The sleeping warrior of Panama

The city of Panama was founded on August 15, 1519 as the first Spanish settlement on the Pacific coast, and it is the oldest living city on the American mainland. However, it was destroyed in 1671 by the troops of English pirate Henry Morgan, and today the ruins of its old town are a tourist attraction. The modern city was rebuilt southwest of the old town ruins, and recent excavations in the area have led to the discovery of several burials.

On the one hand, a cemetery of the first European settlers was found, and it was surprising to discover that many of the new settlers were of African origin. On the other hand, burials of the indigenous people were also found. These people had lived in the same place where the Spaniards settled and had mixed with them before being wiped out by the transmission of diseases.

Among the burials of the indigenous population, an astonishing grave was found, that of a young man who appears to have fallen asleep sitting. His head rests on his left arm, and at his side there is a collection of white, cleaned stingray spines, while 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.

The reason why the young man fell asleep forever in this position can perhaps be deduced from the objects that accompany him. Sharp objects like obsidian blades tied to cords and stingray thorns with barbs were used by local Chibcha people during bloody rituals to pierce body parts such as tongues and genitals. Before the arrival of the Europeans, Panama was mainly inhabited by the Chibcha people who, like the Maya, performed rituals to satisfy the gods and ensure the order of the world. Some of these rituals involved blood sacrifices where the victim mutilated themselves, and 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

Scientists assume, based on representations found, that high-ranking members of society or perhaps warriors had the duty to sacrifice their blood to the gods. These sacrifices could have gone as far as self-castration, although more frequent self-sacrifice practices included puncturing and perforating the phallus, puncturing the legs or ears, and piercing the tongue and other parts of the body with bone rods, cactus thorns, or obsidian blades.

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

U.C. Ringuer

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