Category Archive 'Maya'

24 Oct 2018

The Peaceful Maya Sacrificed Jaguars

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The Atlantic headline says it’s been discovered that the Maya had a zoo, but the real news in this story is the discovery that they were using jaguars in their ritual sacrifices. But the Atlantic wouldn’t want to come down hard on that little detail. That could make the worthy and magnificent Maya just about as bad as that dentist who shot Cecil the lion.

In the Mayan city of Copán, at the base of a 30-meter-tall pyramid, there’s a beautiful stone slab known as Altar Q. The altar is square, and each of its meter-wide faces preserves carvings of four of the city’s 16 rulers, including its final king, Yax Pasaj Chan Yoaat, who commissioned the structure in 776. It was as much propaganda as historical record. Though Yax Pasaj wasn’t part of a dynastic bloodline himself, the altar shows him receiving the scepter of kingship from Copán’s founding ruler, thus proving that he was worthy of ruling. The altar was a statement of his legitimacy.

The jaguars probably helped.

There’s a crypt immediately in front of the altar, which contained the bones of several birds, and 16 big cats—jaguars and pumas (cougars) packed so tightly that the people who first excavated them referred to them as “jaguar stew.” It’s likely that these animals were sacrificed on the altar as emblems of power, one cat for each king.

“It’s hard to imagine this very elaborate ritual in one of the hardest times for the Copán dynasty,” says Nawa Sugiyama, an archaeologist at George Mason University. Yax Pasaj was the last person to rule the city before it collapsed, and his reign was one of political turmoil and environmental degradation. Amid that turmoil, he somehow managed to acquire 16 big cats, even though the surrounding valley was too small to house more than five jaguars, and even though these beasts are hard to find, much less to capture.

Sugiyama thinks she knows how he did it. By analyzing the chemicals within the buried cat bones, she and her colleagues showed that jaguars and pumas likely came to Copán from distant regions and were kept in captivity for most of their lives. The city effectively had its own zoo, which was part of a wide trade network that sucked in wildlife from a larger area. For three centuries, wild animals—including the most formidable carnivores around—were brought in, housed, fed, and eventually used in ritual ceremonies.

RTWT

17 Jul 2016

Mayan Zoomorph

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Quirigua
Zoomorph B photographed at Quiriguá, Guatamala in 1902. This monument was dedicated in 780 by K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat, and is a multi-ton boulder sculpted into a half-crocodile half-mountain beast. The hieroglyphic text on this monument consists entirely of full-figure glyphs. Traces of red pigment have been found on the zoomorph, which is 4 metres (13 ft) long. A dedication cache was found buried in a pit under Zoomorph B, including seven flint blades between 14 and 46 cm (5.5 and 18.1 in) in length.

10 May 2016

How Cool Is That?

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MayanCity

Gizmodo reports that a 15-year-old Canadian high school kid has located a lost Mayan city using star maps and Google Earth.

Using an unprecedented technique of matching stars to the locations of temples on Earth, a 15-year-old Canadian student says he’s discovered a forgotten Maya city in Central America. Images from space suggest he may actually be onto something.

William Gadoury, a teen from Saint-Jean-de-Matha in Lanaudière, developed an interest in archaeology after the publication of the Maya calendar announcing the end of the world in 2012. After spending hours pouring over diagrams of constellations and maps of known Maya cities, he noticed that the two appeared to be linked; the brightest stars of the constellations overlaid perfectly with the locations of the largest Maya cities. As reported in The Telegraph, no other scientist had ever discovered such a correlation. …

After studying 22 different constellations, Gadoury noticed that they neatly corresponded to the locations of 117 Mayan cities located in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. When looking at a 23rd constellation, he was able to match two stars to known cities—but a third star remained unmatched. Using transparent overlays, Gadoury pinpointed a location deep in the thick jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

“I did not understand why the Maya built their cities away from rivers, on marginal lands, and in the mountains,” explained Gadoury in Le Journal de Montreal. “They must have had another reason, and as they worshiped the stars, the idea came to me to verify my hypothesis. I was really surprised and excited when I realized that the most brilliant stars of the constellations matched the largest Maya cities.”

Read the whole thing.

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Original Post Updated: a number of people contend that the kid is wrong.


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