THE HIGHEST ALTAR: The Story of Human Sacrifice by Patrick Tierney

THE HIGHEST ALTAR: The Story of Human Sacrifice

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Anthropological high adventure as science-reporter Tierney risks life and limb to penetrate remote Andean sites and unearth evidence of contemporary human sacrifice. After a brief but eager introduction to human sacrifice (""from Israel to Greece, from the Old World to the New, sacrifice was the religious experience""), Tierney moves on to his exciting report on his Indiana Jones-like escapades in tracking down ongoing human sacrifices. In 1983, he explains, a popular science magazine sent him to Chile to write about an autopsy performed on the mummified body of an Incan child. The paleopathologist who ran the autopsy concluded that the child--found atop a mountain peak 30 years earlier--had been buried alive. Galvanized by this finding, Tierney climbed other foreboding Andean mountain peaks--ascending at mortal risk from altitude sickness and freak blizzards--and found other sacrificial burial sites. Meanwhile, word reached him of more recent sacrifices: of the 1960 slaying of a five-year-old boy by a machi, or sorceress, in southern Chile; of the 1986 sacrifice in Peru of a 36-year-old man, allegedly by narcotraffickers. Investigating these deaths--talking to the machi, to the older victim's widow, to villagers--Tierney uncovered evidence, mostly testimonial, of widespread, seasonal sacrifice related to drug dealing, native religions, black magic, and a twisted form of Christianity. After he himself witnessed, at considerable risk, a ritual involving the sacrifice of sheep, Tierney at last turned up a professional sacrificer, who told him of many killings. A long, enthusiastic look at the role of sacrifice in the Judeo-Christian tradition closes the author's sanguineous account. A grimly fascinating if self-important blend of investigative journalism, scientific scholarship, and adventure story--one of the best of its kind since Wade Davis' The Serpent and the Rainbow.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Viking