Maya Stone Monuments: Stelae

Keeping the spirits of deceased kings alive and active (Stelae) were more than mere representation; they were themselves animate embodiments of the king, extensions of the kingly self that always ‘acted’ to insure the perpetual renewal of time and the cosmos. David Stuart, Archaeologist  Maya stelae are tall stone monuments, erected in the Classic Period between 100 and 300 AD. Many of them were sculpted in low relief on all four sides with kings, gods, ancestors and hieroglyphs. They were mostly painted red—the color of the life force—but uncarved stelae were also… Read More

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

Ancient Maya War And Warriors

Ritualized skirmishes evolved into large scale warfare Rollout vase photos courtesy of Justin Kerr   It was the custom among them to pledge what they possessed to each other; upon collection and payment they began to quarrel and attack each other. Frey Diego de Landa   They never had peace, especially when the cultivation (of milpas) was over, and their greatest desire was to seize important men to sacrifice, because the greater the quality of the victim, the more acceptable their service to the gods.  Alfred Tozzer   War was the way… Read More

The Ancient Maya Ball Game

Where the story of creation was repeated and celebrated Ball Court: Copan, Honduras Scholars believe that in earlier Maya times, the contest was a ritual that represented the fight of the opposing and forces of the universe—life-death, Sun-Moon, day-night, light-darkness—in order to insure balance, continuity and fertility. Some say it was a metaphor for the movements of heavenly bodies, the ball representing the journey of the Sun god passing in and out of the underworld. Because some courts have stone rings on the walls for the ball to pass through, other say… Read More

Ancient Maya Clothing

What you wore was a sign of who you were and where you lived Whether intended or not, clothing communicates. For example, an apron in modern society can signal that the wearer is a chef or manual laborer. It can also symbolize the wearer’s beliefs and values, as when an apron is worn by a Rabbi. The elite Maya of the Classic Period went to extremes in the latter category, investing many items of clothing with meaning.  While commoner garments were simply intended to beautify or eroticize the body, those depicted in… 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

The Sacred Calendar of The Maya

Time was cyclical rather than linear Calendar glyphs. Copan Stela N (Back) Sacred time is that in which the gods manifested themselves and created; so each time man wants to ensure a fortunate outcome for something, he re-actualizes the original sacred event—creation; what is actually sought is the regeneration of the human being. Sacred time is reversible, it’s a primordial mythical time made present. Mircea Eliade Many of the ideas put forth by professor Eliade in his groundbreaking book, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion applies to the ancient… 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