Friday, December 21, 2012

Food of the Ancient Maya

Author's note: This post was partially updated 12/20/17.

Figuring out what the ancient Maya ate is till an ongoing process. Currently, it is understood that the Maya obtained food from both animal sources as well as plant sources (some of which it is thought were developed during the Archaic Period). Also understood is that different regions that the Maya civilization lived in had different resources generally available, which affected the everyday diet of the local communities.

Examples of the produce that the ancient Maya grew and then ate include -- but is not limited to -- cacao fruit (Theobroma cacao,) sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas,) chilies (Capsicum annuum,) corn or maize (Zea mays,) squash (Cucurbita pepo,) guava (Psidium guajava,) manioc (Manihot esculenta,) sapodilla fruit, chaya (Jatropha aconitifolia,) manioc/cassava (Manihot esculenta) the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris,) avocado (Persea americana,) and vanilla (Vanilla planifolia.)

Processing Produce
The ancient Maya processed their corn by boiling it with snail shells or with white lime. The process, known today as nixtamalization, made the corn's niacin available. Kinds of foods made with corn include tamales, corn beer, atole (a breakfast drink, according to bishop Landa) and the ancient Maya style of tortillas (thicker than the Aztec version) -- to which chili peppers, honey, achiote or squash seeds that had been toasted and ground were added.

Tamales were a often eaten lunch item. They could be filled with meat fillings, iguana eggs, flowers (for example, squash flowers), green vegetables and toasted squash seeds. Wrapped in leaves, they were cooked various ways such as under coals, steamed inside a certain kind of jar. Where it was used,  the Maya would use a comal to cook tamales.

And how did people drink their atole? Those who are understood to have been commoners put honey, chili peppers, squash seed powder or herbs in their atole. On the other end of the spectrum, people understood to have been elites would mix the fermented, roasted and ground up seeds of the cacao tree into their atole.

Examples of animals that the ancient Maya hunted that you may of heard of included manatees (where there were communities on the coast,) iguanas, foxes, rabbits, white-tailed deer, possums, anteaters, and fish. Some animals that you may not of heard of included brocket deer, agoutis, coatis, kinkajous, tapirs, pacas, and peccaries.

But they might not have just hunted some of these animals. The ancient Maya may have kept some of them, such as peccaries and ocellated turkeys.

The ancient Maya also had several domesticated species. One of these was the turkey. The other was a certain kind of dog.

Processing Meat
Grilling -- via skewering the meat and putting it on a wood frame over a fire -- was common for dog meat, deer meat, bird meat and peccary meat, and may have been common for iguana and turtle meat. Roasting food in a pit like the Hawaiians was also common: the meat was placed in a fire pit in the ground on top of hot stones, and the pit was covered. This process was common for festivals.

Though grilling was common, the most often used method to cook both fish and bird meat was to boil it. It is possible that boiled fish and poultry were used in stews - like tamales, a common lunch food.

Consideration: Dietary Theories
In terms of reconstructing which foods were most important, one interpretation was that corn was the most important to the ancient Maya. According to The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives corn may not have been as important as has been thought.

There is also the theory that corn, squash, and beans (the "three sisters" in certain North American cultures) as well as chilies were commonly eaten in both the highlands and lowlands of the ancient Maya world, with tropical fruit like the cacao tree's fruit were more common in the Yucatán Peninsula and in the Petén region.

As to how common meat was, that depended on the person's rank in society. Meat was not as common for people understood to be commoners to eat. Festivals were the time during which they would be more likely to eat it.


Google Books: "Encyclopedia of the Ancient Maya"; Walter R.T. Witschey; 2016

Google Books: "Daily Life in Maya Civilization"; Robert J. Sharer; 2009

Google Books: "Handbook To Life In The Ancient Maya World"; Lynn V. Foster; 2005

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

Google Books: "Animals & Plants of the Ancient Maya: A Guide"; Victoria Schlesinger; 2001

Google Books: "Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia"; Susan Toby Evans, David L. Webster; 2001

The Free Dictionary: Cassava

Monday, December 17, 2012

Periods of Ancient Maya History

Author's note: My resources do not always corroborate on dates and facts of these periods. To keep down a potential ideological issue, I have stuck with each resource's use of BC and AD or BCE and CE when referencing their dates. Updates will undoubtedly be necessary as time goes on. Also, I plan to expand each of the periods to have their own post.

In the course of studying the ancient Maya, archaeologists have formed a classification of different periods of change and/or development. Among the most resources, these periods are the Paleo-Indian (Lithic) Period, Archaic Period, Preclassic (Formative) Period, Classic Period and Postclassic Period, with some of these periods having sub-periods. This post touches on highlights of each period.

Paleoindian Period
People crossing from the Old World to the New World is a major feature of the Paleoindian period, which is sometimes called the Lithic Period. It is currently thought that the migrants lived in nomadic groups, traveling and hunting large animals such as the wild horses of the time as well as mammoths. Different theories exist as to how people got to the New World: one involves people crossing the Bering Strait on a land bridge, while another thinks it's possible the travelers used boats.

The dates of the Paleoindian Period according to Dr. Kuang Yu Chen, started around 20,000 BC and ended around 8000 BC. Handbook To Life In The Ancient Maya World states the period started about 12,000 BCE and ended around 7000 BCE.

Archaic Period
Due to a change in climate that had been occurring -- the ice was melting --, and over-hunting of large animals, ancient peoples began to change their lifestyle. People began to hunt smaller animals and work more on their agricultural skills -- including the domestication of such things as corn, tomatoes and chilies. Completely sedentary villages began to occur in this period along with the arts of weaving and pottery.

Society changed as well in the Archaic Period. Around 1400 BC a culture currently called the Isthmian culture was in place from the Gulf Coast area in modern day Veracruz to the Pacific coast area that became part of the ancient Maya world.

According to Dr. Kuang Yu Chen the Archaic Period started around 8000 BC and ended in 2000 BC. According to Handbook, the Archaic Period started around 7000 BCE and ended around 1200 BCE.

Preclassic Period
Also known as the Formative Period, the Preclassic Period is a period that archaeologists have split into the Early Preclassic, Middle Preclassic and Late Preclassic. In the Early Preclassic, the Olmec civilization developed out of the Isthmian culture.

In the Middle Preclassic the Olmec civilization continued to flourish and then decline. Meanwhile, the Maya civilization developed to be notably distinct.

In the Late Preclassic, -- in the southern and central lowlands -- the ancient Maya society pyramid started to develop, and communities whose center were ceremonial structures began. The late Preclassic was also the time when the ancient Maya adopted the Zapotec writing system. Also in the Late Preclassic, the population increases to its maximum in both the communities of the Guatemalan highlands and in Pacific coast communities.

Dr. Kuang Yu Chen states that the Preclassic Period (which he calls the Formative Period) started around 2000 BC and ended around 250 AD. Handbook states the period started around 1200 BCE and ended around 250 AD. Handbook further elaborates, saying the Early Preclassic began around 1200 BCE and ended around 1000 BCE, the Middle Preclassic began around 1000 BCE and ended around 300 BCE, and the Late Preclassic began around 300 BCE and ended around 250 CE. A page -- on a section of Wesleyan University's website titled Unaahil B'aak The Temples of Palenque -- states however, that the Early Preclassic began around 2500 BCE and ended 1000 BCE, the Middle Preclassic began around 1000 BCE and ended 400 BCE and the Late Preclassic started around 400 BCE and ended around 200 CE.

Classic Period
Though sometimes described as a golden age of the ancient Maya civilization, other sources say the Classic Period was a time where the ancient Maya were both building as well as setting up stelae -- with others saying it was when they used the Long Count in their monuments. The Classic Period has two sub-divisions, the Early Classic and the Late Classic. The split between the Early and Late Classic is because of political turmoil that happened around 600 AD, as well as artistic changes that occurred around that time.

In the Early Classic Period, cities located along the Pacific coast decline. In the Late Classic the population increases in the southern and central lowlands, more and more cities are built in the southern lowlands and warfare increases.

Kuan Yu Chen states the Classic Period began around 250 AD and ended around 900 AD. Handbook states that this period began around 250 CE and ended around 900 CE. Handbook also states that the Early Classic started around 250 CE and ended around 600 CE, the Late Classic started around 600 and ended in 900. The Wesleyan University page states the Early Classic started around 200 CE and ended 600 CE, but does agree with Handbook as to the dates of the Late Classic.

Terminal Classic Period
In the time of transition known as the Terminal Classic Period -- which is, generally speaking, the last century of the Classic Period -- the cities in the Petén region decline, and at the same time something Handbook calls "pan-Mesoamerican culture" becomes dominant in the Yucatan Peninsula. Also during the Terminal Classic, monuments no longer use the Long Count.

Handbook  states the Terminal Classic is both part of the Classic and Postclassic Period. According to this book, it started around 800 CE and ended around 1000 CE. A study published August 24, 2012 titled "Classic Period collapse of the Central Maya Lowlands: Insights about human–environment relationships for sustainability" agrees with Handbook on the dates for the Terminal Classic.

Postclassic Period
The Postclassic Period is divided into the Early Postclassic and the Late Postclassic.  The Early Postclassic society was not as centered on the conquests of rulers as the Classic Period culture had been, and large systems of trade between cities existed in the northern lowlands.

In the Late Postclassic, cities began to be built to be fortified, public monuments became less common and the Aztec Empire started to influence the Maya word -- even taking tribute from places in the highlands of Guatemala.

Dr. Kuang Yu Chen states this period lasted from around 900 AD until 1521 and Handbook agrees with him. According to the page on Wesleyan University's website, the Postclassic Period is split into the Early Postclassic (which lasted from around 900 CE to 1200 CE) and the Late Postclassic (which lasted from 1200 CE until 1492 CE)


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Clothing of the Ancient Maya

Author's note: This post was adjusted on December 12, 2017.

This is a whistle that was made around the 600s to 800s AD.
It's made of ceramic, and shows a woman -- the
blue paint was put on after the maker baked the whistle. From LACMA.

There is not a lot known about how the Maya dressed like in ancient times, and what is known mostly is information on people understood to have been elites. This is because of the environment in which the ancient Maya lived. That is, like the codices, a lot of the clothing has rotted away because of humidity. (Archaeologists have found pieces of cloth sometimes, such as in the Sacred Cenote.)

Instead archaeologists try to interpret the fashion sense of the Maya civilization via various other mediums. Examples of these mediums include things like pottery that has been painted, carvings like lintels and monuments, ceramic figurines, the four known codices, and murals. Archaeologists also have used records that people made in the 1500s.

General Concept
This is a figurine of a woman made
between the 600s AD and 900s AD.
There are several places it made have been
created, one of which is the Mexican State
of Campeche. From LACMA.
As it is currently understood, the ancient Maya had different ideas about clothes than people do today. For one thing, they never made clothes so they fit close to the body of their own accord. Clothes tended to be held in place by being knotted or were held in place by belts made of cloth. And for another, they could be quite different from Western standards of modesty.

Despite the decay problem, it looks like the ancient Maya used several kinds of plants to spin into thread and make cloth. Two plants they used were the cotton plant and the maguey. (And they also would make bark cloth. It is possible that bark cloth was a material for ritual clothing.) Using the backstrap loom, the ancient Maya made different kinds of cloth like twill, plain, and gauze.

Beyond the materials themselves, the ancient Maya would dye their clothing, via plant and animal sourced dyes.  Examples of colors available to the ancient Maya dyers include green, purple, black, blue and various sources of red. Two other ways the ancient Maya decorated their cloth was by embroidering it and by brocading it, which is when the design is thicker than the rest of the cloth -- making it stick up. (See a bit more on ancient Maya cloth in this post.)

Head Wear 
Titled "Modeled Head of a
Nobleman," this stucco artifact
may have come from the northern
lowlands and was made 600 AD to 900
Women tended to wear either a complicated hairstyle that involved intertwining the hair with cloth, or wore turban-like headdresses. However, women's head wear fashions seem to have been less diverse than men's head wear fashions.

Men also wore different fashions of turban-like headdresses. However, they also seem to have worn other kinds of headdresses, that were commonly complicated structures made using various materials. Some of the materials were feathers (along with gods, the "tail" feathers of the resplendent quetzal were one kind of feather it is known that rulers enjoyed) gems, and animal hides.

On a related note, murals found at Calakmul show women wearing decorated sombreros, while men wear headscarves -- except for one man whose head wear looked like a bowler hat.

Clothing for Men
A male figurine made in Mexico,
in the 700s AD to 800s AD. From the
Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Menswear included a loincloth that was, according to The Ancient Maya, ..."five fingers wide" -- though Your Travel Guide to Ancient Mayan Civilization says was between eight and ten feet long and ten inches wide. This loincloth was wrapped around the waist repeatedly before being passed between the legs. For the upper classes, they were commonly decorated with featherwork (a popular feather for rulers' clothes were the resplendent quetzal's "tail" feathers) on the ends. Lower class men wore un-decorated loincloths.

Seemingly not as common as the loincloth, some depictions of men show them also wearing a pati. A pati is a big, square-shaped piece of cloth that is -- like the loincloth -- decorated in relation to the class of the wearer. The pati was tied around the wearer's shoulders. Not just for day-wear -- except for very fancy ones -- it was also used to sleep in.

Clothing for Women
Women would wear a skirt and/or a sleeveless, poncho-like tunic (commonly known today as the huipil) or a dress. Maya skirts were either tied with belt or was knotted in place with the huipil worn over the skirt. Elite women's skirts, as with other clothing, were more decorated than skirts of the lower classes -- they would have decorative fringes and knots.
This figurine is thought
to have the same dating and source
as the image to the left. From the
Yale University ArtGallery.

This figurine was made in Mexico between
the 500s AD to the 800s AD. From the
Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Not everyone wore the huipil with their skirt, when they did wear more than a skirt. According to bishop Diego de Landa, women in Campeche, Balacar as well as along the coast wore a skirt as well as a folded piece of cloth tied around their torsos, under their armpits. He called the folded cloth a manta -- but The Ancient Maya: Fifth Edition calls a pati.

As to dresses, there seem to be different kinds of dresses worn by ancient Maya women. One kind of Maya dress is described in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Clothing as a full length version of the tunic that was sewn up the sides. A second kind of dress seems to have been made of a large piece of cloth wrapped around the body.

The ancient Maya wore sandals. Ancient Maya sandal straps had two thongs. One thong went in the space between the third and fourth toe. The other went in the space between the second and first toe. 

As with other aspects of ancient Maya society, it seems how fancy your sandals' design was depended on how high you ranked. Men who were not upper class wore deer-hide sandals that were untanned, with hemp cord for straps. For elites however, it seems they had much more complicated sandals.

Google Books: "Encyclopedia of the Ancient Maya"; Walter R.T. Witschey; 2016

(Automatically downloads  to your computer)

Google Books:" The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Clothing Through World History: 1501-1800", Volume 2"; Greenwood Publishing Group; 2008

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

Saturday, December 1, 2012

God Q

 Author's note: for the overview post on gods and goddesses of the ancient Maya, go here

Only found in the Madrid Codex, God Q was -- as mentioned in the overview post on the ancient Maya gods and goddesses -- once classified as part of God F. Thompson was the first to officially talk about reclassifying God F into three gods, giving them new designations -- the other two of which are God R and God A'.

Name Consideration
As to his name, it could be that God Q's was called Lahun P'el. The glyphs the ancient Maya used for his name include the number 10.

Notable Features
God Q's costume tends to include the death eyes and death collar -- like God A --, as well as a knotted headband (theorized to be paper or cloth.)

Another notable feature of God Q is what is called his "facial band" in The Major Gods of Ancient Yucatan, Issue 32 by Karl A. Taube. This band may be made of lines of dots, bands or just lines, and goes from his forehead, through an eye and stops at the far side of his cheek. Theories exist as to the nature of this band. One theory states it refers to human skin while another says it relates to stone.

God Q is commonly understood to be either a god of death, human sacrifice and/or war.  This god is also thought to be a god who lived in Xibalbá, and is often drawn alongside Kisin (God A) in the Madrid Codex.

On three pages of the Madrid Codex, God Q is fighting Ek Chuah (God M), a god of merchants.

Missouri State University: MAYA GODS AND GODDESSES

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

"Native American Mathematics"; Michael P. Closs; 1996

"The Major Gods of Ancient Yucatan, Issue 32"; Karl A. Taube; 1992

Monday, November 26, 2012

God P

Author's note: for the overview post on ancient Maya gods and goddesses, go here

God P is a god who so far has only been found in the Madrid Codex. He is much debated upon, with various theories connected to his function -- and in fact his existence as a god.

God P's notable feature is his fingers, which look frog-like, and he wears a headdress that incorporates a 360-day sign. Schellhas called it the Frog God, which is another name still used for the god.

In the Madrid Codex he is drawn making furrows and planting seeds, and this has been used as evidence of of the god being related to agriculture. However, there is a variance in how this is specifically interpreted. Two of my three sources with information on God P state that he is a god of agriculture. However, my third source South and Meso-American Mythology A to Z, states that God P is a water god related to agriculture.

 Consideration: Only An Aspect?
God P may not be a god in his own right. He may just be an aspect of Pauahtun (God N) -- a god with at least four aspects ( known as Bacabs or Bakabs) who were thought to hold the sky.

Identity Theory
There is a theory which states that God P is somehow Kukulkan/Quetzalcoatl (the Aztec version of Kukulkan), and several theorists on this are Tedlock, Seler and Taube. In particular Taube thinks that God P is a form of Kukulkan/Queztalcoatl known as Ehecatl Quetzalcoatl -- an aspect of the god connected to the wind --, and is an aspect of Sak Nik (God H).


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

"A Dictionary of Non-Classical Mythology"; Lewis Spence; 2005

Missouri State University: MAYA GODS AND GODDESSES

University of Kansas: "Quetzalcoatl's Fathers A Critical Examination of Source Materials"; Brant Gardner; 1997

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pauahtun (God N)

Author's note: for the overview post on gods and goddesses of the ancient Maya, go here.

Pauahtun (Pawahtun) is God N of the Schellhas classification. Currently known to have four aspects, he has been connected to an earth god known as Mam described as a god still being worshiped today in Exploring the Life, Myth, and Art of the Maya.


Drawn as an old man with missing teeth, images depict Pauahtun with a turtle shell or a conch shell on his back. He also wears a headdress -- most sources this author has found say it is a netted headdress, though The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives states that it is a crocodile headdress (the book also state that he has a "cut-out shell nose").

The god is also commonly drawn with one hand raised above his head, and is drawn either as a scribe or teaching scribes. In a few Classic period images on ceramics, Pauahtun is drawn with an accompaniment of women.

Pauahtun was the patron of scribes and of group of 5 unlucky days known as the Uayeb (Wayeb), which came at the end of the Haab calendar.

The four aspects of Pauahtun -- called Bacabs (Bakabs) -- each were thought to stand at one of the four main compass points and hold up the sky. Each Bacab was connected to a color as well, like the aspects of Chac (God B).

Uayeb Dance
Pauahtun may be connected to a dance known as the Uayeb (Wayeb) Dance. A scene in the Lower Temple of the Jaguars at Chichen Itzá depicts a ruler and ritual participants taking part in a dance, with Pauahtun being a notable figure. It is conjectured that this dance may have taken place during the Uayeb.

Sources conflict concerning Pauahtun's name. The Ancient Maya states that Pauahtun was known as Bacab during the Postclassic period, while Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya world states that it is Pauahtun's four aspects that are known as Bakabs. A third source,The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives, states that Pauahtun at the time of contact with the Spanish was known as the four Bacabs.


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

"Exploring the Life, Myth, and Art of the Maya"; Timothy Laughton; 2011

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

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

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

Missouri State University: MAYA GODS AND GODDESSES

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ek Chuah (God M)

Author's note: To go to the overview post on the ancient Maya gods and goddesses, go here.

God M of the Schellhas classification system was a god of merchants known to us as Ek Chuah (also Ek Chauah, and Ek Chuwah or Ek' Chuwah), a name that might really be his though it is not known for sure. He is somewhat close in appearance and function to God L, a god that Ek Chuah may have supplanted.

Ek Chuah had a black body (some sources say face), a long and narrow nose and a big lower lip. Some images of Ek Chuah show him holding a spear.

Like God L, Ek Chuah was a god of merchants. The spear he is sometimes drawn with possibly connects him with fighting in connection to attacks on merchants. Some sources such as Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage and Explorer's Guide Mexico's Aztec & Maya Empires say that Ek Chuah was also the god of cacao. 

Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage  also quoted a translated section of Bishop Diego de Landa's Relación de las cosas de Yucatan:

      "Wherever they came they erected three little stones, and placed on each several grains of the incense; and in front they placed three other flat stones, on which they threw incense, as they offered prayers to God whom they called Ek Chuwah [Ek' Chuwah] that he would bring them back home again in safety." **

During the Postclassic period, it is thought that Ek Chuah became more popular than God L. There are fewer images of God L in the Postclassic period than in the Classic, where most of his images are found.

** The book's reference for this quote is as thus: "Tozzer, A.M. Landa's relación de las cosas de Yucatan. Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Volume 18. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University , 1941 (original. 1566, Landa, D. de); P. 107."


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

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

Missouri State University: MAYA GODS AND GODDESSES

"Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage"; Louis E. Grivetti, Howard-Yana Shapiro; 2011

"Maya Conquistador"; Matthew Restall; 1999

"Explorer's Guide Mexico's Aztec & Maya Empires"; Zain Deane; 2011

Sunday, November 11, 2012

God L -- A God of Xibalbá

Author's note: To go to the overview post on the ancient Maya gods and goddesses, go here.

God L was a god connected to trade and the underworld, Xibalbá,  (and was was one of the Lords of Death that the Hero Twins defeated.)Another merchant god (God M, known as Ek Chuah or Ek Chuwah) may have become more popular than God L as time passed.

Often drawn with a black colored body, God L is an old-looking god who has square eyes and a big nose. He wears a black cape and in his mouth is a cylinder -- described in books as a cigar. At times he is drawn with a merchant's pack and a walking stick.

Another distinctive part of God L's appearance is headdress with a wide brim that has a bird with black tipped feathers on it (thought to be a screech owl, sometimes called a muan-bird). At times this headdress is drawn with a jaguar ear, making it look like the ear is attatched to it.

The material of God L's clothing varies somewhat, it seems. The depiction of God L on both the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Cross includes his cape being a jaguar pelt. In the Vase of Seven Gods, God L wears a jaguar kilt and his throne is a jaguar (describe alternately as jaguar skin) throne.

God L was the patron of merchants (The Ancient Maya states he was also the god of tribute). He was connected to jaguars, wealth and power. Depending on the source he is either a one of the gods in Xibalbá (such as Trees of Paradise and Pillars of the World: The Serial Stelae Cycle of "18-Rabbit-God K," King of Copan) or the ruling god of Xibalbá (such as The Ancient Maya).

It's possible that God L was more than this. According to Dr. John F. Chuchiak IV's site, God L wasn't just a merchant god, but was also a creator god.

Possible Function
According to Star Gods of the Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars by Susan Milbrath, in the Dresden Codex's "Venus pages", God L is shown as the dry-season Morning Star (connected to war). This may connect him to war. The book states a man named Michael Closs says that God L could be an aspect of Venus.

There is a site known as Cacaxtla ("place of the merchant pack") that has colorful murals. In these murals, one of the figures depicted holds a pack containing jaguar pelts, cacao and quetzal feathers. This figure could be God L, and he may be the referent in Cacaxtla's name.


"Handbook to life in the Ancient Maya World"; Lynn V. Foster; 2005

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

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

"Icons of Power: Feline Symbolism in the Americas"; N. Saunders; 1998

Precolumbian Art and Art history: Cacaxtla

"Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia"; Susan Evans; 2000

"Trees of Paradise and Pillars of the World: The Serial Stelae Cycle of "18-Rabbit-God K," King of Copan "; Elizabeth A. Newsome; 2001

"Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods"; Meredith L. Dreiss, Sharon Edgar Greenhill; 2008

Missouri State University: MAYA GODS AND GODDESSES

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

K'awiil (God K)

A ceramic box made between 450 AD and 550 AD (and therefore from the Early Classic.)
K'awiil is on the left side. From LACMA.

K'awiil or K'awil was a god connected to several things: royalty, flint, and like Chaak, lightning -- and you may also see it said that he was connected to rain as well. (It seems he was perhaps also worshiped at Palenque as a patron god.) Other names you might see him called include the scepter god and god K.

K'awiil has a snout that turns up, big eyes that have spirals for pupils, a fang coming out of his mouth, and one or both of his legs is a snake, with a snake's head where a foot should be. K'awiil's forehead has a smoking item stuck to it -- a smoking ax head seems to be a common item the Maya would draw on his forehead, though they would draw other items sometimes, like a cigar or a torch. (In a definition of K'awiil on the Metropolitan Museum's website, K'awiil's forehead is also described as being high and having a cartouche on it -- and it is this cartouche that the item is stuck into.)

Connection to Royalty
This artifact may have been a leg from a K'awiil
scepter. It was made between the 600s to 800s AD,
and came from either Guatemala or Mexico.
From The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The ancient Maya connected K'awiil with protection of royal lines as well as coronation -- that is, rulers officially becoming their city-state's ruler. There are drawings of rulers becoming their city'state's ruler while holding a scepter that looks like K'awiil. Inscriptions would have a phrase for when a new ruler took power, a phrase that translates as "he took the K'awiil."

But it went further than that in some city-states like Dos Pilas and Copan. Rulers of these city-states would use the name "K'awiil" as one of their own, as a title. It's possible that because rulers did this -- and also would use Chaak and Yopaat as names -- that it may have been that the ancient Maya thought their rulers had "co-essences" that were lightning.

On a related note, it's possible that people with dwarfism were also connected with K'awiil. They may have been thought to somehow actually be K'awiil.

Connection to Flint/Chert
This eccentric flint came from
Guatemala. It was made between the 
600s AD and 700s AD. From 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The ancient Maya would create items that are now called eccentric flints. These artifacts are pieces of flint/chert or obsidian that the ancient Maya sculpted into different shapes. Some were meant to look like real things, some were meant to look like gods, and some were just shapes. Among these various designs, they would make K'awiil-shaped eccentric flints. (And on a related note, the ancient Maya either may have thought or really did think that flint/chert happened when lightning hit the ground.)

It's also been found that, at the site of Piedras Negras, there are flakes of flint that had been painted with different gods's image, including K'awiil's image. In fact, K'awiil's image was the one that got painted the most.

Connection to Chaak
Speaking of stone, K'awiil was sometimes drawn as a hammer -- but not just any hammer. In his hammer form, drawings show him being used by Chaak.

This vessel was made between 800
AD and 1200 AD, in Mexico. From
the Yale University Art Gallery.
Patron God at Palenque
You may find it said that K'awiil was one of three patron gods of Palenque. He is seen as being the same as a god worshiped there that was called "Baby K'awiil" or "Unen K'awiil. (Archaeologists also call this god GII.)

Consideration: Astronomy Connection?
In the Late Classic, it was common for references to K'awiil -- inscriptions that include his name, or images of him -- to also talk about either Saturn or Jupiter when in retrograde. (Retrograde is the part of an object's orbit when it looks like it is moving west to east in comparison with the stars.)

There is a theory that has a lot of ideas about what this meant. Two ideas in it wonder if K'awiil was connected somehow to Jupiter -- or perhaps to Saturn and Jupiter's retrograde part of their orbits.


Google Books: "The First Maya Civilization: Ritual and Power before the Classic Period"; Francisco Estrada Belli; 2011

Image Credits:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ix Chel (Goddesses I and O)

Author's note: It is not entirely clear what Ix Chel was like before the arrival of the Spanish. The Early Colonial period version of Ix Chel is more understandable. Also, to see the overview post on the gods and goddesses of the ancient Maya, go here.

 A female deity of the ancient Maya was a goddess known as Ix Chel, (also known as Lady Rainbow), who was either the companion or wife of Itzamná (God D). So far as it is understood, Ix Chel seems to have two forms: one that is also known as the old (or aged) moon goddess (Goddess O) -- called either Chac Chel (Chak Chel) or Chakal Ix Chel -- and one that is known as the young moon goddess.

The apperance of Ix Chel varies depending on the aspect. Maya scribes drew the young aspect of Ix Chel was a young and beautiful woman who has a large nosepiece, and was seen with a rabbit and a crescent moon. The aged aspect of Ix Chel was depicted as an old woman with snakes in her headdress and jaguar paws for hands, who often is pouring water out from a jar.

Ix Chel seems to have both positive and negative functions. Her positive functions included being the goddess of divination and weaving as well as a medical goddess of healing, childbirth and medicine. Her negative functions included being a goddess of floods and destruction (and at times war), as well as of snakes. However she does not bring sickness.

This goddess was important along the Carribbean coast. A shrine to Ix Chel can be found on Cozumel Island, in which a statue may have been designed so that a priest could make it seem like the statue "talked".

 Moon Goddess?
Sources including Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World (published by Oxford University Press) and Dr. Chuchiak -- say that Ix Chel was a moon goddess. However, in Mesoamerican Mythology:
A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs of Mexico and Central America (also published by Oxford University Press) states that Ix Chel may have been a moon goddess.

Goddess I and the Tonsured Maize God
Goddess I may have been connected connected to the Tonsured Maize God. There are images that show her looking somewhat like the Tonsured Maize God, wearing his costume, hairstyle and having his facial markings. Another possible piece of evidence for the connection is an image showing a crescent moon in connection to the Tonsured Maize God.
Who was Ix Chel Really Married To? 
In Yaxchilán there is a depiction of a ruler's parents in which an image of his father has a sun glyph in it while an image of the ruler's mother has a lunar sign in it. This is what, according to Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya Word, gives evidence to a theory that Ix Chel was the wife of the sun god.

Other Possible Aspects
Dr. John F. Chuchiak IV -- the Assistant Professor of Colonial Latin American History at the Department of History at SMSU -- states that Goddess I was confused with another goddess (who he designates as I'). This other goddess, named Sakal Ix Chel that was was similar in appearance with Chac Chel. Though he is not entirely sure, he thinks it is possible that Sakal Ix Chel is the same as Chac Chel.

Also, there is a theory that states that Blood Woman -- or Blood Moon -- (called Xkik in Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World) could be an aspect of Ix Chel. Blood Woman was the mother of the Hero Twins.


Missouri State University: MAYA GODS AND GODDESSES 

"Mesoamerican Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs of Mexico and Central America"; Kay Almere Read, Jason J. Gonzalez; 2002

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

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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sak Nik (God H)

Author's note: to see the overview post on Maya gods and goddesses, go here.

God H -- Sak Nik (literally "white flower" a term used for the soul) -- is a god who may the god of a diversity of things. He used to be confused with another god (either termed God CH or God J), a god now understood to be the Hero Twin Xbalanque (Yax Balam). 

The appearance of Sak Nik is of a young man. In the codices, he has a headband with flowers on it.

Sak Nik could be a god of music,  the soul and/or the wind -- he is thought to be connected to the day Ik (meaning "wind"). Sak Nik may also be the god depicted in the "head glyph" variant for the number three (numbers could be written several ways, including with heads of gods). Another thing he may have been connected to is the Water-lily serpent -- a creature with a bird's head and snake's body with a headdress made of a lily and lily pad.

Beyond these things it is possible that Sak Nik was also god of music. In scenes found in the codicies in which the gods are making music, one of the most common gods in those scenes is Sak Nik.

In the codices, Sak Nik is possibly connected somehow with Itzamná (God D). Examples used as evidence include sections 12c and 15c of the Dresden Codex.


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

"Prehistoric Mesoamerica"; Richard E.W. Adams; 2005 

"The Maya and Teotihuacan: Reinterpreting Early Classic Interaction"; Geoffrey E. Braswell; 2004

"Of Macaws and Men: Late Preclassic Cosmology and Political Ideology in Izapan-Style Monuments"; Julia Guernsey Kappelman; 1997

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

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

Monday, October 22, 2012

Kinich Ahau (God G)

God G was the sun god of the ancient Maya. In the Classic period and the Postclassic period, he was referred to either as Ahau Kin (Ahaw K'in) or Kinich Ahau (K'inich Ahau, K'inich Ajaw). One of the most famous pieces of jade found in the ancient Maya land is a jade head bearing his appearance, from Altun Ha. His head has also been used to decorate temples.

There are variances in how Kinich Ahau was drawn. In Mesoamerican Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs of f Mexico and Central America he is described as having several distinguishing features: a hooked nose (a spiral often heading out from it in profile drawings); eyes that looked like crosses in full view but with an eye that looked like a square in profile; and sometimes a beard that had sections curling at the corners of his mouth.

Star Gods of the Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars says some similar things but also says some different things. It uses examples of Kinich Ahau found in the codices: in the Madrid Codex he is depicted as a aged being with crooked teeth; but in the Dresden Codex he is depicted to be around middle age, though on a table concerning eclipses he is drawn with a beard. The book also says that during the Postclassic period, Kinich Ahau was drawn with the glyph for the day Kin on his head or body. Sometimes, he was drawn with fangs or with one tooth.

Kinich Ahau was the sun, and was believed to turn into a jaguar as he went through Xibalbá each night. He was the patron of the day Muluc (also spelled Muluk), and was associated with Maya rulers and warriors as well as jaguars.

Change of Kinich Ahau's Patronage of Kings
The association of Kinich Ahau with kings changed over time. In the Classic period it was very common for a ruler to say he had a connection with the god. However this changed to become less common in the Postclassic period, as did the prominence of Kinich Ahau.

A God or an Aspect?
Kinich Ahau might not actually be a god by himself. There is a possibility that he is only an aspect of Itzamná (God D), a creator god (Itzamná has been identified as having an aspect named Kinich Ahau Itzamná).


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

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

"Prehistoric Mesoamerica"; Richard E. W. Adams; 1991

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

"Mesoamerican Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs of f Mexico and Central America"; Kay Almere Read, Jason J. Gonzalez; 2002

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Maize God (God E)

Author's note: this post was last updated on 11/19/17.

Composite image by the author, made from photos of figurine made in the 700s AD,
in Mexico.It shows the Maize God wearing jewelry and a headdress,
in a corn plant. Source photos from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fertility, jade, beauty, and the idea of being young were all things the ancient Maya thought when they thought of the Maize God; they also would draw his head when they wanted a symbol of corn -- or a symbol of cacao. Other than all of these things, this god was connected to rulers and may have had several aspects. The ancient Maya believed in a lot of gods, and the Maize God -- which you may see called God E -- was definitely a major one in their religion.

The Maize God was drawn as young and with a head that looks somewhat like an ear of corn. That is, his head was elongated and he only had hair right on top of his head. He is also drawn with a whole bunch of jewelry made from jade, and on his belt there's an ornament that you may see called the "xook monster." (The "xook monster" looks like the head of a shark that was drawn with a lot of artistic license.)

This stucco artifact was made between
100 BC and 100 AD. It comes either from
Mexico or Guatemala. From LACMA, which
calls it an "architectural medallion."
The ancient Maya also liked to draw images of the Maize God wearing a netted "skirt" of jade that goes down to the middle of his thighs. This "skirt" might be a symbol of something else. Another is that it represents a turtle shell, which is a symbol representing the earth. (The turtle shell symbol is also part of a myth about the Maize God that the ancient Maya seemed to like a lot. See below for more in The Myth of the Maize God section.)

 How the ancient Maya drew the Maize God didn't always stay exactly the same. For a while, in the Early Classic (the first part of the Classic Period,) the ancient Maya liked to draw the Maize God so that his mouth was open and his two front teeth stuck out. They moved away from this, and eventually began to like drawing him with a closed mouth.

The Two Aspects
This description of the Maize God -- being young, with a long head and having only some hair -- might only apply to an aspect of the Maize God. You may know this aspect as the Tonsured Maize God. His ancient Mayan name might be Juun Ixiim, which has several translations including "One Grain Corn."

The reason why the description might be only for the Tonsured Maize God is because of what the ancient Maya who lived in the Classic Period never seemed to want to put on their pottery: images of another possible aspect, the Foliated Maize God. (Though they did use his name glyph as a "head variant" for the number eight.)

The Foliated Maize God, whose name might be Ajan, was connected to corn plants that were fully grown. The ancient Maya drew this possible aspect with an ear of corn coming out of his head. The ancient Maya who created the four known codices -- which come from the Postclassic Period -- seem to have drawn only him.

These two aspects might not even be aspects at all. There is also the belief that they were both gods on their own, though they were both gods of corn.

The Myth of the Maize God
There is a myth of the Maize God, seen from the Preclassic Period on into the Popol Vuh. (It doesn't mean it's always the exact same myth, though.) In it, the Maize God dies, goes into the underworld, and comes back to life.
The front pieces of a pair of earflares
showing the head of the Maize God
as a symbol of picked corn -- his
close eyes mean he's dead. They
were made in the 400s AD to 600s AD
and might be from Guatemala. From
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

When they drew the Maize God going to the Underworld, which is drawn as being watery, Ancient Maya artists liked to show him going there in a canoe. The Maize God is then reborn, but as strange as it may sound, he isn't resurrected yet -- he only does that after he forces his way back above the ground. (He doesn't do it alone either -- he either has Chaak or the Hero Twins help him back out.) Before he can force his way back above ground through, women in the Underworld put pieces of jade jewelry on him -- this has to be done before he resurrects.

Connections to Ancient Maya Rulers
It seems rulers in the ancient Maya world wanted people to look at their family's rule as like the cycle of plants: when a ruler died, another one took that ruler's place. (It was supposed to be like the cycle had started over with the new ruler.)

This piece of pottery is from Guatemala and was
made between 300 AD and 600 AD. The ruler drawn
on it is impersonating the Maize God. From LACMA.
It also looks like rulers thought that they would actually have the same thing happen to them that happened to the Maize God in the myth -- so they had jade jewelry put on their bodies when they died. While alive, rulers would impersonate the Maize God for rituals, which was something they did with other gods too.

An example of where you can see a ruler dressed like the Maize God (and another god, K'awiil) is the sarcophagus lid of K'inich Janaab Pakal I, a ruler of Palenque. He may either be rising up from the Underworld, rising up to the Upperworld, or perhaps falling into the Underworld.

Another example of an impersonation of the Maize God is on Stela H at the site of Copan. The king impersonating the god on this stela is Waxaklajuun Ub'aah K'awiil. His netted "skirt" though goes to his ankles, which is not the normal length at all for it.

Consideration: Other Aspects?
According to Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos, the Maize God had a lunar aspect. This is because there are a lot of images where he is drawn with a rabbit as well as a symbol representing the moon. This symbol, can start from one of two places: either his armpit or his back.

The figure on the left of this vase is a drawing of the Maize God
with that moon symbol. The vase comes from either Guatemala or Mexico
and was made between 300 AD and 900 AD. From LACMA.

There is a theory that the Maize God was somehow female too. This is because of the netted "skirt" that the ancient Maya liked to draw him wearing. However, this garment doesn't have any specific connection to women.

Florida Museum: Latin American Exhibit: "Mesoamerican Artifacts"; Jeffrey R. Vadala; March 23rd, 2017

Google: Books: "Beauty around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia"; Erin Kenny, Elizabeth Gackstetter Nichols; 2017

Google Books: "Art and Myth of the Ancient Maya"; Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos; 2017

Google Books: "Encyclopedia of the Ancient Maya"; Walter R.T. Witschey; 2016

Google Books: "Mortuary Landscapes of the Classic Maya: Rituals of Body and Soul"; Andrew K. Scherer; 2015

Mesoweb: "The PARI Journal" Volume XV, No. 2: "On the Reading of Three Classic Maya Portrait Glyphs"; Marc Zender; 2014

Google Books: "The Life Within: Classic Maya and the Matter of Permanence"; Stephen Houston; 2014

Mesoweb: "Antiquity" Volume 85; "In the path of the Maize God: a royal tomb at Nakum, Peten, Guatemala"; Jarosław Zrałka, Wiesław Koszkul, Simon Martin, Bernard Hermes; 2011

Google Books: "Death and the Classic Maya Kings"; James L. Fitzsimmons; 2009

Google Books: "Maya Sacred Geography and the Creator Deities"; Karen Bassie-Sweet; 2008

Google Books: "The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives"; Heather McKillop; 2004

Google Books: "Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia"; Susan Toby Evans, David L. Webster (editors); 2001

Google Books: "Trees of Paradise and Pillars of the World: The Serial Stela Cycle of "18-Rabbit-God K," King of Copan"; Elizabeth A. Newsome; 2001

Los Angeles Mission College: "Jade - The Green Gold of the Maya"; Elisabeth Wagner

Image Credits:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Young Corn God

LACMA: Architectural Medallion Depicting the Maize God

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Pair of Earflare Frontals

LACMA: Seated Ruler in the Guise of the Maize God