Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us About Human Evolution

Overview

On December 21, 1972, sixteen young survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 were rescued after spending ten weeks stranded at the crash site of their plane, high in the remote Andes Mountains. The incident made international headlines and spawned several best-selling books, fueled partly by the fact that the young men had resorted to cannibalism to survive.

Matt Rossano examines this story from an evolutionary perspective, weaving together findings and ideas from ...

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Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us About Human Evolution

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Overview

On December 21, 1972, sixteen young survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 were rescued after spending ten weeks stranded at the crash site of their plane, high in the remote Andes Mountains. The incident made international headlines and spawned several best-selling books, fueled partly by the fact that the young men had resorted to cannibalism to survive.

Matt Rossano examines this story from an evolutionary perspective, weaving together findings and ideas from anthropology, psychology, religion, and cognitive science. During their ordeal, these young men broke "civilized" taboos to fend off starvation and abandoned "civilized" modes of thinking to maintain social unity and individual sanity. Through the power of ritual, the survivors were able to endure severe emotional and physical hardship. Rossano ties their story to our story, seeing in the mortal rituals of this struggle for survival a reflection of what it means to be human.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The premise of Rossano’s latest (after Supernatural Selection) is exciting, but the execution will leave some readers hungry. The Southeastern Louisiana University psychology prof draws heavily on previous accounts of the harrowing experiences of a rugby team whose plane crashed in 1972 in the Andes, but he mainly looks beyond empirical descriptions to examine the events from a theoretical perspective. Most passengers died immediately, but Rossano is most interested in the 16 who survived brutal cold at a high elevation—for 10 weeks—by living off the remains of their friends. He explores the decisions the survivors made, from dividing up chores to selecting leaders, and investigates how they maintained their sanity and retained their humanity under such extreme conditions. More than using the amazing story to illuminate principles associated with human evolution, however, Rossano uses it as a jumping-off point to discuss anthropological, psychological, and evolutionary ideas, such as the sociological function of rituals, the differences between egalitarian and hierarchical communities, the importance of song and dance, the practices of tool making and burial, as well as the nature of religion. The tie-in to the Andes survivors is sometimes tenuous and speculative, but Rossano’s suppositions and hypotheses are nevertheless thought provoking. Photos & illus. (Aug. 13)
Richard Sosis

A unique and ambitious volume. Rossano's narrative masterfully weaves a moving contemporary drama with a compelling account of the evolutionary history of ritual and religion. An impressive accomplishment and a truly captivating read from start to finish.

Cristine H. Legare

A fascinating, accessible account of how our propensity for group living, shaped by evolution, prepares us for survival. Rossano expertly brings the explanatory elegance of evolutionary theory and the adaptive value of ritual to bear on topics of fundamental human concern. Evocative, timely, highly recommended reading!

Eduardo Strauch

A fascinating new context for our story, illuminating and deeply rewarding for me. Mortal Rituals will be enjoyable and educational for anyone, whether familiar with our story or not.

Frederick L. Coolidge

An amazingly engaging and compelling account of basic survival under the most extreme and harsh conditions. Rossano presents an excellent integration of the ordeal in the Andes Mountains with sound psychological theory and empirical evidence to explain why some were able to survive while others perished.

Times Literary Supplement - Craig Purshouse

An engrossing book.... Mortal Rituals is a clearly written and compelling case study.

David Hicks

Matt J. Rossano's attempt to parallel Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa's incredible venture with the evolution of the human capacity to survive works very well. As he so aptly puts it, his narrative describes a 'microcosm of human evolution,' and I think this book will grab the interest of many readers -- students as well as the general public -- as it teaches essential facts about the way Homo sapiens evolved.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231165006
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 8/13/2013
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 962,615
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Matt J. Rossano is professor of psychology at Southeastern Louisiana University. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Riverside, and is the author of Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved and Evolutionary Psychology: The Science of Human Behavior and Evolution. He blogs for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today on religion, science, evolution, and human behavior.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

PrefaceIntroduction1. Natural Versus Civilized2. The Evolution of Taboo3. This Cold and Capricious Place4. Mountain Rituals5. Rituals of Love6. Ritual Defeats the Mountain7. God of the MountainNotesReferencesIndex

Columbia University Press

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