Carved Mirror-Back with Hieroglyphs, 200-600. Guatemala Lowlands, Early Classic Maya. Slate with cinnabar, 15.3 cm diam. Jay I. Kislak Foundation, Kislak PC 0132.

Carved Mirror-Back with Hieroglyphs, late sixth century CE. Guatemala Lowlands, Early Classic Maya. Slate with cinnabar, 15.3 cm diam. Jay I. Kislak Foundation, Kislak PC 0132.

This royal mirror belonged to a ruler of the Maya Snake dynasty. This powerful dynasty controlled much of lowland Mesoamerica, including parts of current Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico during what archaeologists call the Classic Maya period. The Snake (or Kaanul) Dynasty — roughly contemporaneous with the dynasties between the Han and the Tang in China — probably represents the closest thing to a true Maya empire. Its history has only recently come into focus.

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