Friday, December 28, 2012

Sayil -- A Puuc Region Site

Author's note: The two maps I have found on Sayil do not match each other. For information on the Puuc region's style of architecture, go here.

Sayil is a site located in the Puuc region, in the modern Mexican state of Yucatán, whose life as a center of activity occurred during the Terminal Classic. Notable ones include El Palacio, El Mirador, Temple of the Hieroglyphic Lintel, Stela 9, Grupo Sur and a ballcourt.

According to Mesoamerican Elites: An Archaeological Assessment, Sayil is a " site and very little architecture is buried beneath later constructions." Sayil's development, height and decline occurred during the Terminal Classic Period -- a time in which the Classic Period turned into the Postclassic Period --, like other (not so far away) Puuc region sites such as Kabah, Labná and Uxmal. Its abandonment occurred at least by 1000 AD.

What has helped archaeologists to figure out when to place Sayil? Various pieces of archeological evidence for this short history include: a lintel at El Palacio dating to 730 AD; ceramic ware dating from 750 AD to 950 AD; and a stela whose calendar inscription translates to 810 AD.

El Palacio
Sometimes likened to Early Greek architecture or the the Minoan palace of Crete, El Palacio (also called the Great Palace) is a structure whose construction is thought to have occurred in several stages through the 700s AD. It has three tiers, a central staircase and a facade, which includes engaged (false) columns, regular columns and images of Chac (God B) and the  Diving God. The rooms contained within El Palacio number over 90. Also included in El Palacio is a basin meant to catch rain and send it to a chultun.  At the base of El Palacio's steps, a sacbé runs north-south to a ballcourt.

El Mirador
Heading south along the sacbé from El Palacio, after around 1,312.34 feet (400 meters) one reaches the structure called the Watchtower, Pyramid Temple, or El Mirador (or just Mirador.) This structure's notable features include its slotted roofcomb, its five rooms and the chultunes (cisterns located underground -- having been carved out of rock -- and plastered insode) found near it.

Like the chultunes, archaeologists have uncovered something else of interest near El Mirador. Evidence has been found that may indicate a market used to be held near it.

Temple of the Hieroglyphic Lintel
This structure is west of Mirador. The name of this structure gives an idea is to what it looks like: the doorways have inscriptions -- ones that are

Grupo Sur
Also known as Palacio Sur, this building originally contained 18 rooms. Several rooms are notably large.

 East of the Gurpo Sur is the ballcourt of Sayil. Looking at a map from Reed College, it appears that the ballcourt was of the I-shaped variety. This variety of ballcourt includes two parallel, rectangular structures standing on either side of the playing field.

Stela 9
South on a path from El Mirador is stela 9. This stela portrays what is currently understood to be an obscene depiction of a warrior. It is possible that it was connected to a fertility cult.

Consideration: Hours  
According to Yucatan & Mayan Mexico, Sayil is open from 8AM to 5PM, and costs the equivalent of $3 in US currency. Not far from the entrance to the site is a display of stelae.

"Yucatan & Mayan Mexico"; Nick Rider; 2005

"Frommer's Cancun, Cozumel and the Yucatan 2010"; David Baird; 2009

"Yucatán"; Ray Bartlett, Daniel C Schecter; 2006

"Mesoamerican Elites: An Archaeological Assessment"; Diane Z. Chase, Arlen Frank Chase; 2003

"The Ancient Maya", 6th Edition; Robert J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006

Reed College: Sayil

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

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Casa Blanca

Author's note: Frommer's Central America and An Archaeological Guide to Central and Southern Mexico states Casa Blanca is a site in and of itself. Other sources such as Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia and an article written by Robert J. Sharer state that Casa Blanca is not a site in and of itself but a group of structures that is part of a larger site called Chalchuapa. In his article, Robert J. Sharer refers to Casa Blanca as the Casa Blanca Mound Group, and says it is the largest out of all the groups of Chalchuapa.

Located in a park called Parque Arqueológico Casa Blanca, Casa Blanca is a small-ish ancient Maya site residing in El Salvador, not far from the site of Tazumel (Frommer's Central America says it is a 5 minute drive from this site). Casa Blanca, as well as other sites in El Salvador, are used as evidence to show that the country was a large center for trade during ancient times. Beyond the ruins, the park also includes other things such as a museum and an "archaeological window".

Historical Facts on Casa Blanca
Casa Blanca's structures mostly date from the Late Preclassic and the Classic Periods, though there was some building during the Postclassic Period. The site was not as used during the Postclassic Period, and seems to have  been used for burials.

Features of Casa Blanca
The park is 15 acres and has a total of six structures (three pyramids and three other structures), with a trail leading by them (Frommer's Central America states this is a 15 minute walk). Two of the pyramids have been restored somewhat.  At the base of structure five-- in front of the steps --, a column of basalt has been discovered. Next to this column a carved piece of stone has also been discovered.

Another Feature
Known as the Archaeological Window, at the park there is a square pit dug into the ground which tourists may view. The pit has a roof, a staircase and a platform for viewing, which was bought with money from the Japanese government.

Of note in the strata is a layer of white ash that comes from the Ilopongo volcano. Located east of San Salvador -- El Salvador's capital --, this volcano is thought to have erupted during the 400s AD, and is understood to have destroyed various communities in the area. It is now a large lake.

Associated Establishments

Parque Arqueológico Casa Blanca contains more than the ruins of Casa Blanca. It also contains a museum and a workshop known as the indigo workshop.

Designed to look like an hacienda, this museum is for Spanish speakers. Among its pieces, the museum is in the possession of the only (currently)  known piece of Maya writing with an El Salvadoran origin. The writing is a piece of a stela, and comes from El Trapiche, a site north of Casa Blanca. Its writing has almost entirely been destroyed purposefully.

Indigo Workshop
Started with government aid from Japan, the indigo workshop's focus is to teach how to dye with natural dyes and sells items the workshop has dyed indigo. However it closed down on December 31st, 2009 and has not yet reopened.

Hours Of Operation
The park is open Tuesday through Sunday. Hours vary by source: Frommer's Central America states it is open until 4:30PM but a site according to FUNDAR (National Foundation of Archaeology of El Salvador), the site is open until 4PM.  It costs $3 for an adult from a foreign country to enter the site but only $1 for a El Salvadoran adult or an adult from a Central American Country. There is also $1 for cars and $2 for buses.


"Frommer's Central America"; Eliot Greenspan, Jisel Perilla, Nicholas Gill, Charlie O'Malley; 2011

"Western El Salvador: Frommer's Shortcuts"; Frommer's Shortcuts; 2007

"An Archaeological Guide to Central and Southern Mexico"; Joyce Kelly, Jerry Kelly; 2001

Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History: Global Volcanism Program

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology: "Expedition", Winter 1969; "Chalchuapa Investigations at a Highland Maya Ceremonial Center"; Robert J. Sharer Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Pitzer College

FUNDAR: Casa Blanca Archaeological Park

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