Besides appeasing the gods, human sacrifice had another effect; it cemented social stratification, i.e., inequality, in the societies that practiced it. [bold added]
The researchers found that human sacrifice was widespread in Austronesia, occurring in 25% of egalitarian cultures, 37% of moderately stratified societies and a whopping 67% of highly stratified cultures. Stratification and human sacrifice were clearly linked—but did one cause the other? [snip]Human sacrifice and inequality? What barbarians those people were!
They found that the practice [of human sacrifice] had a twofold impact, historically, on Austronesian societies: It made them significantly less likely to turn in an egalitarian direction and significantly more likely to become more hierarchical. In other words, the ritualistic sacrificing of humans seems to have stabilized and deepened social inequalities.
Despite melodramatic legends of tribes sacrificing their chiefs to the gods once they got over the hill, the reality appears to have been different. In Austronesia, the new research confirms, the message to those of low status was none too subtle: Don’t cause trouble, or yours may be the heart that the gods just happen to pick as a pleasing gift at the next ceremony.