Solar Observatory Or Performance Stage?

By 500 B.C. 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 long narrow platform with small temples that ran north and south. The first to… Read More

Caves

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 rivers here. When a  cave ceiling collapses, the result is a sinkhole or cenoté (ts’onot “Sacred Well”… Read More

War And Warriors

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. 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 you got gifts for the gods and kept the universe running…. Read More

Ball Game

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 it was about the Earth swallowing the sun where… Read More

Clothing And Identity

Dress is not simply a passive reflection of identity—it has a powerful relationship to how individuals understand themselves and interact with others. Cara Grace Tremain (Anthropologist) 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 it’s 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 some Maya garments were… Read More

Climate Change and Drought

Land bridge between reservoirs. Tikal, 2008 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 hard to see the bottom, but I estimated both of 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 our own society faces at present. Lisa J. Lucero… Read More

The Sacred Calendar and New Year Renewal

  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 applys to the ancient Maya. While reading his book,… Read More

K’awiil: Ancient Maya God of Fertility, Abundance and Energy Exchange

  Drawing courtesy of Schele, Linda. Linda Schele Drawings Collection. 2000. 11-18-19. FAMSI.<http://research.famsi.org/schele_list.php?rowstart=15&search=k%27awiil&num_pages=4&title=Schele%20Drawing%20Collection&tab=schele&gt; Linda Schele, who made the above drawing from four identical, stucco-covered figurines found in Burial 195 at Tikal, spoke with a Maya ritualist who said K’awiil was a supernatural “host object.” (Schele, Maya Cosmos, p.199). This aligns with the god’s frequent appearance in Maya Art as the scepter of rulers, likely to indicate royal lineage. Rulers who are shown wearing a smoking headdress do so after death to denote royal ancestry, the most famous example being the curls of… Read More

Dugout Canoes

Lake Peten Itza, Guatemala As early a 400 B.C., salt was being “shipped” by canoes from northern Yucatan to Tikal in the Guatemalan jungle by way of Cerros, Belize down the New River. In 1502, Ferdinand Colon, a member of Christopher Columbus’s fourth voyage, described an encounter with a large group of Maya—or Maya-related people—in a seagoing canoe around the Bay Islands off modern Honduras. By good fortune there arrived at that time a canoe long as a galley and eight feet wide, made of a single tree trunk like the other… Read More

Bloodletting

Photo courtesy of Justin Kerr The theme of the past three posts was initiation, specifically the trials an initiate goes through in order to become a “man of the community.” Following on that ceremony would have been another rite of passage for individuals who would enter the brotherhood of elites. Typically for the Maya this involved bloodletting. More than a ritual of endurance, the symbolism around blood was complex and powerful. It signified noble lineage and descent based on blood, which was perceived to be the rarified essence or “breath” of the… Read More