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

Ancient Maya Infancy And Childhood

Steeped in symbols and tradition from birth Panajachel, Guatemala At birth, a child is anointed and slapped three times, a reference to hearthstone symbology. Maya hearths for cooking consist of three stones. The ancients believed that the stones replicate three prominent stars in the constellation Orion, set in the sky by the maize god at the beginning of creation. Because every day in the ancient Maya calendar had personal characteristics, a person’s birth date controlled his or her temperament and destiny. The given name was determined by a shaman at a divining… 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

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

Maya Buildings and Houses Were Made Sacred

By installing spirits within them, they were given life For the ancients, there was no separation between the secular and the sacred. Everything was sacred, ensouled with ch’ulel, a vital source that came from the sun. Beyond the city or village there were chaotic spaces referred to as “the wilds.” These were the places of animals, ghosts, demons, spirits and “foreigners.” While these were sometimes talked about as hostile, the wilds (wilderness) and everything in it contained ch’ulel, a spirit. Because human beings couldn’t live in chaos—the wilds—life and living was all… Read More

The Dancing Maize God

Vessel of the Dancing Lords (A.D. 750/800)  Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. Maya Image Archive This vessel was produced in the Naranjo, Guatemala workshop for Lord K’ahk’ Ukalaw Chan Chaahk. At the top, above a band of symbols indicating the sky (a “sky band”), the hieroglyphs read: “His painting, (artist’s name?), artist sage, Lord Maxam, child of woman, Holy Lady Water-Venus, Lady Lord of Yaxhá (title?)(title?), child of man, Three Katun (60 year) Sacrificer, Lord Flint Face, Holy Lord of Naranjo, pure artisan.” The Classic Period name of the… Read More

Maize

The staple of ancient Maya life In the pre-dawn darkness, Gucumatz and Heart Of Heaven call on Fox, Coyote, Parrot and Crow to bring yellow and white maize from Paxil and Cayala, a mountain filled with seeds and fruits. Old Xmucane grinds the maize and, from the meal, the first four men are fashioned. Unlike the previous wooden race, these people of maize possess great knowledge and understanding and correctly give thanks to their creators. However, Gucumatz and Heart of Heaven are troubled; these corn men can see everywhere—through earth and sky… Read More