Sign up for email updates!


The Land Before Time—PART 29: On Those Giant, Cannibalistic Gods That Demanded Human Sacrifice

Share this!

Mary Mary, quite contrary.

How does your garden grow?

With Silver Bells, and cockle shells,

And pretty maids all in a row.

Sounds innocent enough, right? To one who hears it for the first time, it may evoke pictures of a lovely, vibrant young girl, walking along in her beautifully tended garden on a peaceful summer afternoon. But see below what Alicia McDermott tells us about its origin:

According to some researchers Mary Mary, also published in 1744, refers to “Bloody Mary,” Mary Tudor or Mary Stewart—Mary Queen of Scots. Mary Tudor was a strict Catholic and during her reign from 1553–1558 her garden (a graveyard) grew as many [P]rotestants were executed for not converting to Catholicism. “Silver bells” and “cockle shells” may have been the nicknames of torture devices (thumbscrews and instruments attached to the genitals). The “maids” (shortened from maiden) in the rhyme is thought to be another nickname—for another device for torture or the guillotine.[i]

Think of the little songs and poems you may have sung, quoted, or even jump-roped to as a child. Many of them, at one time, had very dark, but real and factual origins, just the same as “Mary, Mary” listed above. Now that we have established the fact that there is much more to Chaco Canyon than meets the eye, it’s easy to see that the legend of the Wendigo, the chindi, and even in the theatricals that reenact the sacrifice of the chief’s son and daughter to the Great Serpent, could be the representation of what was indeed a factual and very dark beginning.

Polydactyly and Dwarvism

Considering what we already know of Chaco, we have by this time discussed cannibalism and human sacrifice there, but the truth is that as we discover this practice becoming more widespread during this era, we can see other apexes within their religious system beginning to surface as well. It would appear that polydactyly, having six fingers and/or toes, was a trait that would earn a person a place of reverence or respect as well—something I believe Mesoamericans and eventually some of the Anasazi connected to the offspring of the Cloudeaters, the gods. Anthropologist Patricia Crown led a study on this and discovered that while they were not necessarily believed to actually have been supernatural beings themselves (although Mayan culture does at times connect certain extrahuman powers to the trait), people displaying this characteristic were given a higher rank in society than the typical residents, and were awarded with special items and treatment.

On this matter, Crown said, “We found that people with six toes, especially, were common and seemed to be associated with important ritual structures and high-status objects like turquoise.”[ii]

Polydactyly was found to be more common at Chaco than in other regions, which has puzzled some researchers. Discovered at Chaco were three in ninety-six skeletons, a ratio unusually high, at 3.1 percent, when in modern Native Americans, the ratio is .2 percent according to National Geographic.[iii]

Studying the petroglyphs, one can quickly see that six-fingered hands—or, more commonly among the rock art, six-toed footprints—are easy to find, meaning that it was noted frequently in the stories they were trying to leave behind. Something that particularly expresses the importance of these characteristics is that there are many areas where the handprint or footprint is embedded into the door frame right outside the kiva for prominence and notoriety, another indicator that this was given high regard and ritualistic rank.

Sandals accommodating an extra toe were also found in great quantity. Six-digited individuals were given honorary burials, placed with symbolic grave goods, and, in one instance, an individual even had an ornate anklet on his six-toed foot, and no adornment on his five-toed foot.

Another interesting find was at Ash Creek, where an “elite residence” was said to have contained a fragmentary cut of an ulna and humerus (bones) of a dwarf-sized individual. These were considered to be trophy memorabilia and not suspected to have been related in any way to the cannibalism that went on at Chaco.

The Rites Escalate

When we are looking at Chaco Canyon and the element of human sacrifice, we can also look at the Salmon Ruin, on a road linked with Chaco Canyon, where two adults were strongly suspected to have been cannibalized and another thirty—all of whom were children—were killed and burned, theorized to have probably been sacrificed to the Mayan diety Chichén Itzá.[iv] Noted in the ratio of burials for this particular site was the fact that children were strangely absent within the considerate burials, but that there were many who appeared to have died under suspicious circumstances and were burned.

At the Cases Grandes Ruin, archaeologist Charles C. Di Peso wrote of the five deities, (Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, Xiuhtecutli, Xipe Totec, and Tlaloc) that he accredited the Chaco region’s cultural changes during this time to the following:

[They] were all intregal to this Mesoamerican cult, particularly as practiced by the Aztec, who paid special homage to Xipe during their festival of Tlacaxipeualiztli, the second month of their calendar, which occasioned the ceremonial scalping of certain of their sacrificial victims.… Cannibalism, though not unique to Xipe Tótec cultists, was nonetheless a meaningful function of their sect.[v]

One strange find at Casa Rinconada was the condition of the human remains associated with this site. It was unique from other excavations in this region because of the fact that they were severely chewed. Many skeletons found here were partially missing and either the bones had been chewed and scattered by a “carnivore” or there had been postmortem human disturbance. Sadly, when Turner tried to retrieve them for further inspection, many of them were then missing. The vast majority reported on, however, were said to have had the ends chewed completely off, which was the only place within my studies that showed bones to have been chewed and scattered in such a way, with no sign of it having been a rodent, and possible expert explanations for the disarray ranged from man-made disturbances, to grave robbers, which didn’t account for the chewing. The reporting archaeologist pointed his dusty finger at local wild dogs or coyotes, but even himself stated:

Taken as a whole, there was significantly more modification, human and environmental, to Chacoan bodies than has been noted in comparably sized districts of the Mogollon, Classic-period Hohokam, or western Anasazi culture areas. Chaco Canyon is not only architecturally distinctive, it is also taphonomically strange.[vi]

As Time Passes, Rituals Intensify

A particularly gruesome find was that of the location called Houck K, which was estimated closer to A.D. 1250. It would appear that the skeletons of adolescent and adult victims had had their chests disarticulated by “prying and bending their rib cages until the ribs snapped off near the vertebral column.”[vii] The expert coordinating the excavation presumed that the rib fragments were crushed and boiled to extract fat. They found, also at this location, two victims whose heads had been more than scalped. One had been fully flayed and the other had been cut to the upper nose. Of that, Turner stated:

Such facial mutilation could represent either socially pathological violence to the victim or, more likely to our minds, ceremonial flaying like that done to Mesoamerican Tlaloc or Xipe Totec sacrificial victims.[viii]

This is only one of many cases that presented acts such as facial flaying; skin of the deceased being worn; swapping skin, faces, heads, or other body parts between two corpses; and even tongue removal. The farther into this period in the Chacoan region we progress, the thicker the resemblance becomes to that of Mesoamerica, and specifically, Teotihuacan, pre-Aztec city in Middle Mexico that we mentioned before. For example, the sun god Tonatiuh, whose face and protruding tongue are seen at the center of the famous Sun Stone, is the god of the present (fifth) time, which began in 3114 B.C. Tonatiuh—who delivered important prophecies and demanded human sacrifices (more than twenty thousand victims per year were offered to him, according to Aztec and Spanish records, and in the single year of 1487, Aztec priests sacrificed eighty thousand people to him at the dedication of the reconstructed temple of the sun god)—was also known as the lord of the thirteen days (from 1 Death to 13 Flint), a number sacred to Aztec, Maya, and Freemasons for prophetic and mystical reasons.

A Glimpse of Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan has traces that may reach back as far as 200 B.C., but was at its peak between A.D. 150 and A.D. 750 at a possible population of up to two hundred thousand residents. While it is commonly believed that the city was raided, many experts also believe that its internal government had already begun to crumble from the inside out, citing civil unrest as the actual culprit for its demise. Some have even called it the Mesoamerican Tower of Babel, saying that residents adopted a new culture and simply migrated out of the area.[ix]

Regardless of the specific reasons the city’s infrastructure began to crumble, between A.D. 600 and A.D. 900, it is a well-documented fact that nomads looking for a new life migrated outward, and many of them headed north, as we have already established. A traveler leaving this place and coming to a new area would certainly be bringing along some gruesome rituals. See below what Fray Bernardino de Sahagún records about some of the rituals carried out for their deities; Tlaloc, Xipe Totec, Huitzilopochtli, and Quetzalcoatl in the Teotihuacan region:

They killed a large number of infants each year, and once dead they cooked and ate them.… Captives were killed by scalping them, taking the scalp off the top of the head…When the masters of these captives took their slaves to the temple where they were to be killed, they dragged them by the hair. As they pulled them up the steps of the Cú, some of these captives would faint, so their owners had to drag them by the hair as far as the block where they were to die.… After thus having torn their hearts out, and after pouring their blood into a jacara (bowl made of a gourd), which was given to the master of the dead slave, the body was thrown down the temple steps. From there it was taken by certain old men called Quaquaquilti, and carried to their calpul (or chapel), cut to pieces, and distributed among them to be eaten. Before cutting them up they would flay the bodies of the captives; others would dress in their skins and fight sham battles with other men.[x]

He goes on from there to describe a horrific scene (one that is too graphic to include in this book) where some of the human sacrifice victims are burned alive, then pulled from the fire, at which point their hearts are ripped from their chests regardless of whether they are completely dead. This description seemed to me to be similar to the chest disarticulation that happened at Houck K, which we mentioned previously. The heart is then offered at the feet of the statue of, Xiuhtecutli, their god of fire.

Displaced Drifters Head North

Even in Teotihuacan art, one can find accountings of human sacrifice and cannibalism. Ancient deities that have been mentioned all throughout this chapter were associated with the legendary Dragon, who was worshipped by the gigantic Cloudeaters, who demanded grisly and shocking forms of worship. So, as a result of Teotihuacan crumbling at this time, combined with the Chacoan region’s population growing and beginning to thrive, it created the perfect place for these drifters to find a safe haven, bringing their influences, however malevolent, along with them. See how archaeological team Lister and Lister explain the phenomenon:

Realistically viewed, Chaco Canyon need not have been an actual cog in the Toltec organization of trading outposts to have been influenced by Mexican cultures, for shock waves emanating from an advanced epicenter have a way of reverberating outward to engulf otherwise removed entities.… News, ideas, and technological knowledge undoubtedly passed along the trade routes as readily as did material things, and the traveling salesmen of the times most likely played important roles in cultural diffusion. By that means, eyewitness accounts of Mesoamerican religious rituals, irrigation schemes, architectural embellishments, communication means, and other strange wonders may have reached Chaco. The descriptions may have inspired and encouraged local technicians and leaders to adopt those measures that would be beneficial to the Chacoans.[xi]

Lister and Lister seem of the opinion that it would not have been necessary for Chaco to be involved with trade relations in order for the Mesoamerican to impact the area, that just by its mere proximity, the stimulus would have radiated outward and reached Chaco eventually, regardless. But beyond this archaeologist’s surmising, we have established that there was also, indeed, trade happening through the Chaco region, alongside the reach of influence. So there can be no doubt that the sway not only permeated the Chaco region, but that with lengthened exposure over time, the results were escalating. The farther into this time period that we venture to explore, the closer we get to A.D. 1300, the more heinous these acts become, and the more graphic and brutal the descriptions are. It would seem that the earliest recordings of cannibalism and violence during this period now appeared mellow in comparison with the accountings as time progressed.


As we mentioned before, the ghastly facial flaying at Houck K is thought to have happened closer to A.D. 1250, whereas the “simpler” cannibalism and violence of Canyon Butte Ruin was possibly closer to A.D. 1000. If a person examines several sites from several different dates between A.D. 900 and A.D. 1300, they will see that the overall trend is increasing in repugnance as the years progress, which points toward the idea that infiltration began, and that slowly new ideas from Mesoamerican were introduced, and that over the period of time, as is often the case, people became desensitized and these ritual habits intensified.

When Two Worlds Collide

Allow me to recall the comment in I made earlier about the “triple-walled towers” that appeared in about A.D. 1275. Coincidence? We think not.

On the front cover of the 1963 National Monument Brochure for the site Hovenweep, which we visited and studied in our research for this book and the documentary film, proudly declared that its “ruins are noted for their square, oval, circular, and D-shaped towers and are perhaps the best preserved examples of Southwestern Indian defensive architecture.”[xii] The same goes on to describe the towers at this particular site as the “‘sentry boxes’ of a bygone people.”

The story of Hovenweep, as this same brochure tells, is as follows: Between approximately the years of A.D. 400 and A.D. 1100, ancient Native Americans dwelled peacefully in the valleys as hunter-gather, basket-making peoples. In about A.D. 1100, however, some unprecedented threat came to this area, forcing local farmers to move into more defensive locations, and that by A.D. 1200, the living style had generally become that of large, defensive groups housed together in group dwellings for safety. See how the story explains this phenomenon:

By 1200…people tended to withdraw completely from the open valleys and mesa tops to more defensible sites containing permanent springs situated in the heads of the Hovenweep canyons.[xiii]

Hovenweep is thought by many to be the last example of architecture from this area in the Four Corners region. Despite the efforts of settlers there, however, like many other defensive sites at this point in time, a massacre occurred and those left alive likely fled.

We also know that population began to grow, slowly at first, as early as A.D. 900, but by A.D. 1200, occupancy in the Mesa Verde area was in full swing. By A.D. 1200, cliff dwellings were being constructed and inhabited. As I stated very early on in this work, some may argue that this story is backward, but when confronted with the evidence of localized culture change, timelines on locations such as Hovenweep, and the known nature of the defensive structures involved, this seems the chronological direction that makes the most sense. Additionally, most people claiming this timeline also adopt the theory that these people eventually migrated south following their deities. But studying the Teotihuacan history. both the Chaco region and further south will show that the very deities they were said to have followed actually existed in Mexico long before they were in the American Southwest, which further supports our timeline and directional flow. Being that the cultural and religious activity can be proven to date earlier in Mexico, it is reasonable to accept the same timeline on the cliff dwellings, towers, and outward migration as well.

The next argument a naysayer might bring up is that, again as stated early on, the cliff dwellings are not buildings of a defensive nature. Many so-called cultural experts during our investigation became confrontational, feeling that the ancient occupants’ integrity is under attack by way of their living situation. In exploring this, one must start with the most obvious question: Why? For what reason would groups of people choose to build into the side of a cliff, requiring such an arduous climb either upward or downward to reach it, unless there was an enormous threat from which one was trying to escape? Personally, in all of my research, I have yet to hear a really good answer to this question.

We have already established that there was, indeed, a threat migrating into the area, spreading, infiltrating further, as time went by. We propose that those who were living at ground level at a time before A.D. 800 were by A.D. 1200 grouping together, just as the evidence states, to escape to higher ground, either by way of cliff dwellings or protective towers, for safety and survival.

They literally ran for the hills…

UP NEXT: The New Way of Life

[i] Alicia McDermott, “English Nursery Rhymes with Unexpected and Sometimes Disturbing Historical Origins,” August 11, 2015, Ancient Origins, last accessed December 12, 2016,

[ii] “Ancient People of Chaco Canyon With Six Fingers and Toes Were Special,” July 27, 2016, Message to Eagle Online, last accessed December 12, 2016,

[iii] Aaron Sidder, “Extra Fingers and Toes Were Revered in Ancient Culture,” July 25, 2016, National Geographic Online, last accessed December 12, 2016,

[iv] Christy and Jacqueline Turner, Man Corn, 131

[v] Charles C. Di Peso, Casas Grandes, a Fallen Trading Center of the Gran Chichimeca, vol. 2: Medio Period. (Flagstaff, Arizona: Amerind Foundation, Northland Press, 1974), 574.

[vi] Christy and Jacqueline Turner, Man Corn, 362.

[vii] Ibid.,  371.

[viii] Ibid., 380.

[ix] “Teotihuacan,”, last accessed December 12, 2016,

[x] Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, A History of Ancient Mexico, 1547-1577, vol. 1; Translated by F.R. Bandelier from the Spanish version of C.M. de Bustamante, (Nashville, TN: Fisk University Press, 1932) 273.

[xi] Robert H. Lister and Florence C. Lister Chaco Canyon: Archaeology and Archaeologists, (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1981) 175.

[xii] National Park Service, Hovenweep National Monument, (US Government Printing Office, 1963) last accessed December 12, 2016,

[xiii] Ibid.

Category: Featured, Featured Articles