Has ritual human sacrifice shaped societies and class systems?
来源：未知 作者：东乡倡戋 时间：2019-02-28 09:15:02
Rex Features/Shutterstock By Colin Barras Are modern societies built on bloody foundations? That is the suggestion of new research into traditional Austronesian cultures. Ritual human sacrifice seems to be key to the emergence of inherited class systems: powerful members of society carried out these killings to control, terrorise and impress the lower ranks. So say Joseph Watts and Russell Gray at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and their colleagues, who browsed ethnographic data for evidence of ritual killing in 93 traditional Austronesian cultures. Other researchers take issue with their methodology and conclusions. Ritual human sacrifice – the taking of human life for religious purposes – used to be widespread. For instance, it was a feature of many Austronesian language cultures, which exist in a broad equatorial region stretching from Madagascar in the west to Easter Island in the east. Watts and Gray’s team looked at whether or not human sacrifice existed in these cultures in the past. They also noted whether each culture has an egalitarian social structure, an aspirational hierarchical structure — where individuals have some hope of raising their social status, or an inherited class system where social status is more or less decided at birth. They plotted the data on an “evolutionary tree” of the cultures that Gray and his colleagues pieced together in 2009 on the basis of linguistic evidence. This allowed them to estimate how often Austronesian cultures invented ritual human sacrifice, and to explore whether its adoption had any influence on the development of social structure. They found that the adoption of sacrifice increased the rate at which societies with an aspirational hierarchical structure shifted to an inherited class system. It also decreased the rate at which hierarchical societies collapsed into simpler egalitarian ones. Watts thinks that ritual killing was a potent way for social elites to flaunt their power over lower social orders – particularly given that sacrificial victims were usually low-status individuals. “In ancient Aztec culture social elite orchestrated human sacrifices to terrorise populations and justify their authority,” says Watts. Watts and Gray think that this means societies can only become highly stratified by employing terror tactics like ritual sacrifice – which might suggest that the large stratified societies we live in today began to emerge as a result of human sacrifice. Other researchers agree that the driving force behind human sacrifice is a fascinating and generally neglected subject. “I think it’s absolutely an important project,” says Joseph Henrich at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. “Sacrifice does seem to have been performed in societies all around the world.” But he and others disagree with Watts and Gray’s conclusions. By exploring ritual human sacrifice and social structure in the context of an evolutionary tree that was built on linguistic data, the team assumed that all of these cultural traits were passed down generations in the same way, says Henrich. “There’s no real reason to think that’s true – and in fact there’s reason to think it’s not true,” he says. He says that human sacrifice has totally disappeared from the region within the last few centuries, for instance, but the languages have continued to pass from parents to children in more or less the same way. This indicates that changes in one of the traits don’t automatically lead to changes in the other. And, the new study doesn’t exclude the possibility there were other causes of social hierarchical structure, says Michael Winkelman, now retired from Arizona State University, who has also studied the political and ecological factors contributing to human sacrifice. Peter Turchin at the University of Connecticut thinks the new analysis misses a broader point, because the Austronesian cultures are all relatively small, lacking the complexities of larger societies around the world. “Human sacrifice is actually a maladaptive cultural trait,” he says. Turchin is a member of a team analysing the global history of social and political organisation. Their preliminary results show that extreme inequality – characterised by traits including human sacrifice and slavery – is a stage that cultures quickly grow out of as they develop. This is because extreme inequality leaves societies weaker and more likely to be destroyed in wars than societies with more egalitarian structures. “Its all relative: these ‘egalitarian’ societies still have nobles and lords,” says Turchin. “But they have dispensed with the most extreme forms of inequality including human sacrifice.” Journal reference: Nature, 10.1038/nature17159 More on these topics: