Last year, I wrote several Halloween inspired essays on topics such as Pleistocene vampire bats, dire wolves and lycanthropy, and the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. (See https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2011/10/ ) Monstrous extinct animals abound in the pre-history of southeastern North America, and I can choose from a lot of potentially terrifying topics for Halloween-themed essay material, but none of the monsters of the past are scarier than Homo sapiens. Flesh-eating zombies are popular in fiction today. But the concept of mindless non-entities eating people is laughable nonsense when compared to the true history of live humans eating other humans. Maybe this is because we assume people have compassion and empathy for their fellows, and it’s shocking when history proves this is not always the case.
I’ve written an irregular series on this blog fantasizing about how I would live in Georgia 36,000 years BP, if I could bring some modern conveniences back in time with me. I picked that time because it’s almost certain there were no people here yet. As long as I had firearms and a secure dwelling, I wouldn’t be afraid of the animals, but I would be afraid of irrational pre-historic people. I’m sure cannibalism has existed among Homo sapiens for tens of thousands of years ever since before modern man evolved, but most of the evidence is gone. However, there is plenty of documented evidence of cannibalism among various Native American tribes. They were caught in the act during European colonization.
Indians roasting arms and legs. Early Germanic tribes in Europe practiced cannibalism as well. A recently discovered site in Herxheim, Germany dating to 7,000 BP unveiled evidence of spit-roasted humans. The bones were cut and the marrow sucked out.
The Skidee Pawnee migrated from the Red River valley to Nebraska circa 1400. They were part of the Caddoan culture. The Caddoans believed they had to sacrifice a young woman to the morning star or their corn crop would fail. Although they would sacrifice one of their own if necessary, they preferred to sacrifice a captured slave. When the Skidee Pawnee raided a village, they’d kill all of the adults. They’d carry the small children back with them to serve as food on the return journey, and they’d keep the older children as slaves, some of whom were used for the sacrifice to the morning star. The slaves were treated well, and these ritual sacrifices were made quick and painless–the victim probably even thought they were about to be honored not killed. But captives meant to be eaten were severely tortured as the following account by Andre Penicaut illustrates.
“All the men and women in the village assemble around the flames where these poor fainting persons are tied. Each family lights its fire before which they place a pot full of hot water, and, when the sun has arisen, four of the oldest savages, each one with a knife in his hand, make incisions in the arms, thighs, and lower legs of the ones hung up whose blood runs from their bodies to the extremities of their feet where four old men receive it in vessels.
They carry this blood to two other old men whose duty it is to have it cooked in kettles, and when the blood is cooked, they give it to their women and children to eat. After they have consumed the blood, the two dead men are detached from the frame and placed on a table where they are cut up. The pieces are distributed to the entire assembly of the village, and each family cooks some of it in its pot. While the meat is being cooked they begin to dance. Then they return to their places, take the meat from the pots, and eat it.”
The bible story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac is a reference to human sacrifice in Western culture. The Judeo-Christian tradition changed this culture, but the story itself suggests human sacrifice was once widespread in Eurasia as well. Ancient Semitic tribes shared with the Indians the bizarre belief that the Gods needed to be placated by sacrificing young people.
Before battles the Iroquois always pledged to the Sun God that they would eat their enemies. The French Jesuit priests witnessed Iroquois eating captives. The Iroquois tortured and ate the patron saint of Canada, Father Jean de Breboeuf. They baptized him with boiling water, held fire-heated axes to his skin, cut off his tongue to stop him from praying, scalped him, and removed his still beating heart. They drank his blood before they chopped him up and distributed his meat to be eaten.
Indian scalping an enemy. Contrary to apologist historians, Europeans did not introduce scalping to Indians. However, they did add monetary value to scalps. Removing and saving the whole head was more common than scalping prior to European colonization. It simply became more convenient to carry scalps instead of heads when seeking monetary rewards.
Most of the Chippewa tribes abhorred cannibalism, but they would eat Iroquois in retaliation for Iroquois eating Chippewa captives.
There was a cannibal cult within the Kwakiutl tribes which lived in British Columbia. Only the Hamatsa, the chief of the cannibal cult, was allowed to eat human flesh. To become a Hamatsa, a man had to kill another Hamatsa, so the number of cannibal chiefs stayed constant. Other people, usually his wives, brought him human flesh. They killed people to eat, but they also ate corpses from those who died of natural causes. The Hamatsa chief ate both fresh and dried human flesh. Supposedly, the dried human flesh (jerky) was easier to eat. Slaves were kept as food. George Hunt witnessed an Hamatsa feast. The chief ate a mummified human, then bought a slave in exchange for 100 blankets, and he killed her by biting her throat, and he ate her raw.
The Tonkaway lived on a narrow strip of land in south Texas between the Karankawa and the Comanche. Besides cannibalism, the Tonkaway are infamous for infanticide. All female babies were thrown to the dogs to prevent inbreeding. Apparently, all wives were captured from other tribes. If a parent had a bad dream, they killed the male babies too. It’s frightening to contemplate this irrational belief system. The Comanches especially hated the Tonkaway because the latter would eat captured Comanche braves. The Comanches were ok with the brutal torture to death of prisoners, but not cannibalism.
The Karankawa inhabited the coastal region of Texas. Although they were well known for cannibalism, the U.S. government used the Karankawas as allies in its wars against the Comanches and Apaches.
A scientific analysis of human feces found at the Cowboy Welsh site in Colorado proves the Anasazi Indians were cannibals. The site dates to about 950 AD. Here, at least 1200 lbs of human flesh were processed and eaten. A mask made fr0m the skin of a human face was excavated from this site. Imagine a kid showing up for trick or treat with a face mask made literally out of another person’s face.
Native Americans wouldn’t just kill and eat a family, but they’d eat the family dog too. The Sious, Cheyenne, Paiute, Nez Pierce, and Hidatsa all ate dog until the early 20th century. The Kickapoo were famous for their puppy stew. The Aztecs raised fat little dogs which they castrated so the canines would grow even fatter.
Dog-eating in North America dates to at least 9400 BP. Human feces containing part of a dog’s skull, dog meat, dog brains, fish, bird, and prickly pear fruit was found in Hinds Cave in south Texas. Dog is still commonly eaten in parts of Asia.
9400 year old human coprolite found in Hind’s Cave, Texas that contained part of a dog’s skull.
A Korean dog stew. Looks delicious. I would eat it…or at least try it. I have no qualms about eating dog meat.
Feldman, George Franklin
Cannibalism, Headhunting, and Human Sacrifice in North America: A History Forgotten
Alan Hood Company 2008
Tags: Anasazi, Chippewa, Cowboy Welsh site, Dog-eating, Hamatsa, Hidatsa, Hinds Cave, Human coprolite, Iroquois, Karankawa, Kickapoo, Korean dog stew, Kwakiutl, Native American cannibalism, Nez Pierce, Paiute, scalping, Sioux, Skidee Pawnee, Tonkaway