In my last posting, I showed the Small Acropolis, which forms the eastern boundary of the South Plaza. In this posting, I will show some of the temples and other structures that lie to the west of the Small Acropolis and border the South Plaza's north and south sides. These include the Temple of the Masks, the South Temple, and the Ball Court. Once again, most of my information comes from the archeological report by Antonio Benavides Castillo, entitled Edzná, A Pre-hispanic City in Campeche. Where I have used information from other sources, you will find a link to them.
The dimensions of the rectangular temple are 27.4m (90ft) in length and 16.5m (54ft) wide. The average height is 5.5m (18ft). When the structure was first excavated, the more recent modifications had deteriorated significantly. Most of the features we see today are in the Early Classic Petén-style (300-600 AD) Parts of the substructure are still covered with stucco which had originally been painted bright red and may date as early as the Late Pre-Classic period (1 AD-300 AD)
Floor plan of the Temple of the Masks. The temple faces north, toward the bottom of the schematic above. There are stairways on the east, west, and north sides. One small room sits at the top of the pyramid. Its only doorway opens toward the north, over the main staircase. The room was once roofed with perishable materials, probably similar to the palapa that today protects the masks at the bottom of the pyramid's north side. The stucco masks, with their associated symbols, are located on either side of the bottom of the main staircase. There is evidence that two additional masks once decorated the second level just above the first two. However only the lower level pair still exist.
On its south side, a sloping Petén-style ramp rises from the ground level to the badly-deteriorated third tier of the temple. The thatched roof of the palapa can be seen in the photo's upper right quarter. The stonework of the first two tiers, as well as their sharp-angled corners, are clearly in the Petén style.
The mask on the west side of the main stairs represents the Sun god at sunset. As I mentioned earlier, the east side mask represents sunrise. While there are some differences, the two have a number of common features. These include huge bulging eyes with crossed pupils, protruding front teeth, elaborate head dresses, and a squinting expression called a strabismus. The dimensions of the masks are also similar. Along with the symbols that stretch out on either side, each mask measures 3m (10ft) wide x 1m (3.3ft) tall. Both masks had once been brightly painted and some traces of this remain. While the predominant color was red, other colors included blue, black, burgundy, ochre and green.
The masks show the faces of K'inich Ajaw, the powerful Sun God. Each day, he appears in the east, the Maya's most revered direction, before setting in the west. K'inich Ajaw was an aspect of Itzamna, the supreme creator god and was associated with warfare and royalty. Maya kings were thought to "assimilate" to K'inich Ajaw when they departed this life.
Drawings of the two masks and their associated symbols. At the top is the eastern mask, with the western one below. There is one additional similarity. In both cases there are truncated columns on each side of the masks. The columns are made up of square boxes, each containing an "X". The drawing indicates that there may have been additional Xs above the ones shown. The Maya symbol for X represents the word hal which means "to manifest". This might indicate that the masks manifest the dual aspects of K'inich Ajaw: sunrise and sunset.
There are also differences between the masks. The head dresses are not the same, nor are the ear plugs. In addition, the eastern mask has animal faces within the head dress and below the earplugs, while the western mask does not. The meaning of these differences is not clear, but perhaps they are meant to indicate the difference between sunrise and sunset.
The South Temple
. The South Temple is a large pyramid that, together with the Ball Court, forms the boundary between the South Plaza and the Main Plaza to its north. The temple faces south, into the South Plaza. The pyramid is a very ancient structure which has been periodically modified and enlarged during its 1000 years of use. During its excavation, archeologists discovered a much older structure covered with stucco that dates back as far as the Pre-Classic period.
Most of the five-level pyramid we see today is in the Early Classic Petén style. There are two rooms on top that were added in the Late Classic. The larger room has a door that opens to the south and looks out over the pyramid's broad staircase into the South Plaza. There is a smaller room behind it that connects to the larger room by an interior door. The smaller room may have been an inner sanctum where important rituals could be performed out of sight of the uninitiated.
Adjacent to the South Temple is the western side of the Ball Court. When archeologists first surveyed the site, they assumed that it was one big structure, rather than two. However, excavation revealed a narrow alley between the Ball Court and the South Temple. The passageway had been filled during either the Late Classic era or Post-Classic.
On top of the eastern sloping structure is another room surrounded by a terrace. Like its twin on the west, the eastern room also has four doorways separated by three pilasters. However, this time the doorways face west. The roof of the eastern room, like its western counterpart, was once covered by a corbel vault.
Standing at a right angle to the eastern side of the Ball Court is another building. It faces south and is topped by a single long room with five doorways separated by four pilasters. A broad staircase leads up to these doorways from the South Plaza. The whole structure was originally covered by a thick coating of stucco and painted bright red. Archeologists at first thought the right-angled building was part of the Ball Court complex. However, recent excavations have revealed that it was constructed in the Early Classic Petén style, thus pre-dating the Ball Court by several centuries.
The overall diameter of the rings is 1.12m (3.7ft), while the diameter of the holes through which a ball must pass is .56m (1.8 ft). The balls were made from hard rubber surrounding a core of stone. They varied from the size of a softball to a soccer ball. Little is known about the specific rules of the ball game, but they appear to have changed somewhat over the centuries. Use of the hands during play was forbidden and the ball was propelled by shoulders, elbows, or hips. In addition to passing the ball through a ring, there may have been other ways to score. In fact, the rings were Late Classic or Post-Classic innovations. The average size of teams varied from two to six on a side.
The Maya Ball Game originated 3,000 years ago and was much more than a simple athletic contest conducted for sport and entertainment. The game was imbued with deep religious, cultural, and political meanings and was sometimes used to settle disputes within the community or between rival cities. Human sacrifice, usually by beheading, was closely associated with the game. Some times those sacrificed were war captives, but sometimes it was the players themselves. In the second case, there is some dispute as to whether it was the losers or the winners who were sacrificed.
This concludes Part 5 of my Edzná series. I hope you have enjoyed it. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE also include your email address so that I can respond.
Hasta luego, Jim