Archive for the ‘Ancient Central America’ Category
Archaeologists who worked at unearthing skeletons from some Central and South American archaeological sites noticed that some skulls were strangely shaped. While some individuals believe that this is proof that extraterrestrials visited Central and South America, the truth is that many cultures practiced head binding. The discovery of the Starchild skull is one case where modified skulls were believed, by some, to be proof of extraterrestrial life.
The process of changing the shape of a person’s head is done for cosmetic reasons. Some of the changes that can be made to a skull include making it flatter, elongating the skull or even creating a conical shaped head. The process begins early, usually in infancy. A new baby’s skull is soft and has not completely fused as it has in an adult. Therefore it does not take as much effort to reshape a child’s head into a more socially acceptable shape.
The process varies from culture to culture and usually uses materials that are plentiful and easy to come by. Boards, baskets and cords woven from native fibers are often used to change the shape of the skull. For example, an elongated skull may have been bound between two boards in order to cause it to lengthen. The process can be a lengthy one as it may take several months or even years for the head to achieve the desired shape. Once the process has been completed, the skull cannot change back and has been permanently altered.
Altered skull shape was often believed to be connected with desirable attributes. Some cultures believed that if a head was elongated, for example, it would mean that the individual was more intelligent than other individuals who had shorter heads. Other cultures believed that if a person’s skull shape had been altered it would make it easier for them to communicate with the spirit world.
The act of changing the shape of an individual’s skull is not limited to Central and South America. It has also been found in other ancient cultures such as the Egyptians. Some of the pharaohs had altered head shapes. One of the most famous is Tutankhamun. His head had been elongated using head molding. Egyptian skulls dating from the third millennium BCE are believed to be some of the most ancient examples of modified skulls but archaeologists have also unearthed altered skulls that are as old as 45,000 BCE.
Many cultures have used some sort of permanent body modification as a rite of passage or to show that a person belongs to their ethnic or tribal group. It was also often performed as a way of showing what social class an individual belonged to as it was often the offspring of wealthy or important individuals who were cared for enough that they were able to survive the modification process. Scarification, tattooing and permanent body modification techniques are used to do this and, while less common now than they were in the past, many of these modification techniques are still being practiced even now.
Although many different artifacts have been unearthed in Central America, some of the most intriguing have been 13 crystal skulls. These skulls are made of various types of hard stone such as quartz or rock crystal. Some skulls are clear while others are milky. A number of small, bead shaped skulls were discovered but it is the 13 human-sized skulls that have been the focus of research and speculation by scientists and archaeologists.
Many of the skulls were found in the late 19th century and in the early 20th century. At the time, many of them did not have visible tool marks. Experts in lapidary who originally examined the skulls declared that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to carve these skulls without shattering or cracking them. There was much speculation about who had made them and where they came from. At the time, reports stated that some skulls were anywhere from 5,000 to 36,000 years old.
A number of claims have been made about these skulls. They are believed to have been found in areas surrounding Mayan and Aztec ruins and yet, there is no documentation that they were found at any recognized dig site. It is believed by many people that these items were used as ritual objects and one legend in particular states that crystal skulls were used for healing because of their supernatural powers.
There have been many claims about what these skulls are capable of doing. Some individuals believe that their power can be used to heal diseases such as cancer or can be used for darker purposes such as using them to kill others. It is believed that crystal skulls were seen as premonitions of events such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Many of the skulls are on display in museums or are part of private collections around the world. Some look like human skulls and others have overbites and other deformities that make them look more like aliens. When you consider the artwork that was common to many Central American peoples, it seems fitting that some of the skulls would look somewhat otherworldly.
Some of the skulls have never been examined or subjected to scientific testing while others have. Using modern equipment, scientists have been able to tell quite a bit about the crystal skulls. Many of them do show evidence of modern tool marks and one, known as the Paris skull, was found to contain traces of water that dated from the 19th century.
Using modern testing methods, scientists have been able to prove that some of the skulls were actually part of the vast trade in fake archeological artifacts that were bought and sold at the end of the 19th century. Regardless of this proof, many people still view the 13 crystal skulls as strange and mysterious artifacts that were part of ancient Central American history and as items of the occult in general.
There have been many books written about the 13 largest skulls and they have also appeared in many movies such as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
In Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, a year of time wasn’t measured in the same way that a year is measured in the 21st century. Instead, the Aztecs used several calendars to measure time in the sense that marked periods were devoted to specific deities. The tonalpohualli was a calendar whose name meant “count of days”, and marked out a 260-day sacred period.
The tonalpohualli was not based on either a lunar or solar rotation, but instead was composed of twenty 13-day periods called ‘trecena’/ Each trecena was devoted to a particular deity, and was directly associated with a specific feast for that god or goddess.
Due to its rather ancient place in Mesoamerican history, the origins of the tonalpohualli calendar remain unknown – however, some historians have postulated theories about its meaning, such as: that it is representative of the human gestation period; that it reflects a time of year relative to the sun’s position in the tropics; or that it is a primitive Venusian cycle. Opponents to these theories suggest that perhaps its creation had nothing to do with natural phenomena at all, and instead may simply be related to the importance the Aztecs gave to the numbers 13 and 20.
Complementary to the tonalpohualli is the Aztec xiuhpohualli, a solar calendar that divides the year into 18 months consisting of 20 months each. Each xiuhpohualli year was named after the first tonalpohualli day that it fell on, since the two calendars only coincided with each other once every 52 years.
Other Mesoamerican cultures also kept similar calendars – for example, the Mayan equivalent of the tonalpohualli was called the Tzolk’in, while the Mayan version of the xiuhpohualli calendar is known as the Haab’.
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Tomorrow: Prehistoric Goddess
In the grave of an elite member of the Mayan Empire, archaeologists discovered a vase situated next to the skeletal remains – and oddly enough, the vase still contains some remains of food that was placed inside the vase at the time of burial. The vase itself is the first among its kind to be discovered archaeologically in modern times, and it may actually be able to shed some light on the ancient rituals practiced by the Mayans.
The food remains inside this intricately carved “death vase” reveal more about the ancient Mayans’ practice of ancestor worship than was previously known – the vase included remnants of corn pollen, cacao, and something called ‘false ipecac’ which is known to induce bouts of severe nausea when ingested.
These trace remains may suggest that “death vases” such as this one were used in the ancient rites that produced trance-like states through an intense form of physical purging – the Mayans communicated with their ancestors through visions, which they would induce by such practices as bloodletting, taking a powerful chocolate enema, or by drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and then repeatedly throwing up.
All evidence points to whatever drink was inside of the vase as having contained ipecac, which would have made the person ingesting the drink throw up – and throw up a lot. Then through this, they would have had ‘visions’ wherein they could talk to their ancestors.
What kind of drink would have contained this nausea-drug? The white-marble death vase probably held a gruel primarily made with corn, with cacao added for flavor, and the drug added for the… ‘religious’ experience.
Prior to the discovery of this vase in its context, other Mayan death vases existed in museums only due to looters having taken the intricately carved pieces out of tombs and selling them on the black market or to museums for their own profit – this is the first of the death vases to be scientifically excavated.
The place where the grave was located is slightly perplexing, however – it was found underneath a palace in a small settlement inside of Honduras’ Palmarejo Valley. The palace and the vase point to a higher level of prestige than should have been prevalent at an otherwise typical and unimportant farming village – so why was a high status burial located inside of a residential building in a tiny settlement?
The likeliest explanation is that the person who was buried here was an important historical figure for the people of this town – perhaps someone whose death marked the end of an era, such as a community founder or original member of the town’s ruling lineage. Interestingly enough, the vase itself isn’t as old as the burial – the vase was added to the grave about a hundred years later, likely in commemoration for the individual.
The decoration on the death vase is made up of sculpted scroll images and tiles that look like snake scales, with handles that were carved to resemble a leaf-nose bat’s head.
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Tomorrow: Nehemiah’s Wall?
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