- Sacrifices in Ancient Cultures -


Chinese | Celtic | Sumerian | Pre-Columbian | Conclusion

Why do human beings do these things? The psychological mechanism is not far to find, since there is probably not a reader even the most convinced atheist who has not offered from time to time an old-fashioned 'quid pro quo' prayer: if you let me pass this exam, I will return to church; if you make sure my wife doesn't learn of my infidelity, I will give my next bonus to charity. The theology view of god that lies behind these imprecations is of an arbitrary trickster, a bad parent who can be coaxed, flattered, and manipulated. If belief in such a god is strong enough, it is easy to see how it can lead to human sacrifice: here, take him, not me! Let the impassive godhead demands someone's blood. Let it not be mine! (Cuncliffe 138-139).

We chose this topic because we believe it is fundamental to human existence. All cultures have practiced sacrifice in one way or another, some cultures with more vehemence than others. Almost every human being, whether religious or not, throughout history, has "sacrificed" or "offered" something in return for a goal. Whether the sacrifice is one of time (as we sacrifice our time to study or to work) or, in the extreme case, of human beings, the notion of sacrifice has been with us since the beginning of time.

In a fundamental sense, and in modern terms, sacrifice is the "cost" in the cost-benefit analysis equation. Whatever that benefit may be, whether it be material or immaterial, whether it be survival or power, there is almost always a cost associated with benefit. Thus that "cost" or "sacrifice" is intrinsic to our existence.

In this exhibition, we decided to focus on the sacrificial rites of ancient cultures, including Sumerian, Chinese, Celtic, and Pre-Columbian. We chose these because we had an a priori sense that these cultures were known for their explicit and prominent use of sacrifice and that these acts would be documented for posterity. We also chose these cultures because we believed that some would be totally isolated from each other (e.g. Celtic and Pre-Columbian) but that others might be linked (e.g. Chinese and Pre-Columbian). Thus we wanted to assess what the similarities and differences were throughout these cultures in terms of the "why" (motive for sacrifice), the "what" (material of oblation), the "who" (the sacrificer), the "how" (the specific practices and rituals of the sacrifice), the "where" (sites of sacrifice) and the "when" (time/s of sacrifice).

Team sacrifice: Tim Brocato, Lillian Helstad, Susie Mckinnon, Nora Raggio
Ultimate team leader: Dr. Kathleen Cohen

Thanks to Susie for her Dreamweaver work!

Also, thanks to James Bonacci for his last minute corrections
and other efforts to get this site posted!