mesoamerica and the maya world

Month: February 2008

Friday Roundup

Links of the week

Maya symbology: jaguar

jaguar motif at lamanai maya site, belize

According to joiseyshowaa, from whose photoset this image of an architectural element at the Maya site of Lamanai in western Belize is is taken, the decorative pattern represents a jaguar. The Maya admired the jaguar, whose habitat is tropical jungles, for his fearsome appearance and roar, and his stealth and prowess as a hunter and fisher.

In Mesoamerica jaguars were associated with shamans, who were thought to change into the beasts during rituals. Shamans and priest sometimes carried jaguar hides, wore jaguar clothing, or adorned themselves with necklaces made of jaguar teeth.

Jaguar gods were associated with night (or, paradoxically, the sun), caves, the underworld, and hunting. Belief in the terrifying were-jaguar — the product of a jaguar-human union — goes back to the Olmecs, but the cult of the jaguar reached its peak with the Maya — as is logical, since the Maya and the jaguar shared the same habitat.

Jaguars were sometimes sacrificed in rituals. At Copan, sixteen jaguars were sacrificed with the city state’s 16th ruler assumed the throne.


Maya blue

blue maya warrior

Anyone who has lived in the Maya world for any time at all knows that the Maya are magicians with color. One of puzzlements of the historical Maya has been how they created a blue color that was more resistant to fading than most natural pigments. The historical Maya used this color on ceramics and, because it recalled the rain god Chac, in their sacrifices.

It has been known that two of the ingredients were indigo plant extract and a clay called palygorskite. But “Nobody has ever really figured out how those two key ingredients were fused into a very stable pigment,” according to Gary Feinman, curator of anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago. Now Feinman, together with Dean E. Arnold, professor of anthropology at Wheaton College, believe they have figured out the secret of the ancient Maya concoction.

“We think that copal, the sacred incense, may have been a third ingredient,” says Feinman. “Heat and perhaps copal resin were the keys to fusing the indigo extract and the clay mineral.”


Full story at Live Science
Shown is a detail of an image from Will Merydith’s photostream

Travels with Judas


Jonathan Dunham was working as a substitute teacher in the Portland, Oregon, public schools when, a couple of years ago, he just started walking. He walked south to Texas, crossing the border at Tamaulipas. He stopped there long enough to do chores on a family farm; when he decided it was time to resume walking, his host family saw him off with a burro to help him with his load.

He named the animal Whothey, a name that was gradually transformed, through the mouths of the Spanish speakers he met along the way, into Judas. Together the pair continued walking through Central America and into Colombia and Venezuela. Everywhere the donkey has proved an icebreaker, and the travelers have sparked interest wherever they have gone. “Judas is not just any donkey,” a newspaper reporter enthused in Barranquilla, and “Jon is a well-mannered and shy biochemist.”

To Mr. Dunham Mexico and Venuzuela seemed the most generous countries he has journeyed through.

Read the full story at Mexico Premiere.


Photo by Texas to Mexico (model’s name unknown)


Viva Obama

Whatever your take on the U.S. elections, you’ve got to admire this video, another example of the smartness of the Obama campaign team.

Friday Roundup

Surfing Mesoamerica

Question of the day

Maximon graphic

Here’s a nicely laid-out graphic about Maximon that appeared in La Prensa a few years ago. Click the image to view a larger version at Tim Hilliard’s website.

maximon graphic

Friday Roundup

A week of travel through virtual Mesoamerica


The theft of Impressionist paintings in Switzerland has made news lately. In fact, it has caused the insurance on art exhibitions to go up for museums around the world (like the museum where I work).

But Mexico still holds the distinction for one of the most spectacular art heists. In 1985 thieves made off with 140 objects from the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. To my knowledge, this is the largest number of objects ever stolen from a museum.

The theft occurred on Christmas day. There were eight guards on duty, but they don’t seem to have been very vigilant. And the museum’s alarm system had been broken for the past three years.

The objects — Maya, Aztec, Zapotec, and Miztec ceramics mainly — were small, but extremely valuable. One of them alone (a monkey-shaped vase) was valued at $20 million.

I never heard whether any of the objects was recovered.


Scratchboard Maximon

This Maximon image was created on scratchboard by student artist Edwin Harris, Jr., of Georgia. On his blog he gives a little background on the process.

maximon figure

Friday Roundup

A week of travel through virtual Mesoamerica

Link Love
Who’s linking here lately

Guatemalan paintings from Arte Maya Tz’utuhil

 Recorriendo Camino al Mercado, painting by guatemalan maya artists mario gonzalez chavajay

Arte Maya Tz’utuhil is a one-man business of Joe Johnston, based in San Francisco. Its website is Johnson travels to Guatemala once or twice a year to acquire paintings — mainly from artists in the Lake Atitlan area — for representation for sale. The website offers a wide range of painting (and calendars), from relatively inexpensive pieces to more substantial works, such as this large oil painting.

Shown is Recorriendo Camino al Mercado (Traversing the Road to the Market) by Mario Gonzalez Chavajay, 2003, oil on canvas, 36 x 56 in.

Nim Po’t, textile and folk art cooperative, La Antigua, Guatemala

Nim Po’t is a kind of folk art cooperative or consignment market located near the Arco at 5a Avenida Norte #29 in La Antigua, Guatemala. The quality of their merchandise varies, but their website provides a useful service by relating textile styles to the pueblos where they are made (each Guatemala highland village has an identifiable textile design and iconography). It is possible to shop online via the website. Antigua may the most expensive place to buy Guatmalan crafts, but there is no need to obsess over prices, and your money will go a long way for the sellers.

Who knows what “nim po’t” means?

nim pot, guatemalan textile, crafts, antigua

Mayan glyphs as a truetype font set

This truetype typeface is a free download from It would be nice if the meaning of the glyphs was documented, but for the price who can complain?

free mayan truetype font

Friday Roundup

Rambles through virtual Mesoamerica

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