Archive for the ‘Ancient Central America’ Category
It’s well-known by historians that many pre-Columbian societies enjoyed playing ball games, though the details of these games remain scarce. At the site of Piedra Labrada, where archaeologists have discovered 50 buildings, five ball courts have also been revealed—along with over 20 sculptures.
And until now, those sculptures of anthropomorphic figures, snails, and snake heads, were fairly standard subject matter for this sort of site. Mesoamericans often painted their sculptures in red and ritually “killed” them as offerings in year-end rituals—meaning they broke the statues into pieces and buried them.
But at Piedra Labrada, archaeologists discovered something unusual… a 5 foot, 4 inches tall granite statue of a pre-Columbian ball player! That said, the statue was discovered decapitated—but that’s not too strange, considering the ritual use of some statues (as previously mentioned).
Archaeologists identified what the statue was supposed to be by its attributes—the head has a carved helmet, and the figure is wearing a yugo around the waist. A yugo is like a belt, but much stronger, in order to protect the mid-section of the body during ball games.
One of the figure’s wrists also has a what’s being called a protective yoke, which matches with the few details of pre-Columbian ball games that we do know. In some games, players used a heavy rubber ball that would be thrown from one side of the ball court to the other—and sometimes, the ball could only be hit with the wrist!
The statue was found in the largest of Piedra Labrada’s ball courts; the court platform is shaped like an “I”, running about 131 feet long.
Initial study of the Mesoamerican statue has archaeologists speculating that it might have been carved around 600 A.D. by the Mixtec, an indigenous people of the area. Plenty of additional study will be needed, but that’s no surprise—archaeologists are really just getting started on their understanding and investigation into the city’s history, having only begun work here about a year ago.
Strange as it may seem, it looks like the people of the ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacan tried to put out the flames of their god of fire… by burying him in a pit.
Mexican archaeologists have discovered a figure of the fire god Huehueteotl inside a covered pit, located at the very top of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. Though excavations are ongoing, the discovery has prompted archaeologists to suggest that there used to be a temple at the top of the pyramid that was used to perform ritual offerings to the god.
This means that the largest stepped pyramid in the city would have been dedicated to this bearded god, usually depicted with a pot of fire on his head. Excavators found the figure of Huehueteotl and two stone pillars inside a 15-foot deep, covered pit—and the pit was underneath what historians believe is the remnant of a platform foundation for a small temple.
Until they started digging and “didn’t find the bottom of the platform”, archaeologists had no idea the pit was there. The suggestion has been made that Leopoldo Batres, a pioneering archaeologist who did restoration work on the Pyramid of the Sun’s basic form over a century ago, might have covered the platform up instead of excavating it (not an uncommon sort of decision for early archaeologists).
The figure of the god weighs 418 pounds, and was carved out of grey volcanic stone. The Pyramid of the Sun may hold other objects, as well—a 400-foot-long tunnel found in 2011 at the base of the structure is still under study, and it’s thought that only a fraction of the area has been covered with thorough study so far.
(Photo: European Pressphoto Agency)
Archaeologists have recently uncovered the remains of a Mayan warrior queen in Guatemala, at the site of El Peru-Waka, an ancient city under excavation by Washington University. Excavations led by archaeologist David Freidel identified a tomb in the ruins of the city’s main pyramid temple, attributing it as likely belonging to military ruler Lady K’abel of the Wak—or “Centipede Kingdom”—between 672-692 A.D.
The body buried inside the tomb held a variety of numerous offerings, such as jade jewelry, stone figures, and ceramic vessels. Among those, the most important item found was a small alabaster jar carved to resemble a conch shell. The carving also includes a head and arms of an old woman, which appear to emerge from inside the shell.
The back of the alabaster jar holds distinct Mayan hieroglyphs that read “Lady Snake Lord” and “Lady Water Lily Hand,” both names which are thought to reference Lady K’abel. This military ruler governed with her husband, K’inich Bahlam, while her official title of “Kaloomte” translates as “supreme warrior”… showing that while she wasn’t the king, she actually had more power than he did in many affairs!
The skeleton itself, found within the tomb, wasn’t in the greatest condition, making it difficult for excavators to determine the gender and age of the individual. However, the features of the skull are distinct and resemble the well-recognized carved ancient portraits of the warrior queen, which is what led the team to name this as her tomb.
Queens of El Peru-Waka also wore very specific jewelry to denote their station—shells worn at girdle ornaments, for example—and this body’s torso held a red spiny oyster shell.
Unfortunately for the queen, the Wak kingdom eventually collapsed, but during its height there were numerous public plazas, temple pyramids, palaces, and many homes to house the large population.
Photo Credit: Photograph by El Peru Wake Regional Archaeological Project
The one hundredth anniversary of the rediscovery of Machu Picchu has occurred and the site has become one of the most popular tourist destinations. Archaeologists originally believed that the site was a palace or estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti who lived from 1438 CE to 1472 CE. Now, archaeologists are beginning to think that the site may have been created for different uses.
Machu Picchu is located 2,430 meters or 7,970 feet above sea level. It sits on a mountain ridge and looks down on the Urubamba Valley. Construction on the site began around 1400 CE and was later abandoned approximately 100 years later when the Spanish Conquest began.
One theory is that the site was built in an area that was sacred to the Inca people. The Inca considered the Urubamba River to be sacred. Machu Picchu is built on a mountain which is circled almost completely by the Urubamba River. The site is also positioned so that the rising and setting of the sun is in alignment with mountains that are religiously significant. This is something that is unique to Machu Picchu.
The site also may have acted as a temple that was dedicated to an order known as the Virgins of the Sun. These women lived at Machu Picchu and were responsible for maintaining sacred fires, the weaving of sacred and royal clothing and even the preparation of ritual food. They were supervised by women known as Mama Cuna and governed by a high priestess known as the Coya Pasca.
A third theory was that the site acted as a royal retreat for the Incan Emperor. It was believed that the site was used so that the royal court could hunt, entertain guests and generally relax. It is unknown how long the court would have stayed at Machu Picchu. The theory was developed in the 1980’s and was based on a document written in the 16th century. It referred to a royal estate that was named Picchu and which was constructed in an area close to where Machu Picchu is actually located.
Another theory states that Machu Picchu may have been built as a way of recreating a mythic landscape that was important to the Inca people. The theory is that Machu Picchu acted as a kind of Mecca for the Incan people and that the journey to the site was actually a recreation of the harrowing journey that their ancestors took. The pilgrimage is believed to have begun at Lake Titicaca which lies on the border between Peru and Bolivia. The path that they followed went underground for a distance before it emerged in an area close to Cusco.
A final theory states that the site was actually an Inca city known as Vilcabamba la Vieja. This was the site where Inca rulers maintained their independence and fought against the Spanish conquistadors that were invading the Inca Empire in the 16th century. This theory was disproved when archaeologists identified the refuge in Espiritu Pampa which was a jungle site located approximately 80 miles west of Cusco.