Phylogenetic Methods

Human sacrifice Facilitated Social Inequality

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To mourn the death of aristocrats, the Ngaju people of Borneo performed a sacred ritual that began at sunset with the tying of a slave to a pole, involved dancing throughout the night and stabbing the victim, and then climaxed with the slave collapsing in a pool of his own blood at sunrise. In other parts of the world, methods of human sacrifice included bludgeoning, drowning, strangling, burning, decapitation, burial and even being used as the rollers to launch a newly built canoe. How could something as costly as human sacrifice have been so common in early societies? And why did these rituals need to be so dramatic and gory?

Read my summary article in Aeon here, the original article in Nature here, and F.A.Q. on human sacrifice here.

Big Gods and Big Societies

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Over half of the world’s population currently follow one of two closely related religions, Christianity and Islam. The concept of a Big God, who actively monitors human behaviour and punishes immoral actions, is a major feature of these religions and has been suggested to enhance cooperation.

I discuss my resent research on the role of big gods and supernatural punishment in human prehistory here, and the original article can be found here.