Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hormiguero -- Another Río Bec Site in Campeche

Author's note: sources differ as to the distance between Xpuhil and Hormiguero. Fodor's states the distance is 9 miles, while The Rough Guide to Cancun and the Yucatan: Includes the Maya Sites of Tabasco & Chiapas states it is a little over 13.5 miles.

South of the town of Xpujil in the southeastern area of the Mexican state of Campeche lies the site of Hormiguero (Spanish for "ant hill"), a community whose history lasted centuries. Architecturally speaking, this site lies within the Río Bec region and as might be expected, displays the Río Bec style of architecture.

Like Xpuhil, the history of Hormiguero spans the Preclassic Period all the way to the Postclassic Period, from 400 BC to 1100 AD. Its height occurred during the Late Classic Period and ended around the Terminal Classic Period from 600 AD until 800 AD. In terms of the age of the architecture, some of the site's oldest buildings date back to around 50 AD.

Its rediscovery occurred approximately 833 years later, in 1933. Its discoverers where John Dennison and Karl Ruppert of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. The pair were taking their second expedition to Campeche. Approximately 43 years later, the first excavation took place in 1979.

Name Meaning
And how did Hormiguero get its' modern name? There are two sources of inspiration. One source is the fact that looters have dug numerous tunnels through the site. The other source is the fact that there are large colonies of ants in the proximity of the site.

The buildings at Hormiguero, of which only two have been excavated as of 2011, are still in a good state and are organized into three groups: South Group, North Group and Central Group. Of note at the site are Estructura II (part of the South Group) and -- nearly 197 feet north of Estructura II -- Estructura V (located in the Central Group).

In terms of size, Estructura II is the site's largest structure. The approximately 164 foot long Estructura II possesses a facade that contains elaborate stonework decoration in good condition as well as a monster mouth doorway.

Moving on to Estructura V, this building that only has one room. However, on the outside it possesses a series of Chac (God B) masks on a pyramid that Fodor's Cancun and the Riviera Maya 2013 states are arranged in a cascade.

Consideration: Architectural Oddity
Though in the Río Bec style, Hormiguero's architecture possesses a notable feature that isn't found in the Río Bec style. The "temples" at the top of the pyramid towers -- unlike Río Bec pyramids -- can be walked into, instead of being solid stonework.

Hours of Operation
Like other sites such as Xpuhil, Sayil and Xlapak, Hormiguero is open to the public everyday from 8AM to 5PM. Unlike these sites however, it is free to get into the site. There are no buses that go there though.


"The Rough Guide to Cancun and the Yucatan: Includes the Maya Sites of Tabasco & Chiapas"; Zora O'Neill; 2011

"Fodor's Cancun, Cozumel & the Yucatan Peninsula 2008"; Fodor's; 2007

"Yucatan & Mayan Mexico"; Nick Rider; 2005

"Lonely Planet Mexico"; John Noble, Kate Armstrong, Ray Bartlett, Greg Benchwick; 2008

Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia: Zona Arqueológica Hormiguero

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Xpuhil -- A Río Bec Site in Campeche

Xpuhil is a site located in the Río Bec region, within the Mexican state of Campeche (itself found in the Yucatán Peninsula.) It is just a bit over half a mile -- via Highway 186 running by the site -- west from a village named Xpujil. This site is an example of a Río Bec architectural site (for a description of kinds of Maya architecture, go here.)

It is currently understood that people were living in the area of Xpuhil since around 400 BC, in the Preclassic Period. The height of Xpuhil though occurred during the 700s AD, in the Late Classic Period. The site was finally abandoned in 1100 AD during the Postclassic Period, and rediscovered in 1938.

And how did Xpuhil rank society-wise? It is possible that it was a "satellite" or "suburb" community of Becán. As a suburb, Xpuhil probably fulfilled certain economic functions for Becán, such as sending stone masons and growing food. On the other side of things, Becán would have had a religious function for Xpuhil and -- like the mafia -- would help the smaller site remain stable in the world of politics.


Xpuhil has various groups of structures (for a map click on the link titled "Auburn University Montgomery Carnegie Explorer: Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. Map of the site of Xpuhil" in the References section.) Of note at the site is a structure called Estructura I.

Estructura I possesses one dozen rooms and three towers -- this is uncommon among Río Bec style architecture, which uses two towers. The outer towers face east and the central one (the tallest of the three at nearly 174 feet) faces west. The central tower also still has a remnant of a mask of some kind of creature.

On the far side of the temple -- on a wall below it -- there is a jaguar mask.
Xpuhil, like other sites, costs to get into and is only open to the public between certain hours. Hours for Xpuhil are 8AM until 5PM, and the cost to get in is nearly $3. It is possible to take a bus from Xpujil to the site.

"Yucatan"; Yucatán By Ray Bartlett, Daniel C. Schechter; 2006

"The Rough Guide to Cancun and the Yucatan: Includes the Maya Sites of Tabasco & Chiapas"; Zora O'Neill; 2011

Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes: Xpuhil

"Yucatan & Mayan Mexico"; Nick Rider; 2005

Instituto Nacional De Antropología e Historia: Zona Arqueológica Xpuhil 

California State University East Bay: White Bone Dragon: Xpuhil

Auburn University Montgomery Carnegie Explorer: Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. Map of the site of Xpuhil

Universidad Nactional Autónoma de México: Xpuhil

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.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Xlapak of the Puuc Region

Author's note: resources have not agreed as to how many buildings have been restored. Also, resources also disagree as to the charge to get into the site.

Xlapak (Yucatec Mayan for "old walls") is a tiny site in the Puuc region of the Yucatán Peninsula, in the state of Yucatán.  Within the peninsula, it is located near both the sites of Labná and Sayil -- being about 3.5 miles from Sayil and about 1.8 miles from Labná .

Xlapak may have been a community since the Early Classic Period, and also has evidence of being occupied during the Terminal Classic.  At one time, the population of Xlapak might have been 1,500 people. On a side note, there is a theory that states that Xlapak was at first a part of Labná.

Buildings at Xlapak were constructed around a central plaza. Worthy of mention at Xlapak is a semi-excavated artificial platform and -- around 984 feet north of the platform -- a building known today as El Palacio, Palacio or the Palace. Also worthy of mention is a chultun located near El Palacio.

El Palacio -- The Building of Note
El Palacio is a rectangular structure that six doorways (three in front, one on the left side and two on the right). In terms of decoration, El Palacio displays Puuc style architecture -- the lower half is plain while above the doorways there is a lot of stonework decoration. Used in the decoration are geometric designs and drum columns. At the center and the corners of the decorated half of the building are masks of Chac (God B), the rain god.

Xlapak is open from 8AM until 5PM. Depending on the resource, it is either free to get in, or costs around three dollars.


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

"Yucatán Peninsula"; Liz Prado, Gary Chandler; 2009

El Gobierno del Estado de Yucatán: Xlapak

"The Rough Guide Maya World"; Peter Eltringham, John Fisher, Iain Stewart; 2002

"The Rough Guide to Cancun and the Yucatan: Includes the Maya Sites of Tabasco & Chiapas"; Zora O'Neill; 2011

"White Roads of the Yucatán: Changing Social Landscapes of the Yucatec Maya; Justine M. Shaw; 2008

Youtube: "Exploración Maya 16, Xlapak, Yucatán, Eduardo González Arce"; Spinmayaeduardo; July 30, 2012

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