Palacio Cantón, site of the Museum of Anthropology and History
How the Maya made a living
full of animals, including deer, jaguar, armadillo, coatimundi, and many birds and smaller animals. Animals such as deer could be used not only for food but for leather products such as sandals and belts and to bind stone and wood together into tools and weapons. Leather goods could be used locally, or for trade. In addition to hunting, the Maya raised domesticated animals such as dogs, birds, and bees. The dogs were used for hunting, and sometimes for food. Turkeys were the primary avian animal domesticated for food. Other birds, such as parrots, were raised for their feathers. The Maya raised bees in hives made from hollow wooden logs. The resulting honey and wax were used not only for domestic consumption but for trade. Ah Mucen Cab was the god of honey.
stone axes and other tools from materials such as obsidian, flint, granite, limestone, quartzite, and basalt. Above, a typical Maya hand axe is shown along with other tools. Materials used in construction include limestone (both for building blocks and ground up for plaster), wood, leaves and palm fronds, and yucca fibre. Until very late in their history, the Maya had no access to metal tools, so they used harder stone like basalt to work softer materials such as limestone. It is remarkable to me that the Maya could raise fabulous temples, pyramids, and palaces using such limited tools. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all had access to metal tools, as well as draft animals and the wheel. Maya accomplishments are all the more impressive for the lack of all these.
A mural at the ancient city of Cacaxtla, north of Puebla, shows a merchant/trader standing next to his backpack full of goods.
Recent discoveries in the Petén region of Guatemala, just south of the Yucatan, indicate that Classic-era elites, up to and including the family of the king, were involved in the production of bone implements. Archaeologists had previously assumed that such activities would have been delegated to artisans employed by the elites. However, the evidence seems clear that the nobility themselves were directly and intimately involved, with noble women doing the initial preparation work and their men putting on the finishing touches.
Maya made robes and cloaks and a variety of other garments. These were often embroidered and beautifully decorated with feathers incorporated into the weave. The little clay statue standing guard over the tools wears a cloak and skirt typical of what might be created from thread like this. The best of the garments were created for the nobility, or for trade, and sometimes for the tribute demanded by powerful city states from their weaker neighbors. I was particularly interested by the spinning device shown above because I had seen a nearly identical tool in northern Puebla State. A Nahuatl woman I met there was using the same 1500 year old technology to create garments for her family. Ixchel was the goddess of weaving, and it was an activity often carried out by elite groups. Unfortunately, very little of the beautiful cloth we see in ancient wall paintings or sculptures survived centuries of the moist Yucatan climate.
copper tools and other objects was still in its infancy and the copper would have been relatively soft and unable to hold an edge as well as obsidian. Had the Spanish not arrived when they did, the Maya may eventually have discovered the advantages of adding tin to copper to make bronze, a much harder material. One fact that may have inhibited this development was that copper was not produced locally, but had to be imported from Western Mesoamerica. Since the transport of copper ore was not feasible, due to the lack of draft animals, traders could only bring finished objects like those shown above.
"Maya Blue" was produced using indigo mixed with a mineral called attapulguita. From the logwood tree, they produced black, purple, dark grey, bluish and greenish tones. Limonite (an oxide found in caves) was used to produce yellow. Some red coloring came from crushing cochineal insects found on the nopal cactus. An even more vivid red came from cinnabar, which had to be imported to the Yucatan Peninsula through the trade networks.
Portrayals of human figures
Court of the 1000 columns, across the plaza from the famous Castillo (Temple of Kulkulcan). Striking similarities between Chichen Itza and the Toltec capital of Tollan are apparent, but the reason for this is a matter of considerable dispute.
city of Kabah lies to the south of Mérida, in the Puuc region, an area with a large number of beautiful Classic Era Maya ruins including the famous city of Uxmal. The figure above wears an elaborate head dress with a large emblem on the front showing the face of a warrior peering from between the jaws of a creature. The face of the stern-looking nobleman carries ritual scars and what appears to be a "handlebar" mustache. The long strands extending down from the head dress may be part of the apparel, or may possibly represent long hair.
the distance is 2463.1kilometers (1530.5 miles). Keep in mind, also, that the ancient Maya region extended as far south as Honduras and El Salvador.
Music and dancing
Maya energetically dancing. Once the Maya glyph ak'ot (dance) was finally deciphered, it became apparent that dancing was extremely important in Maya society. All levels of society participated, from the king and his court down to the lowliest commoners. It is believed that dancing was enhanced by the use of hallucinogenic drugs so that the person performing could be transformed into their wayob, or soul mate. The wayob were depicted through the masks and costumes the dancers wore. The purposes of dancing could include celebrating victories in war, the creation of sacred space, or achieving the release of the souls of the dead from the rulers of Xibalba (the underworld). While much of the dancing was for Maya ceremonies and religious rituals, I suspect that they also had a good time with it.
musicians who appear to be blowing long flutes while they dance. Other instruments typically used included whistles and conch trumpets, as well as drums of various kinds. The slim, lithe flutists above are depicted in black, possibly from body paint, with animal figures attached to their hips and elaborate head dresses. The ends of the flutes are surrounded by circles with lines extending out from them, possibly indicating sound.
Representations of animals
Jaguars are the largest predator in the jungles of Mexico and Central America and are only exceeded in size by African lions and Indian tigers. They are very powerful and hunt at night, which to the Maya indicated a connection with the underworld of Xibalba. Jaguars had been important symbols in Mesoamerica since the Olmec times. The Jaguar and Eagle military orders were very important both at Tollan and Chichen Itza, and in both places are depicted eating human hearts.