We May Never Truly Fathom Other Cultures - Facts So Romantic

We May Never Truly Fathom Other Cultures - Facts So Romantic

Our discrete cultural universes are not easily bridged.Inca Princess - La Gran Ñusta Mama Occollo (early 1800s) / Denver Art Museum / Wikicommons

If they’re honest and humble enough, people who study societies that existed in the Americas before the arrival of Europeans will admit that they don’t really understand those societies. They’ll know the facts about pre-Hispanic cultures and chronologies, yet how people in those societies thought, their values and psychologies, remain maddeningly out of reach. It’s like reading poetry in translation: You’ll know what it’s about, and you’ll get the basic meaning, but you’ll never completely grasp the nuance. “There is something in their way of thinking that is very alien to us,” Harvard archaeologist Gary Urton once told me. He was talking about the Inca of South America, which he has a spent a lifetime studying.

I don’t think any of us living today can comprehend the violence of worship in the Mexica culture (or Aztecs, as they are more popularly known), which I’ve written about for Archaeology. The Mexica waged war not principally to defeat rival states or gain territory, but to gather warm bodies for human sacrifice. Prisoners were hustled up to the temple summit,…
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