Monday, December 30, 2013

Alfred Maudslay -- An English Maya Preservationist of Note

Alfred Maudslay is a man of worthy mention when it comes to the preservation of the ancient Maya civilization. Born to well-off parents, he made many trips into Mesoamerica to help record various sculptures and architecture -- and the inscriptions found on both. What Maudslay had published from his preservation efforts gave people the first good resource for studying the writing system of the ancient Maya.

Birth, Education and First Trip to the Americas
Alfred Percival Maudslay was born March 18, 1850 to Anna Maria Maudslay and her husband Joseph, one of the couple's many children. First attending a boarding school in Tunbridge Wells, then another boarding school four years later called Harrow, Alfred began studying at Cambridge University in 1868. His career included being secretary for the Governor of Queensland (one of Australia's states), after which he took the position of British Consul in Samoa, before becoming Consul General in Tonga.

When Maudslay took his first trip to the Americas, however, it was not in the interest of a government career, although it was connected to making money. A business trip, Maudslay checked up on two things: a Californian property being used to produce fruit as well as a gold mine in Mexico. This trip is also significant because he met the woman who became his first wife, Cary Ann Morris, an American (they married in Rome, May 31st, 1892). Cary Ann later died in September 1926, was cremated then buried in Hereford Cathedral's crypt (Alfred later remarried).

Trips to Mesoamerica
Having read the writings of John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, Maudslay decided to get involved in preserving the ancient Maya civilization. From 1881 until 1894 he made eight trips to the Maya area (his wife accompanying him) to make a record of the ruins (sometimes taking pieces of the ruins away). On these trips various media were used to make records including photography (via a wet-plate camera) as well as paper and plaster casts. Written records were also made. Of the different sites he visited, certain ones received greater attention than others, including Yaxchilán (during which he met explorer Desirée Charnay), Palenque, Quiriguá, Copán and Chichén Itzá. Looking at the ruins, Maudslay began to notice recurring subjects in the art, and also noticed images that are now called full-figure glyphs (anthropomorphized versions of regular glyphs.)

Contributing to Posterity
Maudslay didn't keep his casts to himself. Instead he decided to contribute to posterity and offered them to the Victoria and Albert Museum. However, he had some terms attached to his proposed donation: he wanted the museum to produce a second set of casts from the original casts, and he wanted the museum to pay for their production. Not only that, he wanted his assistant Guitini hired to actually make the casts. The museum agreed to these conditions, and between 1886 and 1891 the casts were made.

From 1889 to 1902, Maudslay had his work published in parts as an appendix of Biologi Centrali-Americana, a work that included a number of volumes. Published items include site plans, site descriptions and lithographic plates by Annie Hunter (who made use of the photographs and casts). The inscriptions located within this published work still help people study the ancient Maya writing system today.

Maudslay's publishings were later published on their own (one volume that just had writing and four consisting of photographic plates). These volumes were collectively titled Archaeology.

Memoir and Death
In his old age, Maudslay wrote a memoir, Life in the Pacific 50 Years Ago,(published 1930), a book whose recollections only go up to when he was thirty. Then, in 1931, Maudslay died.

Items from Maudslay's trips -- known as the Maudslay Collection -- can still be seen in the British Museum's Department of Ethnology. This collection has casts, paper and plaster casts, journals and photonegatives. There are also a number of things Maudslay took away from the Maya area: eight lintels from the site of Yaxchilán as well as nine sculptures (made of stone) from the site of Copán.

The British Museum: Alfred P. Maudslay (1850 - 1931)
"Breaking the Maya Code"; Michael D. Coe; 1992
"Maya Art and Architecture"; Mary Ellen Miller 1999

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Turquoise and the Ancient Maya

Turquoise is more commonly associated with cultures in the American Southwest, such as the Hopi and the Navajo, and in northern Mexico. However, in the Maya world, turquoise -- though not cherished as long as jade -- did eventually become valuable.

Toltec traders are credited with introducing turquoise to the ancient Maya during the Classic Period. From around the 900s AD onwards through the Postclassic Period (around 1200 AD to 1524 AD), turquoise was a precious item to the Maya. Found at a diversity of sites, turquoise has been uncovered in places such as northern Belize's Santa Rita Corozal and Yucatan state's Chichén Itzá.

Where was Mesoamerica's turquoise mined? This depends on the authority with which one confers. Most tend to agree that it was north of the Maya world. According to Sylvanus G. Morely and Robert J. Sharer in their book The Ancient Maya (fifth edition), the source of the turquoise was Central Mexico. Lynn V. Foster's  2005 Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World states that turquoise was obtained from what is now New Mexico. The book Maya Art and Architecture (by Mary Ellen Miller, published 1999) agrees in part with Foster, giving the location of the turquoise source as what is now New Mexico and Arizona. A 2004 book The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives (by Heather Irene MacKillop) agrees in part with the last two sources, stating the source may have come from Lower Central America or from what is now New Mexico.

Turquoise was used to make mosaics, which would be used in different ways -- jewelry and masks, for example. It is possible that the ancient Maya worked turquoise but it is thought that the mosaic items were crafted together before being traded to the Maya.

And what are some examples of turquoise use in the Maya world? A number of examples come from the site of Chichén Itzá. One is a wood scepter depicting the maize god in a dive -- dredged from the Sacred Cenote -- that utilizes turquoise mosaic overlay on the god's face. Also found at the site are four turquoise mosaic disks (found in ceremonial caches), one of which was found in the Temple of the Chacmool -- a temple discovered underneath the site's Temple of Warriors.

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

"Maya Art and Architecture"; Mary Ellen Miller; 1999

Friday, December 20, 2013

Eduard Seler

Eduard Seler was a deep scholar of Mesoamerica who was born in the mid-1800s and lived into the early 1920s. Seler is known for his research and writings on the native cultures of the Americas. His most noted connection to the ancient Maya world is his decipherment of five glyphs.

Birth and Education
Eduard Georg Seler came into this world December 5, 1849, in a place known as Crossen an der Order, located in what was then Prussia -- the second youngest of four children. He went to Joachimsthalsche Gymnasium (in Berlin) from 1863 until 1869, on a scholarship given to teachers' children (Seler's father, Gottlieb Robert Seler, was a teacher). He then went to the university of Breslau, but only for a year as he was in the Franco-Prussian War from 1870 until 1871 (these were the years of the Franco-Prussian War).

Still in 1871, Seler went to the University of Berlin, and in 1875 he passed an exam called the Oberlehrer. In 1876 he took a position at Berlin's Dorothen-stadtischen Realgymnasium where he taught both math and natural science. He had to stop about four years later because of illness.

Seler moved to Trieste, where he took up learning linguistics, and during this time also seems to have started to learn about pre-Columbian archaeology and ethnography. He got a doctorate in 1887 from the University of Leipzig.

From 1904 until the year he died, Seler was the director of the Königlichen Museum Für Völkerkunde's American Division, located in Berlin.

One Mesoamerica in General
In terms of identifying the continuum of Mesoamerican ideology, Seler pointed out how "Mexican" cultures (like the Aztec) shared some ideas with the Maya. His essays on Mesoamerica, when put together make up five volumes.

Seler learned different Mesoamerican languages, including Nahuatl. He found a patron in a man named Duc de Loubat, who gave him money to visit Mesoamerica, and also published Seler's work with color photos.

On the Maya Specifically
Although Seler had much knowledge on Mesoamerica, he did not greatly contribute to the decipherment of the Maya writing system. Seler did not believe that the ancient Maya writing system actually was a writing system. In fact, he and another man, Cyrus Thomas, published papers back and forth at each other in Science (a magazine) from 1892 until 1893, arguing their positions.

Although he was wrong about the Maya writing system, Seler did discover one thing: the glyphs for the world colors. These are the colors connected to the world directions -- with one color being connected to one direction.

Seler died in November 1922 in his home in Berlin. His body was cremated and placed inside an urn in the Aztec style. This urn was then put in a mausoleum in Steglitz that belonged to his wife's family. Later, his wife died and her remains were also placed in the mausoleum.

"Breaking the Maya Code"; Michael D. Coe; 1992

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg

Author's Note: The sources I have found have been somewhat contradictory. It will be necessary to continue my research on this individual to furthur increase and improve upon the knowlege presented in this post.


Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg was a Frenchman who was a historian of Mesoamerica, an ethnographer (describer of a living society), an ordained priest, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Known for rediscovering various ancient texts that have helped archaeologists understand the ancient Maya, Brasseur de Bourbourg is also known for his unscientific conjectures.

September 8th, 1814 is the day on which Charles-Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg was born in the city Bourbourg, France -- a city in the north, near the border with Belgium and not far from Dunkirk (Dunkerque in French).

Novelist, Journalist and Student
In his twenties Brasseur de Bourbourg was a journalist for the Parisian journal "Le Monde" (and possibly others) and a student. He was also a novelist, working in the romance and morality genres. Some of his novels were suspected of plagiarism, as they were similar to previously published stories.

As a student, Brasseur de Bourbourg studied at a seminary at Ghent (located in Belgium) and worked in a library. His studies focused on theology and philosophy. Then he traveled to Rome to study for the priesthood.

Becoming Priest and Missionary
In 1845 Brasseur de Bourbourg was ordained, earning the title abbé. After his ordination he went to one of Quebec's seminaries to hold the position of ecclesiastical history professor. In 1846 he was vicar general in the Boston diocese, but didn't stay there long, traveling back to the Old World -- to Rome (where he stayed two years) to look for writings on Spanish America.

Beginning of His Mesoamerican Travels
1848 saw Brasseur de Bourbourg travel to Mexico and become chaplain of the French legation of Mexico City. But in 1851 he went back to Paris. In 1854, about three years later, he went to New York, then and Central America (Nicaragua, Guatemala and San Salvador).

Adiminstrator in Guatemala
Brasseur de Bourbourg got to Guatemala City, Guatemala on February 1, 1855 and became "ecclesiastical administrator" for the city of Rabinal. He stayed there as administrator for a year. While there, he transcribed a play ("Rabinal Achí") that someone recited from memory for him (this play is understood to be from before the Conquest).

Back to Europe and Back to Central America
During 1857 our well-traveled priest was in France again. The years 1859 and 1860 saw him travel back to Central America, where he went to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and to Chiapas (which was part of Guatemala until 1824, when it became part of Mexico).

Manuscript Discoveries and Publications
Brasseur de Bourbourg made an important discovery in -- Ximenez's Popol Vuh, of which he made a translation. He published his translation (which also included the Quiche language). However, he wasn't the first to publish the Popol Vuh: in 1857 a man named Carl Scherzer had already published a Spanish translation using of a copy of the Popol Vuh that he had found elsewhere.

In either 1862, 1863 or 1864 (resources vary in date), he discovered the only known copy of Diego de Landa's Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan.

In the same year that some sources credit him with rediscovering Landa's book, 1864, Brasseur de Bourbourg became attached to a military expedition to Mexico that was sent from France. A book he wrote about that expedition, Monuments anciens du Mexique,was later published in 1866, courtesy the French government.

At one point, Brasseur de Bourbourg  had the opportunity to view the Troano Codex (one of the two parts that became the Madrid Codex) which was the possession of Don Juan de Tro y Ortolano, a paleographer. In 1869 he published a copy of the Troano Codex.

Despite his discoveries, Charles didn't remain in the logical realm when theorizing about the Maya. He started to think that Atlantis, the ancient Egyptians and the Maya were connected to each other, on account of the two confirmed civilizations sharing similarities. At some point during his life, he stopped professing the Catholic faith so much as the spiritualist one.

Charles-Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg died in France at the city of Nice on January 8, 1874. He was fifty-nine years old.

During Brasseur de Bourbourg's travels and studies of Mesoamerica, he wrote and published a number of books. Here is a list of the works that he is more known for writing:

-- Histoire des Nations civilisées du Mexique et de l'Amérique centrale (History of Civilised Nations of Mexico and Central America), 4 vols., Paris 1867-59;

-- "Voyage sur l'Isthme de Tehuantepec dan l'état de Chiapas et la République de Guatémala, 1859 et 1860"; 1861

-- "Popul Vuh, le Livre sacré des Quichés &c"; 1861

-- "Grammaire Quichée et le drame de Rabinal Achí'; 1862.

The Original Catholic Encyclopedia: Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg

Encyclopedia Britannica: Charles-Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg

FAMSI: "Notes of A Letter From Brasseur De Bourbourg"; John M. Weeks

"Literature and Travel"; Michael Hanne; 1993

"Aztec and Maya Myths"; Karl A. Taube; 1993

"Guatemala"; Denis Faubert, Carlos Soldevila; 2000

The University of Arizona Special Collections: Codex Tro-Cortesiano

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

Encyclopedia Britannica: Charles-Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg

The Free Dictionary: Paleographer

The Free Dictionary: Encyclopedia: Ethnographer

Monday, January 14, 2013

Diego de Landa: A Biography

Diego de Landa is the well-known infamous Franciscan friar (then bishop) who lived during the Spanish colonization endeavors of the 1500s. He is remembered for his inhuman actions towards the Maya as well as his appreciation and recording of the Maya culture, a subject of which he is considered a source although some question its authenticity. This is an article of the highlights of his life.
Birth and Entering the Missionary Life
Cifuentes de Alcarria, Spain (near Toledo) around the year 1524 is the setting in which Diego de Landa was born into the Spanish nobility. While very young, he became a Franciscan. After becoming a Franciscan Landa went to the New World as a missionary, during which time he demonstrated sympathy towards native peoples.
To the Yucatán
In 1549 Landa went to the Yucatán Peninsula, where he learned Yucatec Maya. 1552 saw him become the elected overseer of a convent located in Izamal, which he had founded. 1561 saw him become Yucatán's Franciscan provincial. 

Landa's time as provincial was the period of his life in which he committed his most infamous actions. Some resources such as Encyclopedia Britannica say it started when he found evidence of human sacrifice in a cave that contained items of the indigenous Maya religion. In response to finding this, on July 12, 1562 Landa had the local Maya brought to the central plaza at Maní, and made them watch as he caused 20,000 indigenous religious materials --- such as idols -- as well as books put to flame. Beyond this burning, he interrogated and imprisoned various Maya, possibly killing 157 people.

These actions were like an inquisition, which only bishops were allowed to start -- and Landa wasn't one. This, along with the level of violence he used, would later come back to cause Landa problems.
Resulting Political Troubles
In April 1563, the first bishop of Yucatán, Francisco Toral, arrived at Yucatán. He disliked what Landa had done, thinking he had been too extreme in his use of violence during in his interrogations, and had overstepped his bounds in his inquisition-like actions. He undid some of the sentences that had been given. He also demanded the records of completed trials against native "idolaters" but Landa refused, as he was only willing to give incomplete records. Not even a month after arriving, Toral forced Landa to return to Spain to defend himself against accusations of overstepping his rank in the religious hierarchy before the Council of the Indies.
To help him with his case -- though he also had character witnesses --, Landa began to write a book, titled Relación de las cosas de Yucatán (possibly written around 1566), in which he wrote on various aspects of Maya culture including the indigenous religion as well  history, laws, language and society.  This book was later lost to time, but a shorter version -- rediscovered by a man named Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg -- would later become important with the deciphering of the Maya writing system.
Eventually the case reached its conclusion, and the council found Landa innocent of the charges. He returned to Yucatán in 1572 to become bishop. 

A Difficulty As Bishop
Right before he got back to the Yucatán Peninsula, a new governor was put in place, Francisco Velázquez de Gijón. Landa and this governor did not get along. In 1574 there was a disagreement between what to do with some Fransiscan friars who had criticized the de Gijón's treatment of the Maya. De Gijón wanted them to undergo a trial, but Landa wouldn't let it happen, even putting the city of Mérida (now the capital city of today's Yucatán state) under interdictment -- a kind of ecclesiastical sanctioning. Eventually Gijón tried to forcibly take the friars but Landa helped them escape with a letter speaking of Gijón's actions towards the Franciscans.

Diego de Landa died in 1579, in the Yucatán Peninsula. He was about 55 years old.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Ancient Maya Dyes

The ancient Maya sourced their dyes from plant, mineral and animal as well as insect sources across their world, such as brazilwood, indigo, avocado and the cochineal. Dyers would prepare the dye substances by crushing them in bowls -- mordants included tempate (Jatropha curcas) leaf extract or rosemary (though Mayan Weaving: A Living Tradition speaks of urine).

Various sources existed from which the ancient Maya made red dye. These included brazilwood, the cochineal and annatto (achiote). Brazilwood is a kind of tree -- of which its wood was used for the dye --, while cochineal -- Dactilopius coccus -- is an insect that likes to eat prickly pear cactus. As for annatto -- still used today to color cheese --, the ancient Maya used the seeds of this evergreen shrub (or tree).

The fruit of the avocado plant provided the ancient Maya with a nutritious food. Other than its culinary application, the fruit also was used to dye cloth green.

The ancient Maya used the blackberry plant (but not the berry) to make yellow dye. 

Found in both the Old World as well as the New World, the ancient Maya used the indigo plant to make a blue dye. According to Maya Weaving: A Living Tradition they also used a kind of clay to make a blue cloth --  however it doesn't elaborate as to whether or not it is the same long-lasting blue used in Maya ceramics.

Multiple sources were available to the ancient Maya to make purple dye. This included blackberries, the wood of the logwood and a variety of mollusk. Blackberries made a deep purple dye and logwood wood made a black-purple dye, but the ancient Maya mollusk dye deserves a separate paragraph.

When it comes to the mollusk the ancient Maya used -- and the color it made -- resources aren't always specific, except for Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World and Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America. The former states the ancient Maya used ink from the gland of Purpura patula (a kind of mollusk) as a purple dye of a lavender shade. Conversely, the latter states the ancient Maya used Purpura pansa.

Several sources say that black dye for the ancient Maya came from coal. However, Encylcopedia states the ancient Maya obtained their black dye from genipa seeds.

Looking up genipa on the Free Dictionary revealed this was a general name for trees in the Genipa genus that bloom yellow flowers and produce fruit with a thick rind that can be eaten. According to Perdue University, a species of genipa (Genipa americana, commonly the genipap) grows -- among other places -- in southern Mexico. It is possible that it is this genipa the ancient Maya used to make black dye.

Consideration: Cacao Seeds
In Victoria Schlesinger's Animals and Plants of the Ancient Maya: A Guide -- published by University of Texas Press -- the ancient Maya also used cacao seeds to make a dye. However, I have yet to find more information on this, such as how they prepared the seeds and what color the dye was.

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

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

"The Ancient Maya: Fifth Edition"; Sylvanus Griswold Morley, Robert J. Sharer; 1994

"Your Travel Guide to Ancient Mayan Civilization"; Nancy Day; 2001

"Plants of the Ancient Maya: A Guide"; Victoria Schlesinger; 2001

"Mayan Weaving: A Living Tradition"; Ann Stalcup; 1999

"Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World: 15,000 Years of Inventions and Innovations"; Emory Dean Keoke, Kay Marie Porterfield; 2009

The Free Dictionary: Genipa

Perdue University Center for New Crops & Plant Products: Genipap

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