Anthropology / Everything Human

Rules of the Underworld

History

  • Decoded

    Rules of the Underworld

    We often think of gangs, mafias, and drug cartels as chaotic and lawless. But rational rules govern the underworld to create a dark order.

  • Snapshot

  • Curiosities

    Skeleton Sex Pots

    The Moche, one of the world’s great ancient civilizations, occupied the northern coast of Peru from roughly A.D. 100 to A.D. 800. They produced beautiful ceramic vessels; hundreds of thousands are in museums worldwide. A unique subset is composed of “erotic” pottery, or “sex pots.” Inelegantly—albeit appropriately—named, Moche sex pots depict human figures engaged in a wide range of sex acts involving mouths, hands, nipples, genitals, anuses, and …

  • The Human Palate

    A Maya woman roasts cacao beans grown on her family’s farm in southern Belize. The family traditionally drinks cacao unsweetened but flavored with allspice.

    The Great Chocolate Migration

    Last fall, I was sipping Mexican chocolate at a chic little Singapore café. It was a local branch of a New York–based chain, which was started in Israel 20 years ago by a man who grew up with a love for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the wonderful tale by the British novelist Roald Dahl. My hot, frothy drink was modeled on the ancient forms of drinking chocolate …

  • Decoded

  • Icons

    The ladder acts as a central axis holding the universe together. According to anthropologist Elsie Clews Parsons, for the Acoma, “the Earth Mother is held in position by the Galaxy arching overhead, and a stick-image of the Mother is called [a] center pole; it holds the four stratified skies and the four stratified earths together, so to speak, a pole of gravity.”

    Ladders to Other Worlds

    For many Pueblo Indians, the ladder is at once a practical tool and a powerful metaphor. The ladder is used to descend and ascend—and to cross multiple worlds.