that he assembled a special collection of the cracked and broken bones which found in the refuse heap, a collection totally
approximately two thousand specimens,
“forty per cent of which are human, while the remainder are evenly divided between birds, beasts
and fishes.”
This is certainly a remarkable statement and one which we can hardly consider as a true index of the relations of human to other
classes of foods used at this site.

Doubtless this collector was especially interested in the question of cannibalism and collected a much larger proportion of human bone
fragments than of other species. Let us therefore assume that his collection was over weighted with human bones as much as eight times
and only five per cent of the animal food of these people was human flesh. Even this is a very large proportion and a percentage altogether
too great to be accounted for on the theory that cannibalism was a rare ceremonial practice.

Our own excavations show that human bones are very prevalent, and that only rarely do we find any whole bones. Practically all bones, large
and small, are broken for the marrow and all skulls are opened for the brains. The ceremonial use of human flesh would hardly require such
bone breaking and certainly it would account for the great number of bones.

Revolutionary as this idea may seem, we are forced to suggest that the evidence points to the probability that human flesh was here used as
a regular article of diet, whenever it was obtainable and that the human flesh was handled in every way precisely as was that of the larger
animals of the chase.  Marrow and brains were considered as delicacies, whether they were the marrow and brains of the deer, bear and
buffalo, or whether they were those of a slain enemy or of a captive.

Human flesh was cut up and the bones broken to reduce the butchered individual to pieces suitable to the cooking pots. The body was
dismembered and cut up with the crude stone implements as shown by the evidence found at V-A, 32 and shown in Plate 30, fig. 2 Shown in
book Ancient Aztalan Part 1 of 2 by S.A.Barrett.

Some pieces were baked in the earth oven, as shown by the hand found at ii-9 and shown in Plate 25, fig. 1 shown in book
Ancient Aztalan
Part 1 of 2 by S.A.Barrett.

When all parts of the body had been used as food the fragmentary bones were then deposited with all the rest of the kitchen refuse: ashes,
shells, broken pottery, bones of beasts, birds and fishes and all the garbage of the kitchen. In no instance was evidence found that these
human remnants of the fest or of the daily meal, whichever it may have been, were treated in any degree differently from those of any other
part of the aboriginal meal.

Now and then, it is true, a whole arm, a whole leg or two, or some other remains, indicating that the particular part had been deposited in the
flesh and still articulated, was found. But likewise, whole bones of some of the larger mammals were found in the same condition. We may
interpret this to mean that occasions did arise when the ancients had s surfeit of food, human or otherwise, and that at such times some of
had to be thrown away. But here again we see no differentiation between the surplus of human flesh and that of any other kind.

In view, therefore, of all this evidence we venture to suggest that we may have had here at Aztalan, a special development in cannibalism in
which human flesh was used as a regular article of food and was treated precisely as was any other animal food. Certainly, in view of the
evidence, it is very difficult to believe that cannibalism was a rare ceremonial practice.

In substantiation of the idea that the eating of human flesh was not a too rare practice in the Great Lakes region we may cite the following
statements from early sources.

In speaking of the tribes inhabiting the Great Lakes region, Blair in 1911, translating La Pothiere, says of the tribe whom the French called
the “Puans” (Winnebago):  

“In former times, the Puans were the masters of this bay, and of a great extent of adjoining country…If any stranger came among them, he
was cooked in their kettles. The “Malhominis (Menominee) were the only tribe who maintained relations with them (and) they did not dare
even to complain of their tyranny… the Outaouaks, notwithstanding, sent to them envoys, whom they had the cruelty to eat.”
“There then follows an account of a war waged agains the Puans, and of pestilence which, together with the loss of a large war party in a
storm on the lake, so reduced their numbers that they became objects of pity.”
We read then (pp. 295, 296 299)

“Then the Islinois, touched with compassion for these unfortunates, sent five hundred men , among whom were fifty of the most prominent
persons in their nation, to carry them a liberal supply of provisions. Those man-eaters received them at first with the utmost gratitude; but at
the same time they meditated taking revenge for their loss by the sacrifice which they meant to make of the Islinois to the shades of their
dead.  Accordingly, they erected a great cabin in which to lodge there new guests. As it is a custom among the savages to provide dances
and public games on splendid occasions, the Puans made ready for a dance expressly for their guests.  While the Islinois were engaged in
dancing, the Puans cut their bow strings and immediately flung themselves upon the Islinois, massacred them, not sparing one man, and
made a general feast of their flesh; the enclosure of that cabin and the melancholy remains of the victims, may still be seen.”

This whole account may be somewhat colored by this early French narrator, but through it all there is an undoubted strain of truth which
cannot be overlooked.  The motive may have been to some extent ceremonial as is implied by this narrative of the circumstances. However it
is a well-established fact that among, at least, some tribes cannibalism was practiced as a matter of taste. (See Cannibalism, Handbook of
American Indians)

In speaking of the Hurons and of their wars with the Iroquois, Raddisson (Kellogg, 1917) states:

“The day following we returned to our village with eight of our enemies dead and three alive. The dead were eaten and the living was burned
with a small fire to the rigor of cruelties, which comforted the desolate to see them revenged for the death of their relations that was so

Further evidence that cannibalism was not as uncommon as is generally supposed has been recently brought to light by Pearce (1932)
He points out that the Attacapan and Karankawan tribes occupied the region under consideration in eastern Texas and that both had the
reputation of being cannibalistic in early historic times.  Then he proceeds to show that recent (1931) archeological work at certain sites has
brought to light unmistakable evidences of this practice. At one spot he found “the remains of twenty-five butchered human bodies buried in
a wide shallow pit, possibly the refuse of a characteristic Karankawan feast. Many of the bones show marks of axes, and all long bones had
been broken into at least two or three pieces.

Such evidence as this from Texas will probably be from time to time added from various other sites where careful excavating is being done
and we are likely to find that cannibalism was more widely spread in early America than has been formerly supposed.  Certain it is that here
at Aztalan we have abundant evidence that cannibalism was practiced extensively.
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