The sleeping warrior of Panama

The city of Panama was founded on 15 August 1519 as the first Spanish settlement on the Pacific coast and is the oldest living city on the American mainland. It was destroyed in 1671 by the troops of the English pirate Henry Morgan and the ruins of its old town are a tourist attraction today. The modern city was rebuilt southwest of them. During recent excavations in the area burials have now been discovered.

On the one hand, the cemetery of the first European settlers was found and surprisingly many of the new settlers are of African origin.

On the other hand, there were also burials of the indigenous people, who had lived in the same place where the Spaniards settled and mixed with them, before they were extinguished by the transmission of diseases.

Among the burials found among the Indian population is an astonishing grave, the burial of a young man who seems to have fallen asleep sitting. His head rests on his left arm. At his side there is a collection of white, cleaned stingray spines, at his feet there is a considerable collection of small obsidian blades. Research has shown that the young man was placed in this position before rigor mortis occurred and that he died between 1410 and 1460.

Why the young man fell asleep forever in this position can perhaps be deduced from the objects that accompany him. Such sharp objects, obsidian blades tied to cords, stingray thorns bordered by barbs, and carved bones were used by local Chibcha peoples to pierce body parts such as tongues and genitals during bloody rituals. Before the arrival of the Europeans, Panama was essentially inhabited by Chibcha. Like the Maya, the Chibcha performed rituals to satisfy the gods and guarantee the order of the world. Some of these rituals consisted of blood sacrifices in which the victim mutilated itself. The blood flowing from the wounds was then offered to the divinities.

The lintel 24 of Yaxchilan in Mexico shows an example of self-sacrifice in Mayan civilization: Lady Xoc is depicted passing through her tongue a rope bristling with obsidian blades in order to soak paper with her blood, the incineration of which she will then use to invoke the Serpent Vision. (c) Wal

These rituals existed in all of Central America. Images found show, for example, how a cord with obsidian blades attached to it is pulled through the victim’s tongue by itself. The length of the blades is approximately the length of a little finger. The pain and blood loss caused by this practice must have been substantial. Even more painful was the certainly the introduction of the also finger-long barbed ray thorns into the genitals.

Scientists assume on the basis of representations that it was the duty of high-ranking members of society or perhaps warriors to sacrifice their blood to the gods. These sacrifices could probably go as far as self-castration, even if puncturing and perforating the phallus, puncturing the legs or ears, piercing the tongue and other parts of the body with bone rods, cactus thorns or obsidian blades might have been more frequent self-sacrifice practices.

The archaeologists who found the dead young Chibcha in Panama City named him ‘Guerrero’, warrior, on the assumption that he was a warrior who deliberately bled to death in self-sacrifice.

U.C. Ringuer

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