Ancient Maya Solar Observatories

Stages for community-wide ritual and celebration Structure E-VII-sub Uaxactun, Guatemala By 500 B.C., in the Middle Preclassic Period, there were numerous large architectural assemblages throughout the central lowlands of Guatemala and Mexico. At first, they appeared to function solely as line-of-site markers of the sun’s solstice and equinox turning points. Archaeologists named them “E-Group complexes.”  Although there was great diversity in these structures across time and place, what they had in common was a large rectangular, flat, paved plaza with a square four-sided pyramid aligned to the cardinal directions, situated west of a… Read More

Caves: Entrances To The Underworld

Places closer to the gods were portals and places of ritual Rio Frio Cave, Belize   Caves, where one descends toward the k’u’x (heart or center) of a mountain, are especially hot places. This is due to their symbolic proximity to the powers unleashed by cosmic convergence at the axis mundi. Eduard Fisher (Anthropologist)   The Yucatan Peninsula is one of the largest limestone shelves in the world. In the north, the bedrock is porous and the landscape relatively flat, so rainwater runs and collects in underground caves. There are no visible… Read More

Climate Change and Drought

A major factor in the decline of Maya civilization Land bridge between reservoirs. Tikal, Guatemala In the Late Classic period (A.D. 500-900) this path separated two immense reservoirs in Tikal’s city center. When I was there in 2008 it was overgrown and difficult to see the bottom on either side. I estimated them to be about as deep as an eight-to-ten-story building.   Maya farmers are still around today; kings, however, disappeared 1,000 years ago. There is a lesson here on how people and water managers respond to long-term climate change, something… Read More

Copal Incense: Gift for the Gods

The sweet-smelling blood of trees Copal (Pom) tree with bamboo growing alongside it (NOTE: I highly recommend the PBS Nova program “Ancient Maya Metropolis.” It focuses on Caracol in Belize. The program is exceedingly well done). The process of making copal incense begins by scraping the bark with a blade. When the sap comes out it’s collected on a piece of bark or corn husk. The resin, which wards off insects from the tree, is thick and sticky and has a white to yellow color. In contact with the air, it becomes… Read More

Dowsing / Divination

Are there underground forces that can be felt? My guide at Xunantunich, Belize Dowsing is a type of divination, typically used today to locate ground water, buried metals, gemstones, oil and grave sites without the use of scientific instruments. It’s consider a pseudoscience because there’s no scientific evidence that the technique is any more effective than random chance; skeptics say the dowsing rod moves due to accidental or involuntary movements of the person using it. The entry in Wikipedia says it probably originated in Germany in the 16th century. I never thought… Read More

Dugout Canoes And Mythology

Paddler gods escorted the Maize God across the Milky Way                                                                                                                 Lake Peten Itza, Guatemala By 400 B.C., salt was being “shipped” by canoes from northern Yucatan to Tikal in the Guatemalan jungle by way of Cerros, Belize… Read More

Hunting Deer

Vase rollout courtesy of Justin Kerr They joined together in companies of fifty and roasted the flesh of deer so it would not be wasted; they make presents of it to their lord and distribute the rest among friends.                                           Fray Diego de Landa, Bishop Inquisitor of Colonial Yucatan Deer were treated like gods because their main god had appeared to them in that form. In some places there were deer parks… Read More

The Sacred World Tree (Ceiba)

This is a young ceiba. The thorns protect the tree from animals, especially the peccary who like the bark. The spikes disappear when the tree matures. The ceiba is the largest tree in the Mesoamerican tropical forest, so it’s not surprising that the Maya would use it as a model for the cosmos. The stature of the actual tree with roots deep in the underworld, the tall trunk and branches that touched the sky, makes it an ideal representation of the three realms inhabited by gods and demons. The ideological version, an… Read More

Ancient Maya Termination Rituals

Temples and other structures were ritually buried when no longer used Caracol Structure B5 For the ancient Maya the most important interaction was not between persons, objects or buildings, it was their relationship with the spirits that resided within them. While everything was perceived as being alive, only those things that were useful were ritually ensouled with a guardian spirit—or a deity in the case of temples, palaces and sacred places. When a house, palace or temple was built, an och’ k’ak’ “fire-entering” ritual was held to ensoul it with a guardian… Read More

Kakaw (Chocolate)

A highly valued trading commodity, and an elite beverage Kakaw trees can’t tolerate high altitudes or temperatures below 60º F. They need moisture year-round, so during prolonged dry seasons irrigation is necessary. Given these considerations, they were domesticated in the Pacific coastal plains of Guatemala and Chiapas around 1000 B.C., at the height of the Olmec civilization at San Lorenzo. The area around Izapa, a Late Formative site in Chiapas, was a particularly rich source of kakaw (cacao) because it was very hot with volcanic soil.  The variety of cacao grown in… Read More