Archive for the ‘Ancient Central America’ Category

From the Archives: The Mayan Military

By: The Scribe on December, 2013

In March 2007, we very briefly introduced readers to the basics of the Mayan military, or at least what was known at the time.

New archaeological discoveries are always being made and challenging previous assumptions—for example, just last year, archaeologists discovered the tomb of a Mayan warrior queen: Lady K’abel, a 7th-century Maya Holy Snake Lord.

Today, here’s the link to revisit The Mayan Military (ca. 300-900 AD)!

maya military

Fun Bonus Fact: Sometimes, the Mayans timed certain military campaigns to coincide with celestial events!

Take Me Out to the (Mesoamerican) Ball Game…

By: The Scribe on June, 2013

ball playerIt’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.

Setting the Old God on Fire

By: The Scribe on March, 2013

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) 

Warrior Queen of the Centipedes Wears “Red Spiny Oyster” This Season

By: The Scribe on October, 2012

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

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