Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bonampak Murals

The Bonampak murals are murals (dating from around 791 AD, during the Late Classic period) that were found in a temple at the site of Bonampak. To make the paint for the murals, the artists used ingredients such as organic pigments and mineral pigments mixed with vegetable gums and powdered limestone. At one point, the rain leaked through the roof of the building the murals are located in (Structure 1) and coated them with a thin layer of limestone (calcium carbonate). The murals were reported by Giles Healey in 1946, after he had been shown the site by a member of the Lancadon people.

Today, the subjects of these murals are under debate. Various theories have been formed concerning what they depict. Overall, it seems the ultimate depiction of all the muals is about an alliance between Bonampak, Lacanha/ and Yaxchilan (who ruled over Bonampak). The main person in the murals is Yajaw Chan Muwan (who became Bonampak's king around 776). A second prominent figure is Yajaw Chan Muwan's father in law, Itzanmnah B'ahlam III (king of Yaxchilan). 

Room 1
It is thought that the first room -- Room 1 -- shows people belonging to the nobility and people belonging to royalty coming together for ritual dances that took place around 791 AD. According to the text underneath the mural, 791 AD is the founding date of the building.
One idea is that the room shows child-heir at the royal court, and a celebration -- with musicians and actors -- 336 days later in which the child-heir is the focus. This was done with Yaxchilan's approval.
Room 2
In Room 2, they aren't sure exactly what's going on in the mural. However it is possible that the depictions talk about a time before the time depicted in Room 1.
One idea is that the mural shows a battle (or raid) taking place in the jungle, headed by Chan Muan, as well as a 'judgement' of captives -- in which they are presented to Chan Muan for judgement.

Room 3
In Room 3, which has no dating text, the people depicted in the mural look the same as the people in Room 1. This may mean that there is a connection between the two murals. It is possible that this mural shows a dance and a bloodletting ceremony.

References:

"Gardener's Art Through the Ages: Backback Edition, Book C"; Fred S. Kleiner; 2012

"Ancient Maya: Archaeology Unlocks the Secrets of the Maya's Past"; Nathaniel Harris; 2008

"To Be Like Gods: Dance in Ancient Maya Civilization"; Matthew George Looper; 2009

"A Dictionary of Archaeology"; Ian Shaw; 2002

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