Sunday, November 26, 2017

Lady Yohl Ik'nal -- A Woman that Ruled Palenque

Her name means "Lady Heart of the Wind Place." Like Naranjo's Lady Six Sky, she was a ruler -- but there is a difference. Known by other names such as Kan Ik, Lady or Ix Yohk Ik'nal was a queen regnant. This means she was the official ruler of the polity/city-state of Baak/Baakal. (Palenque was a city inside it.) We know this because she had the title "Divine Lord of Palenque."

Royal Descent
Once there was a man named K'uk' Balam. In 431 AD he became Palenque's ruler, and because of this became the founder of a line of rulers -- though he only reigned until 435 AD. The last male ruler in this line was Kan Balam I. was either Yohl Ik'nal's father or brother. It seems that when this ruler died, there wasn't another male that could follow him. So Yohl Ik'nal became ruler.

Ascension Date
Yohl Ik'nal officially became Palenque's ruler on December 21st, 583 AD. (Mesoweb's Encyclopedia gives the day as December 23rd.) As far as archaeologists have found, her ascension makes her the first woman to rule Palenque.

There aren't a lot of things known about Lady Yohl Ik'nal's reign. Two events currently known were attacks. In 603 AD, on May 16, Bonampak attacked Palenque. Four years before that, there may have or actually was an attack by the Kaan or Snake polity/city-state, on April 21 -- though The Historical Dictionary of Mesoamerica gives April 23. (Kaan might not sound like a familiar city-state, until you find out that at it's center city at one point in its history became Calakmul -- however, in the reign of Lady Yohl Ik'nal, it might not have been yet.)

But archaeologists do know something about Lady Yohl Ik'nal's reign that may not have been about war.Lady Yohl Ik'nal "supervised" an accession of some kind for a "K'an Tok lord," but no one knows when. (There is no agreement about what a K'an Tok lord was.) The "when" of this is pretty fuzzy though. The closest that archaeologists have gotten is that the event happened basically almost anywhere in her reign, between 587 AD and 604 AD.

Lady Yohl Ik'nal may have been married. There is a man in the records that we know as Janaab Pakal who was either her son or her husband. The ruler who came after her, Ajen Yohl Mat, may have been their son. (If Janaab Pakal was actually a son of Lady Yohl Ik'nal, it seems that Ajen Yohl Mat would have been his older brother.)

After a reign just shy of twenty-one years, Lady Yohl Ik'nal died in 604 AD, on November 4th. Ajen Yohl Mat became the next ruler in 605 AD, on New Year's Day. As to where this queen of Palenque was buried, there's an idea that a building at Palenque called Temple XX is her tomb. (This idea came from an archaeologist named Merle Greene Robertson.)

It seems that Yohl Ik'nal's family found her memorable. On her well-known descendant Pakal's sarcophagus, artists drew members of his family and fruit trees -- and some members are put on twice. One of the family members put on twice is Yohl Ik'nal. On the sargophagus's west side, she's drawn standing by a sapodilla, a tree that the ancient Maya used various parts of -- including harvesting its sap for different uses. On the east side, she's coming out of an avocado tree.

Another Consideration: A Theory on a Headdress
An old artistic rendering of the Oval
Palace Tablet. Some artistic license
has been used. From the NYPL
Digital Collections.
There is a certain headdress that archaeologists call the "drum major headdress." A theory in Parallel Worlds on this headdress wonders if the Maya in Palenque thought that whenever there was a war, this headdress would keep them safe somehow. This theory also wonders if the drum major headdress belonged to Janaab Pakal -- the possible younger son or husband of Lady Yohl Ik'nal -- and that perhaps have been created five years into Lady Yohl Ik'nal's reign, in 598 AD.

An artifact that shows this headdress is the Oval Palace Tablet. On this tablet, the famous Pakal is being given the headdress by his mother, Lady Sak K'uk'.

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

Google Books: "Parallel Worlds: Genre, Discourse, and Poetics in Contemporary, Colonial and Classic Maya Literature"; Kerry M. Hull, Michael D. Carrasco; 2012

"Historical Dictionary of Mesomerica"; Walter R.T. Witschey, Clifford T. Brown; 2012

Maya Decipherment: Ideas on Ancient Maya Writing and Iconography: "The Temple XX Tomb"; September 20, 2012; David Stuart

Mesoweb: "The Rulers of Palenque"; Joel Skidmore; 2010

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

The University of Texas at Austin University of Texas Libraries: "Framing the Portrait: Towards an Understanding of Elite Late Classic Maya Representation at Palenque Mexico"; Kaleyy Rae Spencer; May 2007

Mesoweb Encyclopedia: Lady Yohl Ik'nal

Mesoweb Encyclopedia: Ajen Yohl Mat

Mesoweb: Palenque: The Oval Palace Tablet

Image Credits:
Pixabay: Mexico, Palenque, Ruins, Archaeology, Palace, City

NYPL Digital Collections: Two seated figures and two-headed dog within a circle, over bench decorated with figures and abstract elements.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dwarfism and the Ancient Maya

This is a ceramic whistle depicting a man
with dwarfism. It was made around 600 AD to
800 AD and came from either southeast Mexico
or from north Guatemala. From LACMA.

Dwarfism is a term used for different conditions that all share one feature: the person who has it is shorter than is common when compared to the area they're born in.  Archaeologists have found that among the ancient Maya, dwarfism had cultural significance.

According to several references used for this post, archaeologists have not found any remains so far of ancient Maya with dwarfism. Contradicting this, a 2009 article, also in the references, says otherwise.

Either way, archaeologists have found images of people with dwarfism in the art the ancient Maya made. Some examples are painted pottery, carved jade, stelae, and figurines made of ceramic. (In the Puuc region -- which is located in the north of the Yucatán Peninsula -- art showing people with dwarfism is more common than any other place in the Maya world.)

As there are different types of the condition, you may be wondering which one or ones have been found in ancient Maya art. The answer to that is achondroplasia. This is a term for multiple types of dwarfism that happen because of a gene mutation. (Achondroplasia can be passed on to one's children too.)

Role in Society
A wood artifact that may have been carved to represent
a man with dwarfism. The Maya may have used it as a setting
for a mirror. It was made between 410 AD and 650 AD, and might be
from either Mexico or Guatemala. From the Metropolitan Museum
of Art.
 Ancient Maya art shows people with dwarfism being able to become 
tax collectors, musicians, attendants for elites, and  quality control officials. An article on The Metropolitan Museum of Art's website says that the ancient Maya thought dwarfism gave a person the ability to see the future. (Images have also been found where people dressed as the Maize God were dancing with people with dwarfism.) Also it's possible that the ancient Maya thought that people with dwarfism were connected to the god K'awiil -- that they actually were K'awiil.

There's a theory that the elites in the ancient Maya world thought that dwarfism made a person a good candidate for marriage. And because of this, it may be why people with the condition show up in the art as much as they do.

Possible Symbolism
The idea of dwarfism may have been a symbol to the ancient Maya. They may have thought of it as being in some kind of in-between state. The same article from The Metropolitan Museum of Art mentioned above says that the ancient Maya saw dwarfism as beautiful in exactly the opposite way that the Maize God was beautiful.

Consideration: Uxmal's "Pyramid of the Dwarf"
You may have heard about the story of the magical dwarf and the site of Uxmal, located in the Puuc region. This story's history goes back over 150 years. There are different versions of what happens. A pyramid at Uxmal is supposed to have been part of the dwarf's story -- examples of the pyramid's names today include the House of the Dwarf, the Pyramid of the Magician, and the Pyramid of the Dwarf.

Also a ceramic whistle from made in the same
time frame. This one however, came from the
Mexican state of Campeche, located in the
Yucatán Peninsula. From LACMA.
Google Books: "Bioarchaeology of Impairment and Disability: Theoretical, Ethnohistorical, and Methodological Perspectives"; Jennifer F. Byrnes, Jennifer L. Muller (editors); 2017

Purdue University: Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research: "Ancient Mayan "Deformity"": Cultural Accomodation of Congenital Physical Anomaly in Mesoamerican Prehistory"; Michael H. Lockman, Liberal Arts; 2015

Google Books: "The Ch'ol Maya of Chiapas"; Karen Bassie-Sweet; 2015

Google Books: "Telling and Being Told: Storytelling and Cultural Control in Contemporary Yucatec Maya Literatures"; Paul M. Worley; 2013
PubMed: "Colombia Médica : CM": "Achondroplasia among ancient populations of mesoamerica and South America: Iconographic and Archaeological Evidence."; Carlos A Rodríguez,  Carolina Isaza, Harry Pachajoa; September 30, 2012

Penn Museum: "Expedition" Volume 51 Issue 1: "Out of the Past and Into the Night: Ancient Mythical Dwarfs in Modern Yucatan"; Judith A. Storniolo; March 2009

The Free Dictionary: Encyclopedia: Dwarfism

Reed College: Architecture, Restoration, and Imaging of the Maya Cities of Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, and Labná: Architecture, Restoration, and Imaging of the Maya Cities of UXMAL, KABAH, SAYIL, and LABNÁ The Puuc Region, Yucatán, México: The Yucatán 

Bluffton University: Digital Imaging Project: Art historical images of sculpture and architecture from pre-historic to post-modern: Mary Ann Sullivan, Bluffton University: Uxmal, Mexico:Uxmal, Yucatan--page 1 (of six pages)

University of Idaho: Non-Western Architecture: Professor Anne Marshall 499/502: Mayan Architecture of the Yucatan Peninsula: Uxmal-Pyramid of Magician

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Column, Costumed Figure

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: Achondroplasia

Image Credits:
LACMA: Figurine Whistle of a Dwarf

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Mirror Bearer

LACMA: Dwarf Figurine Whistle

Monday, November 13, 2017

Eccentric Flints

This eccentric flint of two beings, the smaller one looks like
it's getting a piggyback ride. It comes from Guatemala, and
was made in the 600s AD to 700s AD. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Maya (and other Mesoamericans) civilization had a practice of working stones including chalcedony, chert/flint, and obsidian into items that don't appear to have been tools. (They liked flint that was particularly dark the best.) Possibly or actually connected with lightning -- the Maya either may have thought or really did think flint was made from lightning strikes -- these carved stones were sacred items. The stones -- called eccentric flints, eccentrics, and eccentric lithics -- seem to have been the most popular in both the central and southern lowlands, during the Classic Period

Types of Shapes
Also from the Met.
This eccentric flint
comes from Mexico,
sometime before contact
with the Spanish.
The ancient Maya shaped eccentric flints with pieces of stone bigger than what you would use for a tool. The Maya also chose to shape these images as though you were looking at them from the side.

This eccentric flint is in the
collection of LACMA. It comes from
Mexico or perhaps Guatemala and was
 made somewhere around 600 AD to 800 AD.
Some of their eccentric flints look like their gods -- K'awiil, a god who seems to have a connection to lightning, was a preferred choice -- and others look like rulers; there are also ones that have more than one being. (One of the shape that the SFU Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology mentions is head-shaped eccentric flints. From their description, these seem to count as part of the ruler and god shapes.) There are also eccentric flints that look like animals, such as centipedes and scorpions. The Maya crafted eccentric flints that were just shapes as well.

There are some big eccentric flints that have a long piece that is called a stem -- which you might see called a tang -- coming straight down from the bottom of the part shaped to look like a god or ruler. (Though other sources this author has found don't say this, the SFU Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology says that this kind of eccentric flint is leaf-shaped.)

The people of the Maya civilization put these carved stones in caches that archaeologists have found in elite graves and under stelae, among other locations. 

But eccentric flints may not have just been for putting in special places. One theory says there were also certain eccentric flints that the ancient Maya used for bloodletting rituals.

There may have been a third use, at least for the big eccentric flints.The stems of big eccentric flints may have been for putting into a staff so that the part that looked like a god or ruler was on top of the staff. It's a possibility that the ancient Maya used this kind of scepter. A variation on this is that it may have been put into a staff and been a war-related item, like a battle standard -- or perhaps a weapon. 

Making Eccentric Flints
Making an eccentric flint was a very challenging project. No one is quite sure how the ancient Maya made them with the tools and skills that they are known to have had. (They used two methods: pressure flaking and percussion flaking.) However they did it, the ancient Maya who knew how to make eccentric flints had some very special knowledge about stone working.

Based off of flakes of chert that were painted at Piedras Negras, there's an idea out there that wonders if eccentric flints were painted as well.

This eccentric flint was made between 600 AD and
900 AD, in Belize. From the Yale University Art Gallery.


Sunday, November 12, 2017


Author's note: the images in this post come from the Project Gutenberg. The first one comes from the work titled "Queen Moo's Talisman" by Augustus Le Plongeon's wife Alice. The second image comes from "The Mayas, the Sources of Their History and Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries" by Stephen Salisbury, Jr.

Chacmools are statues carved in stone that look like man partly lying down. Peoples in Mesoamerica, including the ancient Maya -- at least in Guatemala's Quirigua and the state of Yucatan's Chichen Itza -- used these statues as part of their religion. You may find different spellings of the word chacmool when you look, such as chaacmol, chaac mool, chak mol, and chac mol.
Name Origin
Augustus Le Plongeon leaning
on the chacmool found on his

The name came from a man named Augustus Le Plongeon (1826 to 1908.) He and some others were excavating a platform on the site of Chichen Itza, and they came across a chacmool. Le Plongeon decided it was a statue was a statue of a prince and called it either "Chaac Mool" or "chaacmol." He thought this was the prince's name. (Or may have been told this name.) The source that says Le Plongeon chose "Chaac Mool" says it means "great/red jaguar paw." The source that says he chose "chaacmol" says Stephpen Salisbury Jr. changed it into chacmool when he wrote about Le Plongeon.
(Afterwards, a lot of people found out about the statue and were very happy about this statue being found -- it was an exciting find, culturally. Le Plongeon wanted to take the chacmool to an exposition called the Centennial Exposition (which was in Philadelphia.) However, the president he asked was replaced by Porfirio Diaz. Diaz sent some of the military to take it up to Mexico City's National Museum of Mexico.

The ancient Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula started to use chacmools in the Postclassic Period or the Terminal Classic, which was the last part of the Classic Period. A theory says that the ancient Maya were the first to start using chacmools. Another possibility is that another culture, the Toltecs, had come to the Yucatan Peninsula -- the cities are similar to each other in other ways too.

The idea was possibly to make them look like warriors that had been hurt or died. These carvings look like a man paused in the middle of a sit-up to watch something off to his side. Their arms are carved so it looks like they have knives tied to them, and their elbows are bent so it looks like they are holding themselves up with them. As for their heads, it was common for chacmools to be carved so it looked like they were wearing helmets or at least hats that look like helmets. And there's another important feature: they hold a disk/plate or bowl on their chests/stomachs.

Chacmools were -- or at least possibly were -- used as places to put offerings. (Human sacrifice may or may not have been a kind of offering connected to chacmools. No one knows for sure.) The ancient Maya who used chacmools put them in their temples, in a front room that led to another room that was bigger -- that is, their temples' antechambers.

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

"Romancing the Maya: Mexican Antiquity in the American Imagination 1820 - 1915"; R. Tripp Evans; 2004

"The A to Z of Ancient Mesoamerica" The A to Z Guide Series, No. 140; Joel W. Palka; 2000

Mesoweb Encyclopedia: chacmool

The Free Dictionary: Antechamber

"Augutus Le Plongeon (1826-1908): Early Mayanist, archaeologist, and photographer"; Lawrence G. Desmond, Ph.D. Senior Research Fellow in Archaeology Mesoamerican Archive and Research Project Peabody Museum, Harvard University

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

Project Gutenberg: "The Mayas, the Sources of Their History and Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries"; Stephen Salisbury Jr.; 1877

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Wahys/Ways -- A Variety of Spirit Being

"Wahy" -- you say it like the question word "why"-- is a Classic Period word. (You may also come across places that spell it "way.") It is the name for a certain kind of demon or spirit being that it looks like ancient Maya believed in and thought some people could use. Other names you may come across for this being include alter ego, tona, co-essence, nagual, familiar, and spirit companion or even wahy demon and wahy creature.

When it came to appearance, wahys had a lot of diversity. For example, there were animals, skeletons and wahys made up of different kinds of animals -- this last type being a large part of the known images of wahys. Wahys' appearances seem to have limited the kinds of things they could do. Wahys whose form looked weak tended to be underlings. But wahys that looked strong got more impressive things to do.

So far, it looks like there were two types of wahy. One type was connected to dynasties. The second type may have been supernatural beings of diseases, with a different wahy for a each disease. (Another view I found on a description of a vase in the Metropolitan Museum's online image collection says that it's common for a wahy to be a living form of a disease or another thing that makes people unhappy, like death.)

Who Owned Them
It looks like wahys were spirits that people like rulers, who had the right inborn ability, were able to keep inside their bodies and control. When asleep, wahys would come out of their owners -- using their mouths as a door -- to do things for them. And these people could get more than one wahy. 

It also looks like the Maya believed that if a wahy was hurt, the person who owned it died. Before dying, that person would become hurt just like the wahy had been.

Wahys in the first type mentioned in the last section could have been mascots for the dynasties that owned them. A different function they may have had was as a sort of protector of their dynasties. They may also have been used like the second type, the wahys who may be beings of diseases.

This second type of wahy was thought to hurt or kill their owners' enemies for them when their owners were sleeping. The ancient Maya may also have believed that if someone's wahy killed an enemy, then that wahy would become that person's wahy.

"Mortuary Landscapes of the Classic Maya: rituals of body and soul"; Andrew K. Scherer; 2015

Mesoweb: "The PARI Journal" Volume 14, No. 4: "Beans and Glyphs: A Possible IB Logogram in the Classic Maya Script"; Alexandre Tokovinine; 2014

"Lightning in the Andes and Mesoamerica: Pre-Columbian, Colonial, and Contemporary Perspectives"; John E. Staller, Brian Stross; 2013

Mesoweb: "The Updated Preliminary Classic Maya - English, English - Classic Maya Vocabulary of Hieroglyphic Readings"; Erik Boot; April 2009 (version 2009.01)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Collection: Vessel, Mythological Scene

Maya Decipherment: Ideas on Ancient Maya Writing and Iconography: Category Archives: "Maya Spooks"; David Stuart; October 26, 2012

Maya Decipherment: Ideas on Ancient Maya Writing and Iconography: "Excerpt from: David Stuart, 2005. Glyphs on Pots: Decoding Classic Maya Ceramics, Sourcebook for the 2005 Maya Meetings at Texas, Department of Art and Art History, UT-Austin, Austin.": "19. The Way Beings"