Archive for the ‘Ancient Central America’ Category

Mayan Hieroglyphics- Translating The Writing of the Past

By: The Scribe on February, 2011

Archaeologists had been trying to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics without success until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 CE. The stone contained the same writing in three different scripts: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Egyptian demotic script and, finally, Ancient Greek. The fact that the same message appeared in all three languages allowed archaeologists to work at translating the hieroglyphs.

A map showing the extent of Mayan influenceThe Mayan civilization as a whole was extremely advanced. It was initially established in the time period that lasted from 2000BCE to 250CE and did not fully decline until the Spanish arrived in the area. Their cultural influence was felt throughout Central America and has been felt in areas such as Guatemala, Northern El Salvador and Honduras. Even Mexico, which is located at some distance from the center of the Mayan empire, has felt their influence to a certain extent.

Although there were other cultures in the area, the Mayans are the only ones to have a written language that was fully developed as well as advanced architectural, astrological and mathematical systems as well. The Mayan calendar is known throughout the world and many people have spent years trying to decipher its meanings. Their written language was extremely advanced and was closer to the modern Japanese written language than it was to the Egyptian system of hieroglyphs.

Mayan hieroglyphs have proved to be much more challenging than the Egyptian system of hieroglyphs. There is no Rosetta Stone and, while the two writing systems do appear somewhat similar, they are actually completely unrelated. Being able to translate the language has been an ongoing process that has taken several centuries to accomplish and there are still large portions of writing that are still not fully translated.

Part of what has made Mayan hieroglyphs so difficult to translate is the fact that there are nearly 800 basic signs that make up the language and which can be combined in many different ways. Each of the signs represents a syllable rather than an individual letter. The modern English language, for example, uses a written alphabet that is made up of only 26 individual sounds. In the Mayan written language, there was often more than one symbol that would represent a single sound and scribes could choose from any one of these when writing out a particular word. An example of Mayan glyphs

There was also a specific way of recording numbers as well. There were no fractions or partial numbers in the Mayan numerical system. They used a combination of bars and dots in order to represent various numbers and the entire system followed a positional base-twenty numerical system. In the Mayan numerical system, a dot would represent 1 and a bar would represent 5. The Mayans did have a way to represent the number 0 and used a shell symbol to do so. Numbers could be written either vertically or horizontally although more complex numbers tended to be written vertically.

Although the Spanish did have contact with the Mayans and had a number of codices that contained their language, they were destroyed by Bishop Diego de Landa in an attempt to eradicate what he termed “pagan rites”. We have been struggling to translate the language ever since.

Underground Mayan Temples an Entrance To The Underworld?

By: The Scribe on January, 2011

Many ancient civilizations believed in an Underworld or mythical world of the dead. The Greeks had Hades, the Mayans had Xibalba, which translates to “Place of Fear”. A sacred text known as the Popul Vuh contained information on the route that souls would take to reach Xibalba. The Popul Vuh was written on long scrolls using Mayan hieroglyphic script.

The trip to Xibalba was not pleasant or scenic as travelers would need to pass rivers of scorpions, bat filled houses and lots of blood and pus. According to the Popul Vuh, travelers would be guided along this path by a mythical dog which could see in the dark.

A water filled cavern where Mayan temples were foundThe Mayan civilization flourished between 2000 BCE and 250 CE. They were known for many things including their intricate calendar, their system of writing, and the massive stone structures and temples that they built throughout Central America. Their civilization was centered on southern Mexico in areas such as Chiapas, the Yucatan Peninsula and other areas further south. Their influence was felt in civilizations that were spread out through a much wider geographical area. Even after the Spanish arrived they continued to be an influence on the region before vanishing around 900 CE.

Now, archaeologists have found a series of stone temples that they believe may have been constructed by Mayans as a way to reach Xibalba. A total of eleven sacred temples were found tucked into underground caves in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. They were discovered and excavated in 2008. Archaeologists were forced to wear scuba gear in areas as many of the caverns were filled with water. Other caverns had dry chambers in them. Many of the tunnels that led from cavern to cavern were very narrow, making it difficult for archaeologists to move from one cavern to the next. The group of temples even included an underground road that was approximately 330 feet in length.An underground Mayan temple

The temples were not the only thing found in the underground caverns. Archaeologists were able to locate examples of Mayan stone carvings and ceramic offerings that were left for the dead. The system of caves and temples also included human remains as well. It is believed that not only did the series of caves act as a route to Xibalba, they were also used as a repository for human remains due to the sheltering nature of the caves themselves. This would have been especially important after the Spanish arrived.

It appears as though the site was used for some time. One ceramic vase that was found in the system of temples was 1900 years old although the majority of the artifacts were dated to between 700CE and 850CE.

The cave system found in the Yucatan is not the only one of its kind. Others were discovered in cave systems located in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. Although they are similar, in that there is a series of temples they have different characteristics that are mainly due to cultural differences. All of the sites found used cavern systems that were located deep in jungle areas as a location for temple complexes.

Why Some Ancient South American Skulls Have Such Strange Shapes

By: The Scribe on December, 2010

imageArchaeologists 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.image

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.

Are the Central American Crystal Skulls real?

By: The Scribe on December, 2010

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.image

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.image

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.

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