Monday, September 24, 2012

Chac (God B)

Author's Notes: For an overview of ancient Maya gods and goddesses, go to this post here. Also, as mentioned before on other subjects within the topic of the ancient Maya, sources do not always add up; in this post I have combined things from various sources.

Labeled God B in the Schellhas classification system, Chac (or Chaac) is the Maya god most commonly known as the god of rain. He is also known by other names including Ah Tzenul, which translates as "he who gives food to others". Of the different deities, the ancient Maya depicted Chac the most often.

Appearance
The appearance of Chac varies. Variable characteristics include scales, a big and curving nose, fangs or catfish whiskers. Some depictions have tears going down his face. Another version is of a blue man holding lightning or an axe. In some depictions, he is shown with symbols connected to the planet Venus or of God H.

Aspects
It is currently understood that the ancient Maya thought Chac had four aspects, like the Pauahtuns (the gods who held up the sky at a cardinal point). Each aspect was connected to a cardinal direction and to a color.

Sac Xib Chac was the Chac of the north, whose color was white. The Chac of the east was Chac Xib Chac, and his color was red. Kan Xib Chac was the Chac of the south. Ek Xib Chac was the Chac of the west -- his color was black. Each of these Chacs were depicted as a man whose skin color was his designated color.

Functions
What exactly Chac controlled and how he controlled it tends to vary by source. Chac is thought to have been the god who controlled thunder, rain, lightning and wind. He was also thought to control fertility and was the patron of the number 13 -- a lucky number to the ancient Maya.

The ancient Maya thought that lightning and thunder occurred when Chac threw stone axes, which sources such as The Ancient Maya  and Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World describe as smoky or fiery. Rain occurred when Chac poured out a gourd filled with water -- though another source states they thought that he poked his nose into clouds to cause rain to fall.

Power over rain was delegated: each of the four aspects of Chac had the power of bringing rain from their particular cardinal direction.

Chacmool
A chacmool (or chac mool) is a statue made to honor Chac, as a receptacle for offerings. A chacmool looks like a man who is in the middle of a sit-up, but with his head facing sidways and his arms bent to support himself on his elbows. Some chacmools had a scoop out of the stomach to place the offerings into, while others were flat for offerings to be placed on top of.

Some sites have more chacmools than others. The site of Chichén Itzá -- located in the lowlands -- is known to have 12 chacmools.

Consideration
In relation to Chac being a god of rain, he was associated with frogs, who were his friends. Frogs were understood to croak before a storm started.

References:

 "South and Meso-American Mythology A to Z"; Ann Bingham, Jeremy Roberts; 2010

"Star Gods of the Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars"; Susan Milbrath; 2000

"Mythology: Myths, Legends and Fantasies"; Struik Publishers, Janet Parker, Alice Mills, Julie Stanton; 2007

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Chert and Flint -- Two Commonly Used Stones

Though they also used stones like jadeite and obsidian, the two most common kinds of stone that the ancient Maya used for their tools were chert and flint (a kind of chert). They used these two kinds of stone to make scrapping tools, chopping tools and cutting tools as well as items that royal people used. Beyond this, they used flint to start fires.

Sources of Chert and Flint
Deposits of chert and flint occurred in limestone bedrock of the Maya lowlands -- in particular around swamps called bajos --, and it is these sources that the ancient Maya used.

Shaping Process
Like obsidian, the ancient Maya shaped chert and flint via the pressure flaking and the percussion methods. These methods were also used by other peoples in the Americas.

Production
A main source of tools made of chert came from Colhá, a small site located in the north of Belize. Colhá produced both regular tools and the upper class items. Two other places that possessed and worked chert were Calakmul and Tikal.

Chert and flint working may have at some point been a specialized livelyhood. Archaeologists have found small pieces of both kinds of stone in workshops, making them think some workshops worked with them alone.

Consideration
When they came into contact with Europeans, the Maya started using iron and metal tools, replacing tools made of the various stones they used.

References:

"Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World"; Lynn V. Foster; 2005; pages 11, 106

"The Ancient Maya"; Robert J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006; pages 654, 655

"Cities of the Maya in Seven Epochs, 1250 B.C. to A.D. 1903, Part 1903"; Steve Glassman, Armando Anaya; 2011; pages 41, 71

 The Free Dictionary: Flint

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Obsidian -- A Sharp and Useful Material

A byproduct of volcanic activity, obsidian is a naturally produced glass that forms in different colors -- though the most common color is black. Obsidian was used by Mesoamerican peoples including the ancient Maya for a host of functions.

Uses
The ancient Maya used obsidian for cutting things  (in fact, when it is first made, obsidian blades are twice as sharp as a surgical blade). They used it to make weapons such as spear tips and arrowheads, as well as cut lines in pots and carve monuments. As for its religious use, the ancient Maya used obsidian to cut themselves for religious bloodletting.
 
Production
How did the ancient Maya work obsidian? Like Native American peoples elsewhere, they used pressure flaking -- where flakes of obsidian are pressed off with a tool -- as well as percussion.

Consideration
It is understood that obsidian mirrors were considered to be a symbol of the god Itzamna (God D). This god was associated with rulers and was thought to have invented writing.

Sources
Currently known obsidian sources that the ancient Maya used were located in the highlands. From these quarries, the mined obsidian was taken south via the Motagua valley and along the coast of Belize via canoe.

The main source of obsidian from the Late Preclassic into the Early Preclassic was from a source called El Chayal. As time went on, obsidian from Ixtepeque source became a major source in the Late Classic and in the Terminal Classic (it became the dominant source in the Postclassic).


References:

"The Ancient Maya"; Robert J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006

"Handbook of Life in the Ancient Maya World"; Lynn V. Foster; 2005

"The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives"; Heather Irene McKillop;2004

"Ancient Maya Political Economies"; Marilyn A. Masson, David A. Freidel; 2002

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Labná: A Puuc Region Site

Author's note: as has happened other times, I have run into conflicting resources. As mentioned in the About Me page, I shall be updating articles -- including this one -- as time goes on. In the northern Yucatan Peninsula is the site of Labná. It is part of the Puuc region, and is 1.75 miles from Xlapax and 19 miles Uxmal.

History
Labná dates from between 600 AD and 900 AD, possibly with its development period going from 600 AD to 750 AD. One theory exists that states it was a ceremonial center built around 850 AD. As with other sites in the Puuc region, Labná's growth and decline happened within 200 years. It is currently understood that Labná was less important than the site of Sayil was.

Set Up
The site of Labná now has an official entrance for tourists, to the north of the site. Near the entrance is a group of structures that archaeologists term the Palace Group. Southwest of the Palace Group are two structures. A sacbe (reconstructed) connects the Palace group to another group of structures that archaeologists call the Residential Group, in which the site's central plaza is located.

East of the Residential Group is a structure known as the East Temple. This structure has a sacbe leading back towards the Residential Group, towards a structure called El Mirador.

Around Labná are about 60 or 70 cisterns, known as chultunes (chultun in the singular). Visitors can still see some of the chultunes at the site. A theory exists that up to 3,000 people may have lived around Labná, as there are so many chultunes.

Several buildings in Labná are of note. These are El Palacio (The Palace), Arco de Labná and another structure known as El Mirador or El Castillo. The most well known of all these is the Arco de Labná.

El Palacio
Within the Residential Group is a structure known as El Palacio, located on a terrace. This is the first structure that is come across after entering the site. It has two levels and 67 rooms -- some on one level and others on the other level. It also has seven patios -- with some on one level and some on the other. Door frames of El Palacio are made up of engaged columns. The west corner has a serpent's head with a human head in the mouth -- thought a god emerging from the underworld.
Within El Palacio's east side, stones for grinding corn -- metates -- were discovered. This makes archaeologists think that the east side was the servants quarters, while the west side was for the elites.

Arco de Labná
Another feature in the Residential Group is a corbelled arch known as the Labná Arch -- also known as Arco de Labná or El Arco. Approximately 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide, the arch's east side constitutes one side of the site's central Plaza -- it's west side borders a patio. A depiction of an ancient Maya hut can be seen above the archway's two small doors on one side, and the other side is decorated with a checkerboard pattern and also with spirals. However, only a small part of its roofcomb exists. The Arch was part of a quadrangle but all the other structures have collapsed.

El Mirador
Heading east past the Arco de Labná is a poorly preserved pyramid known as El Mirador and El Castillo. Thought to be older than the othe buildings (dating from the Early Puuc) this pyramid is somewhat runinous but has a room at the top with a roofcomb.

References:
"Frommer's Mexico"; David Baird, Shane Christensen, Christine Delsol, Joy Hepp; 2011
Reed College: Labná

Reed College: Architecture, Restoration, and Imaging of the Maya Cities of Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil and Labná: Vaulted Archway page 1

Bluffton University: Labna, Mexico

University of Idaho: Labna
"The Ancient Maya"; Robert J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006

"Lonely Planet Yucatan"; Ray Bartlett, Daniel C. Schechter; 2006

"Moon Yucatan Peninsula"; Liza Prado, Gary Chandler; 2009

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The San Bartolo Murals

Author's note: The interpretation of the figures in the mural is not entirely settled. The interpretation used in this post is the one most I have found most often.

San Bartolo (in Guatemala's Department of Petén) is a site that contains the oldest known Maya murals, located in a small building in the eastern complex (called the Pinturas Group) of the site. Discovered about ten years ago, in 2002, the murals -- which have an Olmec influence -- are still something of a mystery.

Dating
The murals at the site of San Bartolo are believed to date from around 100 BC to 50 BC. This makes them about eight to nine hundred years older than the murals at Bonampak.

Discovery
William Saturno, the official discoverer of San Bartolo, found the murals by accident. While searching for a shady place to rest in, he happened to see part of the murals, which were initially covered in rubble.

The North Wall
The left side of the north wall shows five babies coming out of a gourd. Archaeologists think this could be related to the origin myth of the cardinal directions. On the right side of the north wall is a woman offering tamales in a vase to Flower Mountain. To the right of the woman, eight figures ride a feathered serpent -- who they are is also a matter of speculation.

The West Wall
On the west wall is a mural about 98.4 feet long. This mural focuses on the maize god, who occurs seven times in it. Figures that may be his son, or perhaps many sons, perform such actions as: giving offerings of flowers as well as fish, turkeys and deer; setting up the world trees (a bird is in each one) in the cardinal directions; and giving their blood.

Another scene on this wall is the maize god on a wooden platform, which is thought to be a scene of his accession. Similarly, also depicted on the west wall is a scene -- with a painted text next to it -- of man receiving a headdress --, and this has been interpreted as an inaugural scene.

Inauguration Inscription
The text next to the inauguration scene is still something of a mystery to archaeologists. One glyph is understood though: an "ahau" (or "ajaw") glyph, a glyph that is usually translated as lord/king/ruler.

Significance
Archaeologists think this mural provides evidence that the divine king concept had already begun, at least in the lowlands, in the Preclassic period.

References:

"The Ancient Maya"; Robert J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006

"Maya Calendar Origins: Monuments, Mythistory, and the Materialization of Time"; Prudence M. Rice; 2007

"Oldest Mayan Mural Found by Peabody Researcher: Jungle Ordeal Leads to Surprise Treasure"; Alvin Powell; March 21, 2002