mesoamerica and the maya world

Month: July 2007

Antigua Door Knockers

Tigre fe54 has a nice set of door knocker photos from Antigua, Guatemala, at his flickr site. Clickable thumbnails appear below, via the Crossroads plugin.

Gibson Girl

San Bernardino County Museum curator Adella Schroth admits the exhibition Five Suns: The Art of Ancient Mesoamerica (May 19-November 4, 2007) was inspired by Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. That’s not surprising, but what is surprising is that the museum’s scholarship appears to have descended to the level of that of the film.

Among the show’s howlers (as described in an article in the Press-Enterprise newspaper):

  • The Pyramid of the Sun near Mexico City was built by the Maya (the pyramid is hundreds of miles from the Maya region and different in style from Maya pyramids)
  • The Aztecs discovered chocolate (they were latecomers to the feast)
  • The concept of the five suns that gives the exhibition its name was widely shared throughout Mesoamerica (it is mainly Aztec)
  • A timeline that states flatly “Columbus discovers America” without commentary or explanation (Columbus discovered America in the same sense that I “discovered” a popular restaurant; even among Europeans he was not first)
  • Many misspelled names, inaccurate dates, geographical errors

Enrique Murillo, an educational anthropologist and associate professor of language, literacy, and culture at Cal State San Bernardino, said, according to the article, that museum staff “kind of made this up as they went along…. People in a museum have an imperative to do the research and have the scholarly evidence to back up their claims.”

Artist Xavier Cázares Cortéz appears to have been the principal force in exposing the errors and getting them corrected. More in the LA Times.

“If we find something that’s incorrect, we’ll make a change,” responded Schroth, according to the Press Enterprise. From the sound of it, that should be easy. The real challenge might be to find something that’s correct.

UPDATE: According to La Azteca, “corrections” made to the exhibit have introduced new errors.


Stela B, Copan

stela b, copan

In every civilization of the ancient world, there are art works and monuments that stand out among their fellows as objects of special character. The great portrait sculptures that stand in silent rows down the center of the Great Plaza of copan created one of these special places. They constitute one of the great masterpieces of the Maya legacy. Although the artists who made them did not sign their works and leave us their names, the patron of these great works did. He was Waxaklahun-Ubah-K’awil (commonly known as 18 Rabbit), the thirteenth king of the Copan dynasty.

— Linda Schele and Peter Mathews, The Code of Kings: The Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs

The trend in Maya archaeology has been away from architectural and fine arts connoisseurship and toward broader societal analysis, with new work focusing less on the grand monuments of the ruling elite than was the case in the past. A working archaeologist in the Maya area today is more likely to be sifting dirt for fragments of fish and animal bones than reconstructing a soaring temple overgrown with vegetation. But some achievements are too great to be resisted, and the stelae at Copan are among them.

Waxaklahun (whose name actually alludes not to a rabbit but to a War Serpent) assumed the thrown of Copan on July 19, 695, when the city was at the height of its power. He soon oversaw a prodigious program of construction of public monuments. His projects included Temple 22, a remodel of the ball court, and the initiation of work on the hieroglyphic stairs of temple 26, perhaps Copan’s most famous feature (see map). And, over a period of years, he filled the Great Plaza with a major series of stelae.

The stelae are in at least a couple of different styles. It was once thought that these styles relected an evolving artistic aesthetic, but we now know, from their inscriptions, that the historical sequence of the works does not correspond to the stylistic differences. Schele and Mathews suggest instead that the stelae were the works of two different artists (or workshops), one more “innovative,” producing works more fully in the round, and the other more “conservative” (traditional), producing works emphasizing shallower front and back reliefs.

Stela B is an example of the latter style. At the time of its construction (August 22, 731) the planet Venus appeared in the constellation Virgo, which the Maya associated with Chak, the rain god. The stela depicts Waxaklahun bedecked with the diadem of Chak in his headdress, and further allusions to Chak in his elaborate regal regalia. The stela formidably expresses the king’s royal authority and his association with Copan’s patron deities (complex allusions to the Macaw Mountain Lord are prominent on the reverse side).

Five years later, around the time Waxaklahun — now an old man who had reigned more than forty years — erected his last stela (Stela D) in 736, a representative of the Maya state of Kalakmul met with K’ak’-Tiliw, the vigorous, youthful ruler of Quirigua, a vassel state to Copan. Kalamul was an emerging power and the enemy of Copan’s trade partner, Tikal. Copan, though at the extreme southern limit of the Maya region, occupied a strategic position that offered the possibility of controlling trade in jade and obsidian through the Motogua valley. About a year after this portentous meeting, K’ak’-Tiliw attacked and defeated Waxaklahun. In the fighting the mighty patron of the Copan’s Great Plaza stelae was captured.

Waxaklahun was sacrificed to the gods in the Great Plaza of Quirigua. As he attended his priestly executioner he must seen that K’ak’-Tiliw’s monuments were not so fine as his own.

Are we done now?

Thank heavens that‘s over.

The three most annoying idiot topics related to the Maya:

  • New seven wonders of the world
  • Maya 2012 prophesy
  • Mel’s Gibson Apocalypto

If these would go away the world would be a better place.

Borges at Uxmal

borges by tom christensen

Over at Right Reading I’ve posted some comments about Borges’s trip to Uxmal when he was eighty.

Apocalypse 2012

I’ve seen a lot of posts about the coming End of Days — to occur in 2012 according to the Maya calendar — in my feeds, and I’ve ignored them until now. Now at last Inner Diablog has made some comments on the subject that are worth linking to.

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