Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Art, Literature and History Crawling with Dinosaurs: A Copan Pterosaur ...

... the ancient cities of the vast Mayan civilization that flourished in The Classic ... this sculpture depicts the storm god Chaak in a particularly snake-like form, ... -

Dinosaurs in Literature, Art & History--A Copán Pterosaur?... Page 26

Pre-Columbian Pterosaur?

"Copán is the southern most of the ancient cities of the vast Mayan civilization that flourished in The Classic Period of 300 to 900 AD." There are literally hundreds and perhaps thousands of varieties of pterosaurs and/or pteranodons that existed or exist in the world.

We can't be sure exactly which of the many South American types this actually represents (if we're correct) but we don't believe as the Copan Sculpture Museum does, that this is in fact a "bird".

We believe it is a type of flying reptile believed by science to have been extinct for millions of years. As you know, science does not know exactly how any of the dinosaurs actually looked and this is true of the pterosauria as well.

Note that this specimen has a characteristic notch on his bill as did many long billed pterosauria. Some birds also have this notch, however including some pelicans. Pterosaurs are thought to have eaten fish as this specimen also appears to be enjoying. As usual, it's up to you to decide if the evidence convinces you or leaves you

Copan Sculpture Museum January 9, 2004

"Carved from a single block of stone, this sculpture depicts the storm god Chaak in a particularly snake-like form, with upturned snout and sharp tooth. With a great bird rearing back, fish in mouth, to form the headdress, this figure can be identified as a particular version or aspect of Chaak dubbed GI (one), of the Palenque Triad Gods.

This god was especially important at the city of Palenque, where he was impersonated by kings on a number of monuments."

Mary Miller & Simon Martin, Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya, p. 74

Click and drag photo to resize.

"The first evidence of these reptiles came to light in 1971, when footprints were discovered in Mexico. These creatures had a wing span of 9 – 10 metres. Since then, bone fragments have been found in Jordan, Israel and Brazil.

Pterosaurs died out about 65 million years ago. ‘We rely on these fossils to help understand evolution, as there are no descendants,’ said Dr. Martill. Only 3 eggs have been discovered; 2 in China and one in Argentina".... Laura Bach. Source of: Loveridge 2003 Drawing is Simon Clabby's Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight Site


Maya God Chaak and Sacred Rain of Stone

Riviera Maya and Costa Maya articles and stories
... and stories about the people and places of the Mayan Riviera. ... Chaak is the Maya god of rain - one of the most beloved deities, and it is Chaak's rain of ...

Chaak Tun

Chaak Tun
By Dani Knod

Hidden behind the dense concrete jungle of Playa del Carmen, visitors can find a true natural gem – a spot to revel in the untouched glory of the Riviera Maya. Quiet pathways through lush green jungle; decorative caverns echoing millions of years of growth and formation; cool cenote waters, as crystal clear as the air we breathe; and the harmony of a fragile ecosystem inviting you to experience and explore. The ancient Maya revered this sacred spot and gave it a powerful name – Chaak Tun.

Chaak is the Maya god of rain - one of the most beloved deities, and it is Chaak’s rain of stone that delights visitors daily. My party and I chose to arrive in the early afternoon, for I was tipped off that the park is normally quite busy before 1 or 2 pm. Good advice! The whole place belonged entirely to us.

Chaak Tun
We were lead down the path to meet our guide, Shelly. As we approached, she motioned for us to carefully and quietly creep forward to join her. She had spotted a tiny green tree snake camouflaging itself in a bush, and so the precedent for our tour was set. Full of passionate knowledge of this particular ecosystem, Shelly gave us a detailed overview of our tour and what to expect. And, without further adieu, we put on our helmets and started down a wooden walkway that led into the mouth of a cave.

The passage was large and we could see light at the other end, so there were no fears of being lost in the dark. As we strolled casually through the cavern, Shelly filled our eager ears with interesting tidbits of natural, historical, and anthropological knowledge. With a flashlight, she pointed out all of her favorite parts of the cave. The walls and ceilings were covered with intricate formations of stalactites and stalagmites formed through millions of years of the rain of stone.

When rainwater collects depressions in the floor of the jungle, it filters through the porous limestone of the Yucatan picking up tiny particles that deposit in drips. Drip by drip; tiny particle by tiny particle, massive decorations of stone were made.

We snorkeled through the pristine waters held within the cenote and were amazed how the impressiveness of the formations continued – if not increased - below the surface of the water. More collections of monstrous stalagmites rising from the floor and clusters of stalactites hanging steadfast from the ceiling combined to form a labyrinth of natural awe. Memories to last a lifetime…

Chaak Tun is open daily from 8:00 am – 4:30 pm, and the recommendation still stands for an afternoon visit if you wish to enjoy this special spot without the crowds. Drive west on Juarez through the ejido of Playa del Carmen onto the dirt road; a few kilometers and one security stop later, and you’re there! The tour is recommended, but don’t worry - you can spend as much time as you want enjoying the cavern and the snorkeling. When it comes to fully appreciating all the natural beauty of the Riviera Maya, a cenote is definitely a must. So, enjoy your visit to Chaak Tun, and be sure to mention that you saw it in Sac-Be!



Mayan Ruins

... and children, possibly sacrificed to appease the rain god Chac, have been found. ... is a wall made up over 260 Chaak masks, stacked on top of one another ... -

Mayan Ruins

The land of the Maya includes the Mexican states of Quintana Roo (which contains Cancun), Yucatán, Campeche, Tabasco and Chiapas -- but also spills over into Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

At hundreds of points around the region stand majestic Mayan ruins which speak eloquently of the grandeur of this imposing culture. There are even several archeological sites right within Cancun's hotel zone. The most frequently visited Mayan ruin sites (with the exception of Tikal in Guatemala) are all in Mexico, and can be reached by bus or car from Cancun.

"Strange to say, cryptologists - those makers and breakers of codes from the world of espionage and counter-intelligence - have played little role in the great decipherments of ancient scripts. In fact, I remember the announcements in the American press that the famous husband-and-wife team of Col. William Friedman had received foundation support to decipher Maya hieroglyph writing. The Friedmans having achieved well-deserved fame by cracking the Japanese naval code on the eve of the war, it was a foregone conclusion that the ancient Maya were going to be a pushover for them. Nothing resulted from this doomed project, and they went to their graves without having deciphered a single Maya hieroglyph."
-Michael D. Coe, Breaking the Maya Code

Chichén Itzá
Click Here for Chichen Itza Hotels

Chichen Itza Tour
The majestic city of Chichén Itzá awaits you. See the magnificent pyramid of Kukulkan (75 feet high); The Temple of the Warriors, The Ball Court, The Observatory and the Sacred Well, the place where countless victims were sacrificed to ancient gods. Includes: A/C bus transportation, guide, entrance to the site, lunch (drinks not included).

Only two and a half hours away from Cancun is one of the most impressive of all Mayan ruins, Chichén Itzá. This is perhaps the most famous Mayan cultural site in the world, and one of the richest and largest archeological remnants of that civilization. Founded in 445 B.C., and inhabited until 1204 A.D. when it was mysteriously abandoned, Chichén Itzá lies about 120 miles west of Cancun.

Map of
Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza Map

The site's most impressive structure is the 75-foot pyramid, the Temple of Kukulcán, whose stairs lead to two large serpent heads. In an impressive display of ancient Mayan science, the temple accurately predicts the Spring (March 20 or 21) and Fall (September 21 or 22) equinoxes in a spectacle of light and shadow. Thousands gather at this time to see the snakelike shadow of Kukulcán, the greatest of the Mayan gods, descend the main pyramid.

Another outstanding feature of the place is the Ball Court, where ancient Mayans played a mysterious and complicated game that is still the subject of debate. The Ball Court's history is no less intriguing than its acoustics: you can hear someone talking from the far side of the field, even though it is over a football field long.

Buildings are not the only interesting features of Chichén Itzá. Highly important in this Mayan society was the Sacred Cenote, that gave the city its name. Human skeletons of men, women and children, possibly sacrificed to appease the rain god Chac, have been found. Apart from that, a large number of artifacts have been found, such as idols, jewelry and jade. Some object are from other parts of Mexico, leading archaeologists to believe that pilgrimages were made to the Sacred Cenote long after Chichén Itzá was abandoned.

Click Here for Hotels in Tulum | 360 Virtual Tour: Tulum Ruins

Tulum and Xel-Ha Tour
Discover one of the most beautiful Mayan cities and the only one overlooking the Caribbean sea, and then visit the largest natural aquarium in the world. This natural aquarium is famous for its thousands of brightly colored tropical fish and the dramatic limestone formations. Includes A/C bus transportation, guide, and entrance to both sites. All-inclusive optional.

Tulum, just over 80 miles to the south of Cancun, is the only major Mayan archeological site to overlook the Caribbean. This archeological zone dates from the post-Classic era, and was inhabited after 1200 BC. It contains more than 60 structures.

Map of

Tulum is believed by archeologists to be one of the most important ceremonial centers of the Mayan people. Dating back more than 17 centuries, the remains show what was once a massive walled city by the sea, with roads, homes and businesses. Its geographical location right on the Caribbean Sea enabled Tulum to become a major Mayan trade center. Thousands of canoes traveled there from other points around the region.

One of the highlights of Tulum is El Castillo (The Castle), an impressive pyramid perched on a 40-foot cliff and thought be one of a series of lighthouses that guided seafarers in the area. You are NOT allowed to climb El Castillo.

Here too is the Temple of the Dios Descendente, built as a way station for descending gods, and the Temple of the Frescos, which still bears traces of color from ancient palettes.

"At the foot of the cliff, on the southeast corner of the site at Tulum is a small but exquisite white beach outlined by gray rock and sloping easily into a limpid, multicolored sea. If I had to pick just one Mexican beach to be listed among the Great Beaches of the World, it would be this. To swim in these vivid seas, looking up at the exotic outlines of Tulum's Mayan temples, is to combine two of Mexico's greatest pleasures into a single experience."
-Ron Hall, "Great Beaches of the World," Condé Nast Traveler


Coba Mayan Encounter
Visit the gorgeous archaeological zones of Coba and Pac-Chen, in a tour that will take you to the very heart of Quintana Roo’s jungle and get you in touch with the marvelous Maya culture and its impressive legacy. While visiting Coba, don’t miss the chance to climb up the 120 steps of the Nohoch Mul pyramid, the highest one of its kind. At Pac-Chen you can learn about the ancient traditions of the Maya culture and you will even get the opportunity of descending to the beautiful cenote “Balam Kim” and swim in its blue waters.

Three hours south of Cancun is Cobá, an early Mayan site yet to be fully reclaimed from the jungle. Begun in 600 A.D., Cobá is a combination of the leading attractions of Uxmal and Chichén Itzá, but its geographical location, 100 km from Cancun, provides an added sense of adventure, as it was built in the heart of the jungle.

This group of ruins is all that is left of what could have been the largest of all Mayan cities. There are thought to be over 6,500 structures spread out over 50 square kilometers. During its peak around 750 A.D. there may have lived as many as 50,000 Maya there.

The outstanding feature is the Pyramid of Nohoch Mul, the highest of its kind on the Yucatán Peninsula. With 120 steps, Nohoch Mul is worth the climb. This site also includes a well restored pelota court (ball court), and 20 some stelae that have been well preserved.

Archeologists have found many links to the great Guatemalan city of Tikal, including similar architecture and carvings or stelae. They believe that the royal females of Tikal may have married the Cobá royalty and formed a relationship between the Guatemala Maya and those of the Yucatán. The archaeology resembles Tikal hundreds of miles away, and there is one of the most advanced systems of raised roads, or sacbeob, in the Yucatán. One of these perfectly straight sacbeob travels 60 miles to a Mayan village of Yaxuna.

For some unknown reason the people of Cobá left town around the year 900 AD. All these mysteries are being explored right now, and if you see Cobá soon, you will have the experience of seeing archaeologists at work. This site is in complete contrast with Chichén Itzá's well restored, well landscaped clean surroundings (so bring your bug spray).

Getting to Cobá The ruins are located about 50 km west of Tulum. You have the choice of renting a car and spending the day enjoying the ride, or taking one of the many buses or tours to Cobá from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. Be ready to do some walking, as this once great city was very spread out. Expect to walk three to four miles if you want to see most of the sites. A good tour should take between three and five hours. After lunch, you can stop for a dip in one of the many cenotes on the road to Cobá. Car Wash is a nice one.

Click HERE for Hotels at Uxmal

Uxmal ruins are in the state of Yucatán, south of Mérida. They are large and impressively carved. Uxmal is one of the most well known of the Maya cities, and rated by many archaeologists as the finest.

Map of

In area, the site is fairly compact, though you should allow at least half a day for a first visit, after which you’ll probably want to return to go over the site in more detail. There has been much renovation work and the grounds are well tended, but wear good shoes if you intend to do any climbing. It is permitted to climb the largest structure, the Pyramid of the Magician, and the view from the top is well worth the effort, though the steps are extremely steep.

From Mérida, follow 261 in the direction of Campeche. The site is about 70 miles (110 km) from Mérida and it should take about an hour by car. Otherwise, take a tour from Mérida. There’s an admission fee of around $4 USD and a further fee for the sound and light show. All the sites are free on Sundays.

Mayan Ruins in Cancun

Ruinas El Rey Dating back to the Mayan post-classical period, its name is derived from the skeleton discovered on the upper part of the larger mound. The ruins of El Rey are located in front of Playa Delfines in Cancun's hotel zone. Any taxi or bus on Kukulcán Boulevard can take you there easily. The visit won't take you more than an hour. It is an ideal site to relax, become familiar with Maya culture, and to witness the numerous iguanas that chose these ancient temples as their home.

El Meco Found just north of Cancun, on the avenue leading to Punta Sam, is the archeological zone of El Meco. From the top of one of its pyramids - the tallest archeological structure in the north of the state - there is a breathtaking view of the Chacmochuc Lagoon, near the area known as Isla Blanca (the name is misleading since it is not an island). To get there, we suggest taking a taxi, since this site, recently open to the public, still does not receive many visitors.

Other Noteworthy Sites

Dzibilchaltún Located only 22 kms. from Mérida, Dzibilchaltún holds an incredible amount of stone constructions. One of these, the House of the Seven Dolls, is the site of a beautiful light show every equinox.

Ek-Balam Near the colonial city of Valladolid is one of the newest sites to open to the public, Ek-Balam, home to remarkably well-preserved Mayan ruins. This little gem of a Mayan city is rarely visited and you may very well end up strolling around all by yourself among temples and jungle. It’s a bit off the beaten path since it’s located about 20 minutes north of Valladolid, and is best handled by car. It is not difficult to find. Go to Valladolid, go through the main square (El Zócalo) and then follow the signs to Tizimin. The exit to Ek Balaam is well marked.

Kabah Open daily 8am - 5pm. Located about 1.5 hours south of Mérida on Highway #261 The city can be found just south of Uxmal, and is directly off the main highway. In a similar Puuc style that can be found in Sayil, Labná and Xlapak, Kabah is another example of this construction style that flourished in the eighth and ninth centuries throughout the Yucatán. The best known site south of Uxmal, its popularity with tourists is largely due to the existence of the Wall of Masks, which is a wall made up over 260 Chaak masks, stacked on top of one another in an almost fanatic configuration.

Kohunlich Discovered less than three decades ago, Kohunlich is one of the finest sites in the south of Quintana Roo, especially for the enormous gargoyles on the main pyramid which are supposed to represent the Gods of the Underworld, rather like the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It is 80 km from Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo, and can be reached from Cancun by air - the flight takes 50 minutes - or by road, a distance of 360 km.

Labná Open daily 8am - 5pm. Located about 20 minutes south of Uxmal on Highway #261. This site is 120 Kms. from Mérida with easy access by highway. Labná, which means "Old or abandoned house", was thus named at the time of its discovery and exploration. Along with Uxmal, Sayil and Kabah, it forms the jewels of northern Maya architecture and sculpture. This site has attracted worldwide attention for its well-formed and finely ornamented arch, which must have been the entrance to an area dedicated to great celebrations.

Muyil / Chanyaxche Only a short drive south of Tulum, there’s a nice little site with very few visitors. This site goes under two names, Muyil and Chanyaxche. It is not big, but there are a few interesting buildings and the historical significance is apparent. Your visit will probably last about half an hour. Parking is free. Continue south about 15 minutes (22km) after passing the village of Tulum and you’ll find it on the left hand side.

Sayil Located about 1.5 hour south of Mérida on Highway #261. Sayil was constructed and inhabited at the end of the classic period of the Maya (roughly 950 AD) and is built in the similar Puuc style that can be found in Kabah, Labná and Xlapak. As with other Mayan sites, Sayil had a key ceremonial center surrounded by smaller towns, villages and residential centers and was believed at its peak to hold a population of ten thousand people at its core and seven thousand more in the outlying "suburbs."

Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya We recommend.

Their civilization teemed with life -- and brutality. Guess what's in their art? Read Editorial Review
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Genre Type: Ceramics, Sculpture/Installation
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Mayan Myth And Mayhem
By Mark Jenkins
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 30, 2004

TODAY WE are awash in mythology. Every Westerner is able to mix and match from myriad sources, whether Norse epics, samurai films, the book of Revelation or professional wrestling.

The Maya, however, had only the creatures and plants that lived in the rain forests of Mexico and Central America and the things they saw in the sky. That didn't stop them from creating an intricate cosmology, populated by deities that both combined and transcended their natural characteristics.

Among them were the lightning god, K'awiil, whose foot was a serpent; the Maize God, whose outlandish bouffant represents stalks of corn; and the storm god, Chaak, whose headdress was sometimes a live bird. These creatures are a fantasia on the fecund natural world in which the Maya lived.

Stone or stucco renderings of these and many other apparitions are among the roughly 130 7th- and 8th-century items in "Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya," a beautifully installed and frequently startling exhibition at the National Gallery of Art.

Most of the objects in the show, which was organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the National Gallery, have never been seen in the United States. All of them testify to a civilization that was long lost and even now is only partially understood.

Many mysteries remain in the story of the Maya, who were first thought by European scholars to have been a tribe of benevolent mathematicians and stargazers, sort of like the disinterested, super-civilized peoples sometimes encountered on "Star Trek." Archaeologists and anthropologists have unlocked some of the Maya's secrets, and believe them to have been an exceptionally violent people, devoted to war and blood sacrifices. Yet their more than 500 hieroglyphics (which represent both pictorial and phonetic meanings) have been only partially deciphered, leading some of their gods to be known by less evocative names than K'awiil. The entity that governed both the underworld and trade -- sort of a cross between Hades and Warren Buffett -- has been unsatisfyingly dubbed "God L."

The Greeks sometimes referred to Hades as Pluto, who also was involved in the creation of wealth. Over the last few centuries, these sorts of coincidences have fueled a lot of speculation. The Maya built pyramids and wrote in hieroglyphics, like the Egyptians. The sleeker, more idealized faces in this show suggest Hellenic sculpture. And the Maya, who never had the stores of gold the Spanish invaders sought, buried their kings with death masks of jade, much like the ancient Chinese, whose royal jade shrouds were displayed four years ago in the National Gallery show "Celebrated Discoveries From the People's Republic of China."

Yet the Maya, scholars surmise, had a culturally specific reason for that burial practice: Jade's greenness represented maize, so a jade death mask expressed a dead king's desire to be reborn as the Maize God.

That the Maya were influenced by people from other continents is unlikely. Many of their rituals bear no known relationship to the customs of any non-Mesoamerican population. It's quite common for bygone civilizations to have developed myths of divine death and rebirth that reflect the annual cycle of fall's harvest and spring's planting. (Indeed, some contemporary religions retain elements of that allegory.) But the Maya envisioned a universe that was very closely related to their daily lives and then brought that symbolism to bloody life.

For example, the great (if only fragmentary) Maya epic known as the Popul Vuh recounts that the Maize God went into the underworld each fall, where he died on a ball court while battling the death gods. For the residents of such Mayan city-states as Palenque, Bonampak, Tikal and Tonina, this legendary sacrifice could become very real. If competitors lost what is known by scholars simply as "the ballgame" (played with a heavy rubber ball), contestants such as the one depicted on a 6th-century stone ball court marker might well be put to death.

The Maya's ceremonial need for blood seems to have been one reason that the various states warred with each other so frequently. This exhibition includes many representations of prisoners, such as a pair of relief carvings from Tonina, each showing an individual captive with his arms tied behind his back. Sometimes great victories were reenacted at court, with prisoners being scourged and killed, as is shown in a reconstruction of a painting from Bonampak.

This is what the exhibition title means by "courtly" -- not European-style chivalrous behavior, but the sanguinary horrors of Mayan imperial rites. The kings and queens of such cities as Palenque didn't offer only the blood of men who lost games and battles. A limestone lintel depicts Lady Xok, wife of a powerful ruler called Shield Jaguar, pulling a thorn-studded rope through her tongue, a customary form of ritual bloodletting for female royalty.

The blood was spattered on paper and then burned, summoning a prophetic Vision Serpent.

Such observances seem utterly alien. Yet there is much in this exhibition that's less exotic, from the Maya's taste for corn and chocolate -- according to the Popul Vuh, K'awiil split a mountain with a lightning bolt, revealing these two essential crops -- to their fascination with jaguars (representing power) and monkeys (exemplifying mischief). When not fighting and killing, the Maya developed their mathematics and writing. A pair of ceramic figures -- one human, one simian -- represent the twin brothers, sons of the Maize God, who were the Maya's patrons of art and writing.

Mayan culture still holds many secrets, but historically the final enigma is that the Maya suddenly abandoned their major cities about A.D. 799. The pieces in this show represent the last testament of a society that was about to slip into the jungle, the source of so much of its imagery. Gradually, many of its products went with it. Scholars believe that most Maya artworks were made of wood, hides, bark, fabric and feathers, none of which last long in a tropical climate. (Some items were also destroyed by the Spanish.) It's quite possible our knowledge of the Maya will never be complete.

Viewing these beautifully made if often chilling objects, however, it seems certain that our vanished Southern neighbors will continue to fascinate.

COURTLY ART OF THE ANCIENT MAYA -- Through July 25 at the National Gallery of Art, Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW. 202-842-6333.

DoCancun: Cancun Mex



Mayan Sacrifices - Blue Paint

Feeling blue? Not like a Maya sacrificial victim

By Will Dunham 49 minutes ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - There was more than the obvious reason to feel blue for people offered in human sacrifice rituals by the ancient Maya to their rain god -- they were painted blue before being heaved into a watery sinkhole. And it wasn't just any blue. It was Maya blue -- a vivid, somewhat turquoise-colored pigment used for about a millennium by Mesoamerican peoples to decorate pottery, figurines and murals that has long mystified scientists.

But now anthropologists from Wheaton College in Illinois and the Field Museum in Chicago have discovered how the ancient Maya produced this pigment and the role it played in important rituals at a famous Maya site in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.

"Maya blue has long been of interest to scholars, both archeologists and chemists," Gary Feinman, curator of anthropology at the Field Museum who worked on the study, said in a telephone interview.

"The interest in Maya blue stems from the fact that it is a very durable pigment -- more durable than most natural dyes and pigments. It also stems from the fact it wasn't immediately obvious how it was made and what the key ingredients were."

The pigment resists age, acid, weathering, biodegradation and modern chemical solvents. Previous research had identified two ingredients as extract from the leaves of the indigo plant and an unusual white clay mineral called palygorskite.

These researchers did microscopic analysis on material found in a three-footed pottery bowl in the museum's collection dating from A.D. 1400 that had been used as an incense burner.


A century ago, the bowl was dredged from the Sacred Cenote, a natural sinkhole well, at Chichen Itza, a key urban center late in Maya history. They found that copal, a tree resin burned as incense, also was part of the Maya blue concoction.

And they concluded that the pigment was made by mixing the ingredients over low heat in rituals performed on the edge of the sinkhole. That was bad news for human sacrificial victims.

Feinman said that human sacrifice was part of rituals appealing to the Maya rain god Chaak -- depicted on some Maya structures with a unique elongated, curled nose -- to deliver rain for crops such as corn.

During the rituals conducted on the edge of the cenote at Chichen Itza, Feinman said, the Maya seem to have produced the pigment and painted items like pottery that would be tossed into the water as offerings to the god.

And, he added, they also would paint people being offered as human sacrifices blue and heave them into the sinkhole. Feinman said about 120 sets of human remains have been dredged from the sinkhole, along with lots of ceremonial objects.

"Adult males may have had their hearts removed before they were dumped in," Feinman said.

Feinman said at the bottom of the cenote, a layer 14 feet

deep of blue goo has been found, likely composed of pigment that washed off sacrificial victims and objects.

"The Maya used indigo, copal incense and palygorskite for medicinal purposes," said anthropologist Dean Arnold of Wheaton College and the Field Museum, who also worked on the study.

"So, what we have here are three healing elements that were combined with fire during the ritual at the edge of the Sacred Cenote. The result created Maya blue, symbolic of the healing power of water in an agricultural community," Arnold said.

The findings were published in the journal Antiquity.

(Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Xavier Briand)


Mysteries of "Sacrificial" Maya Blue Pigment Solved?

February 26, 2008

An ancient clay bowl from Mexico is providing new clues to the production and role of a hardy blue pigment widely employed by the ancient Maya.

The find also helps explain a mysteriously thick layer of blue silt that archaeologists reported at the bottom of a sacrificial sinkhole where the bowl was recovered more than a century ago.

The pigment, known commonly as Maya blue, was used to paint offerings, pottery, murals, and even the bodies of humans before ritual sacrifices. (Related: "Ancient Maya Used 'Glitter' Paint to Make Temple Gleam [February 7, 2008].)

Scientists have long known the basic chemical components of the pigment, which has a remarkable ability to resist age, acid, weathering, and even modern chemical solvents.

"Unlike a lot of natural pigments that may fade, [Maya blue] is very stable," said Gary Feinman, curator of Mesoamerican anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois.

But the exact recipe, along with the tools the Maya used to create the pigment and the circumstances surrounding its use, were unknown.

The new research by Feinman and colleagues, which appears online today in the journal Antiquity, may answer some of these questions.

Sacrificial Sinkhole

Lead study author Dean Arnold of Wheaton College in Illinois first came across the pottery bowl while searching through the Maya collection at the Field Museum.

He noticed that the bowl contained a wedge of preserved incense dotted with white flecks and a blue pigment.

The bowl had been discovered more than a century ago at the bottom of the Sacred Cenote, a large sacrificial sinkhole at the Maya site of Chichén Itzá, which was associated with the rain god Chaak.

More than a hundred humans were sacrificed to the deity at this site. (See an interactive map of key Maya sites.)

Analyses revealed the incense was made of a copal, a tree sap whose smoke the Maya believed nourished the gods.

The pigment was the famed Maya blue, and the flecks were bits of a white clay mineral called palygorskite.

According to previous studies, Maya blue is made by fusing palygorskite with pigments from the leaves of the indigo plant.

But the two ingredients do not readily combine, and it was unknown how the Maya fused them.

Archaeologists had suspected that copal was important to the production of Maya blue, and the new findings seem to confirm that theory.

"Our study suggests that heat and copal incense likely were key elements used to fuse the two components together," Feinman said.

Symbolic Value

Taken together, the bowl's history and its contents support the idea that Maya blue had great symbolic significance, study leader Arnold said.

Indigo, palygorskite, and copal—all associated with healing—were used individually as medicines by the ancient Maya.

"The offering of three healing elements thus fed Chaak and symbolically brought him into the ritual in the form a bright blue color that hopefully would bring rainfall and allow the corn to grow again," Arnold said.

The pigment's importance to the Maya is perhaps best illustrated by a 14-foot (4-meter) layer of blue silt that was discovered at the bottom of the Sacred Cenote when it was first excavated in 1904, the researchers say.

At the time archaeologists did not know what the blue material was, but the new findings strongly suggest it was Maya blue precipitate that had washed off of pottery and human bodies cast into the sinkhole.

Mary Miller, an art historian at Yale University in Connecticut who was not involved in the study, called the new findings "an exciting addition to the corpus of what is known about this stunning and tenacious pigment."

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Aztec Temple - Exceptional Find

Aztec Temple Found in Mexico City "Exceptional," Experts Say

October 5, 2006

Archaeologists working in the heart of Mexico City have discovered an altar and a monolith that date back more than 500 years to Aztec times.

The finds may be one of the most significant Aztec discoveries in years.

The altar depicts the Aztec rain god Tlaloc and was uncovered last weekend at the Aztec main temple, Templo Mayor, near mexico City's central Zocalo Square.

The 11-foot (3.5-meter) monolith, which is still mostly buried, is potentially the more important discovery. Some archaeologists speculate the stone slab could be part of an entrance to an underground chamber.

"This is a really impressive and exceptional Aztec monolith," said Leonardo López Luján, an archaeologist at the Museo del Templo Mayor.

Human Sacrifices

The Aztec empire encompassed much of modern-day central Mexico. It reached its height about 500 years ago.

The Aztec were a deeply religious people who built monumental works. Templo Mayor, or the Great Temple, was the biggest pyramid of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan.

Spanish conquistadors destroyed the temple when they razed the city in 1521. Mexico City is built on top of the ruins of Tenochtitlan.

The temple was first excavated in 1978 after electricity workers found a giant carving of an Aztec goddess at the site. Remains of the lower portions of the temple complex, buried underneath the city, have since been unearthed.

A team of archaeologists led by Álvaro Barrera discovered the altar and monolith on the western side of the temple site.

The altar, which probably dates back to the kingdom of Motecuhzoma I (1440-1469), is made of stone and earth and covered with stucco. It has a frieze of the god Tlaloc and another figure depicting an agricultural deity.

Continued on Next Page >>

Tlaloc, the god of rain and fertility, was greatly feared among the Aztec, who drowned children to appease him.

(See a related National Geographic magazine feature on "Mexico's Pyramid of Death.")

"This is another fabulous discovery from the Great Temple precinct, and there are bound to be many more buried objects yet unearthed," said Susan Gillespie, an Aztec expert at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

"What is significant about this find is the early date of the altar frieze, evidenced by the cruder style of the bas-relief compared to the many late Aztec sculptures that have been recovered," she added.

"With such finds archaeologists can begin to more firmly trace the changes in state-sponsored religious practices at the Great Temple."

(Read related story: "Ancient Pyramid Found at Mexico City Christian Site" [April 2006].)

Imperial Style

The giant monolith, meanwhile, is believed to be standing in its original position. The rectangular piece is still partly buried, and archaeologists can only see one of its sides.

López Luján estimates that the stone, which he says comes from the Chiquihuite stone formation north of Mexico City, could weigh as much as 12 tons (11 metric tons).

The monolith corresponds to the last phase of the Aztec empire, from 1487 to 1520.

"It is a typical monument of Aztec imperial style," López Luján said.

The upper face of the monolith has deep carvings.

"Taking into account its position, the form, and what I can see from a side, it should represent the Earth God (Tlaltecuhtli), the Earth Goddess (Tlaltecuhtli, Coatlicue), or a nocturnal deity such as Itzpaplotl of Coatlicue," López Luján said.

Some archaeologists speculate it could lead into an underground chamber.

"The importance of the monolith is what we are going to discover," Alberto Diaz, a member of the archeological team, told the Reuters news agency.

"It's likely that it is part of a chamber, of some offering. We won't know until we get close. First we have to get the stone out."

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Human Sacrifice - Aztecs- Maya

Evidence May Back Human Sacrifice Claims


Mexican digs confirm grisly Spanish-era accounts

Image: Skeletons
Inah / AP
These two skeletons were found during archaeological excavations at a centuries-old Aztec-era settlement in Ecatepec, Mexico.

By Mark Stevenson, Associated Press

posted: 23 January 2005 06:40 pm ET

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- It has long been a matter of contention: Was the Aztec and Mayan practice of human sacrifice as widespread and horrifying as the history books say? Or did the Spanish conquerors overstate it to make the Indians look primitive? In recent years archaeologists have been uncovering mounting physical evidence that corroborates the Spanish accounts in substance, if not number.

Using high-tech forensic tools, archaeologists are proving that pre-Hispanic sacrifices often involved children and a broad array of intentionally brutal killing methods.

For decades, many researchers believed Spanish accounts from the 16th and 17th centuries were biased to denigrate Indian cultures, others argued that sacrifices were largely confined to captured warriors, while still others conceded the Aztecs were bloody, but believed the Maya were less so.

"We now have the physical evidence to corroborate the written and pictorial record,'' said archaeologist Leonardo Lopez Lujan. He said, "some 'pro-Indian' currents had always denied this had happened. They said the texts must be lying.''

The Spaniards probably did exaggerate the sheer numbers of victims to justify a supposedly righteous war against idolatry, said David Carrasco, a Harvard Divinity School expert on Meso-American religion.

But there is no longer as much doubt about the nature of the killings. Indian pictorial texts known as "codices,'' as well as Spanish accounts from the time, quote Indians as describing multiple forms of human sacrifice.

Victims had their hearts cut out or were decapitated, shot full of arrows, clawed, sliced to death, stoned, crushed, skinned, buried alive or tossed from the tops of temples.

Children were said to be frequent victims, in part because they were considered pure and unspoiled.

"Many people said, 'We can't trust these codices because the Spaniards were describing all these horrible things,' which in the long run we are confirming,'' said Carmen Pijoan, a forensic anthropologist who found some of the first direct evidence of cannibalism in a pre-Aztec culture over a decade ago: bones with butcher-like cut marks.

In December, at an excavation in an Aztec-era community in Ecatepec, just north of Mexico City, archaeologist Nadia Velez Saldana described finding evidence of human sacrifice associated with the god of death.

"The sacrifice involved burning or partially burning victims,'' Velez Saldana said. "We found a burial pit with the skeletal remains of four children who were partially burned, and the remains of four other children that were completely carbonized.''

While the remains don't show whether the victims were burned alive, there are depictions of people -- apparently alive -- being held down as they were burned.

The dig turned up other clues to support descriptions of sacrifices in the Magliabecchi codex, a pictorial account painted between 1600 and 1650 that includes human body parts stuffed into cooking dishes, and people sitting around eating, as the god of death looks on.

"We have found cooking dishes just like that,'' said archaeologist Luis Manuel Gamboa. "And, next to some full skeletons, we found some incomplete, segmented human bones.'' However, researchers don't know whether those remains were cannibalized.

In 2002, government archaeologist Juan Alberto Roman Berrelleza announced the results of forensic testing on the bones of 42 children, mostly boys around age 6, sacrificed at Mexico City's Templo Mayor, the Aztec's main religious site, during a drought.

All shared one feature: serious cavities, abscesses or bone infections painful enough to make them cry.

"It was considered a good omen if they cried a lot at the time of sacrifice,'' which was probably done by slitting their throats, Roman Berrelleza said.

The Maya, whose culture peaked farther east about 400 years before the Aztecs founded Mexico City in 1325, had a similar taste for sacrifice, Harvard University anthropologist David Stuart wrote in a 2003 article.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, "The first researchers tried to make a distinction between the 'peaceful' Maya and the 'brutal' cultures of central Mexico,'' Stuart wrote. "They even tried to say human sacrifice was rare among the Maya.''

But in carvings and mural paintings, he said, "we have now found more and greater similarities between the Aztecs and Mayas,'' including a Maya ceremony in which a grotesquely costumed priest is shown pulling the entrails from a bound and apparently living sacrificial victim.

Some Spanish-era texts have yet to be corroborated with physical remains. They describe Aztec priests sacrificing children and adults by sealing them in caves or drowning them. But the assumption now is that the texts appear trustworthy, said Lopez Lujan, who also works at the Templo Mayor site.

For Lopez Lujan, confirmation has come in the form of advanced chemical tests on the stucco floors of Aztec temples, which were found to have been soaked with iron, albumen and genetic material consistent with human blood.

"It's now a question of quantity,'' said Lopez Lujan, who thinks the Spaniards -- and Indian picture-book scribes working under their control -- exaggerated the number of sacrifice victims, claiming in one case that 80,400 people were sacrificed at a temple inauguration in 1487.

"We're not finding anywhere near that ... even if we added some zeros,'' Lopez Lujan said.

Researchers have largely discarded the old theory that sacrifice and cannibalism were motivated by a protein shortage in the Aztec diet, though some still believe it may have been a method of population control.

Pre-Hispanic cultures believed the world would end if the sacrifices were not performed. Sacrificial victims, meanwhile, were often treated as gods themselves before being killed.

"It is really very difficult for us to conceive,'' Pijoan said of the sacrifices. "It was almost an honor for the victims to be sacrificed..

Mexico's Pyramid of Death Gallery Photo

1 of 11 Next Image
Bird of Sacrifice
Photograph by Jesús Eduardo López Reyes

Sacred symbols of supernatural power, golden eagles shared the fate of a dozen men killed in a horrifying ritual likely witnessed by a crowd of thousands at the great urban center of Teotihuacan in about A.D. 300.
Mexico's Pyramid of Death Gallery Photo

Previous Image 2 of 11 Next Image
Scene of Bloody Murder
Photograph by Jesús Eduardo López Reyes

Traversing Teotihuacan's ceremonial center, the Street of the Dead ends at the Pyramid of the Moon, a platform for public rituals and sacrifices that repeats the shape of a distant mountain. Recent excavations deep inside the pyramid have revealed the remains of people and animals—all probably buried alive or beheaded to dedicate a series of expansions that began in about A.D. 200. This adds a new dimension to our understanding of such structures.



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