Books  Evolutionary Biology  Human Evolution & Anthropology 

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

Popular Science

By: Matt J Rossano(Author)

248 pages, 4 b/w illustrations

Columbia University Press

Hardback | Aug 2013 | #208794 | ISBN-13: 9780231165006
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £19.95 $27/€23 approx

About this book

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.

In Mortal Rituals 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.

"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."
– David Hicks, Stony Brook University and Clare College, Cambridge University

"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."
– Richard Sosis, University of Connecticut, cofounder and coeditor of Religion, Brain, & Behavior

"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!"
– Cristine H. Legare, University of Texas at Austin

"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."
– Eduardo Strauch, Andes survivor

"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."
– Frederick L. Coolidge, University of Colorado, coauthor of How to Think Like a Neandertal



1. Natural Versus Civilized
2. The Evolution of Taboo
3. This Cold and Capricious Place
4. Mountain Rituals
5. Rituals of Love
6. Ritual Defeats the Mountain
7. God of the Mountain


Write a review

There are currently no reviews for this product. Be the first to review this product!


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.

Bestsellers in this subject

Early Humans

NHBS Price: £27.99 £34.99 (Save £7.00) $38/€32 approx

Our Human Story

NHBS Price: £14.99 $20/€17 approx

Grand Canyon, a Century of Change

NHBS Price: £30.50 $41/€34 approx

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

NHBS Price: £9.99 $14/€11 approx

A Foot in the River

NHBS Price: £12.99 $18/€15 approx

VAT: GB 407 4846 44
NHBS Ltd is registered in England and Wales: 1875194