These discs are from the collection of offerings found in El Castillo at Chichen Itza, Yucatán, Mexico. Chichen Itza, pictured in the second photo, is a city built by the Maya people, and was one of the greatest Maya centres on the Yucatán peninsula.

The disks shown are courtesy of & currently located the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico. This photo was taken by Kim F, the second is by Tony Hisgett.

The presentation of captives to a Maya ruler. This is taking place within a palace throne room, as indicated by the curtains to the top of the panel.
This carved relief was found in the Usumacinta River Valley, Mexico. It dates to c. AD 785 (Late Classic), and is made of limestone. It was likely used as a lintel over an entrance, or as a wall panel within a Maya building.

The five figures are the Yaxchilan king, seated at top left, his sahal (a military chief) on the right, and three bound captives in the lower left. The glyphic text, which gives a date of 23 August 783, records the capture of a lord and a sacrificial bloodletting three days later under the auspices of the king. The three prisoners may be scribes; the one in front holds a “stick-bundle” associated with Maya scribes, and all three wear headdresses with hun (book) knots. All figures but the leftmost captive are identified by name.
The inscription on the throne front, of special interest, is carved with the king’s name and titles; the glyphs are inscribed in reverse order, from right to left. The name of the artist responsible for sculpting the relief appears on the vertical panel of four glyphs under the sahal’s outstretched arm. Signed works of Maya art are rare, and the signature on this relief suggests that it was considered of great value in its time.

Courtesy of & currently located at the Kimbell Art Museum, Texas, USA. Photo taken by FA2010, in the public domain. AP 1971.07.

The presentation of captives to a Maya ruler. This is taking place within a palace throne room, as indicated by the curtains to the top of the panel.

This carved relief was found in the Usumacinta River Valley, Mexico. It dates to c. AD 785 (Late Classic), and is made of limestone. It was likely used as a lintel over an entrance, or as a wall panel within a Maya building.

The five figures are the Yaxchilan king, seated at top left, his sahal (a military chief) on the right, and three bound captives in the lower left. The glyphic text, which gives a date of 23 August 783, records the capture of a lord and a sacrificial bloodletting three days later under the auspices of the king. The three prisoners may be scribes; the one in front holds a “stick-bundle” associated with Maya scribes, and all three wear headdresses with hun (book) knots. All figures but the leftmost captive are identified by name.

The inscription on the throne front, of special interest, is carved with the king’s name and titles; the glyphs are inscribed in reverse order, from right to left. The name of the artist responsible for sculpting the relief appears on the vertical panel of four glyphs under the sahal’s outstretched arm. Signed works of Maya art are rare, and the signature on this relief suggests that it was considered of great value in its time.

Courtesy of & currently located at the Kimbell Art Museum, Texas, USA. Photo taken by FA2010, in the public domainAP 1971.07.

Earflares from ancient Maya.

Earflares were used in ancient Maya to stretch and be worn in the ear of the user. Some of their designs are similar to today’s ear plugs or tunnels.

Worn by the elite, jade earflares were a mark of power and wealth. In ancient Maya, jade was the most precious of all stones. Wearing jade earflares, such as those displayed above, heightened the individual’s social prestige. Due to the lengthy amount of time taken to properly stretch the ear, they were also a sign of discipline and patience.

All of these artifacts are either from Mexico or Guatemala, and made of jadeite. The flower-shaped earflares in the first photo date to 550-850, while the other two date to 600-900. 

Artifacts shown courtesy of & currently located at the LACMA, USA, via their online collections (1, 2 & 3).

A few photos from the Maya archaeological site of Yaxha, northeast of the Petén Basin region, Guatemala.

We actually know relatively little about Yaxha. Despite this, it seems to have had a long political history from the Early Classic (approx. AD 250–600) to the Late Classic (approx. AD 600–900). Yaxha grew into one of the largest capitals during the Early Classic, where it reached its peak. It is most likely that Yaxha’s decline at the end of the Early Classic was attributed to Naranjo, whom recorded on a monument a series of wars with Taxha during the Late Classic.

Photos taken by frischifresh.

The Maya archaeological site of Cerros, Belize.

Located on a peninsula that juts into Corozal Bay, Cerros was initially a fishing and trading hamlet, and remained so during about 350-100 BC. Even during this early period we have evidence for long-distance trade: as far south as the highlands of El Salvador and Guatemala, and as far north as the northern coast of Yucatán. 

The construction of large-scale architecture started from about 50 BC, and as David Freidel, Maynard Cliff, and Robin Robertson state, this “involved such an explosive transformation that it is fitting to speak of massive urban renewal.” The site reached its peak from about 50 BC- AD 100.

The shown monument from Cerros is ‘Structure 5C-2nd’. Thought to have been built around 50 BC, it is particularly noted for its four stucco mask reliefs, which flank either side of the stairway. Freidel & Schele (1988) write: ”The main mask on the lower west panel depicts the Jaguar Sun-second born of the Ancestral Heroes’-identified by the k’in, Sun, day or light, glyph on his cheeks (Freidel and Schele 1988; Freidel 1986a). Flanking the Sun are his objects.”

Photos taken by chistletoe1. Joyce Kelly’s An Archaeological Guide to Northern Central America: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador (1996) was of use when writing up this post. As was David Freidel & Linda Schele’s 1988 publication ‘Late Preclassic Maya Lowlands: The Instruments and Places of Ritual Power’, in American Anthropologist, 90(3), pp. 547-567.

Maya Stela H, Copán.
Gender studies in ancient Maya culture and art often address the question of sexual identity.

Costume, which is gender distinctive among the modern Maya, has been a focus of attention and is usually assumed to be either masculine or feminine in archaeological contexts. 
Masculine attire is generally represented as a hip cloth or loincloth, sometimes coupled with a short skirt. Feminine costume is typically a skirt worn to below the knee, sometimes accompanied by a long tunic-like huipil.

Occasionally in Maya art, the relationship between sexual identity and gender-marked costume is problematic when attempting to interpret the subject matter.
Stela H is an example of this. In an early account of the stela, Alfred P. Maudslay identified the skirted figure shown as a woman (1889-1902, 5:50). Subsequent work and the recovery of the inscriptions has determined that this monument actually represents Waxaklajuun Ub’aah K’awiil (18 Rabbit), the male ruler of Copán.

So why is he shown wearing the long skirt typical of women? One interpretation is that male rulers donned such “female” costumes for bloodletting ceremonies (Schele 1979). As argued by Andrea Stone (1988, 1991), such gender crossing is suggested in other aspects of Maya ceremonies.

Photo taken by Christine and John Fournier. Quoted segments from Traci Ardren’s Ancient Maya Women (2002).

Maya Stela H, Copán.

Gender studies in ancient Maya culture and art often address the question of sexual identity.

Costume, which is gender distinctive among the modern Maya, has been a focus of attention and is usually assumed to be either masculine or feminine in archaeological contexts. 

Masculine attire is generally represented as a hip cloth or loincloth, sometimes coupled with a short skirt. Feminine costume is typically a skirt worn to below the knee, sometimes accompanied by a long tunic-like huipil.

Occasionally in Maya art, the relationship between sexual identity and gender-marked costume is problematic when attempting to interpret the subject matter.

Stela H is an example of this. In an early account of the stela, Alfred P. Maudslay identified the skirted figure shown as a woman (1889-1902, 5:50). Subsequent work and the recovery of the inscriptions has determined that this monument actually represents Waxaklajuun Ub’aah K’awiil (18 Rabbit), the male ruler of Copán.

So why is he shown wearing the long skirt typical of women? One interpretation is that male rulers donned such “female” costumes for bloodletting ceremonies (Schele 1979). As argued by Andrea Stone (1988, 1991), such gender crossing is suggested in other aspects of Maya ceremonies.

Photo taken by Christine and John Fournier. Quoted segments from Traci Ardren’s Ancient Maya Women (2002).

The pre-Columbian Maya archaeological site of Ixkun, modern-day department of Peten, Guatemala.

"I reached Dolores in March 1887, after a rough journey through the forest from Cajabon; and although I had been told about Ixkun some years before by the Jefe Politico of Peten, I was surprised to find that very few of the villages knew of the existence of the runs, and it was some time before anyone could be found to guide me to the site."

-Alfred Maudslay, British explorer and archaeologist, and one of the first Europeans to study Maya ruins. All italicized text in this post are segments from his accounts of exploring Ixkun (via ‘Archæology, Volumes 1-2’, Alfred Maudslay & J. T. Goodman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1889).

Human occupation of Ixkun appears to date from the Preclassic (ca. 200 CE), and peaked during the Late Classic (ca. 600-900). This large site includes a number of stelae adorned with writing in the Maya script. 

"There are several carved monoliths which formally stood on the level ground in front of the buildings, but most of them are overturned and partly destroyed."

The largest of these stelae is known as ‘Ixtun Stela 1’, as shown in the second and third photos.

The carving on the monument represents two Maya priests of chieftains, which elaborate head-dresses and ornaments, standing facing each other above a hieroglyphic inscription. […] In the lower panels [see photo 3] are two unadorned crouching human figures, with their necks and arms bound with ropes, evidently meant to represent prisoners trodden under foot by the two gorgeously arrayed figures standing above them. The marked difference in physiognomy between the Mayas and their captives is clearly shown, and this monument may celebrate the conquest of the aboriginal inhabitants of the land or the defeat of some barbarous invaders from the north whom some writers believe to have fully caused the overthrow of the Maya civilization.”

Photos courtesy & taken by Simon Burchell via the Wiki Commons.

The jade burial objects which adorned the body of Maya ruler Pakal the Great.

The mortuary crypt of the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque is perhaps the most complex mausoleum from the Classic period. It was designed to contain the mortal remains of K’inich Hanab Pakal, also known as Pakal the Great. The sarcophagus contained the body wrapped in a funerary bundle covered with cinnabar, a highly toxic, red-colored mineral. His body was adorned with many jade objects that are displayed here on a modern reproduction of Pakal’s body. The mortuary mask, incrusted with more than 200 tiny carved polished and perfectly assembled bits of jade mosaic, is an extraordinary masterpiece.

The proportions of the mask and the skull are the same, so it is clearly a faithful portrait of the ruler in life Pakal wore a diadem on his forehead and ear spools as well as a complex pectoral of tubular and squash-shaped beads. His hands held a sphere and a cube, as well as rings on each of his fingers. All of this finery was fashioned of jade.

The green color of jade suggests a relationship with the agricultural cycle and the annual, renovation of nature. With his jade mask, Pakal was transformed into the Young Maize God, who awaits his opportunity to return as the new vegetation to continue the annual corn cycle. This significance is reinforced by the figurine placed below to the right, which represents the patron god of the month known as Pax, mentioned in the inscriptions as te’, “tree” alluding to Pakal as the seed that augured the illustrious promise of the ruling lineage.

The texts and archaeology suggest that Pakal passed away before the completion of the Temple of the Inscriptions, a task that fell to his eldest son, Kan Balam II. Many late inscriptions refer to Pakal as “the lord of the pyramid”, which implies that the construction of this building was an event of particular significance for Palenque. (x)

Courtesy & currently located at the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico. Photos taken by Travis S.

Temple 216 in the East Acropolis at Yaxha.
Yaxha is a pre-Columbian Maya archaeological site in the northeast of the Petén Basin region, Guatemala. Yaxha was the third largest city in the region, and was particularly powerful during the Early Classic period (c. AD 250–600).

Photo courtesy & taken by Carsten ten Brink.

Temple 216 in the East Acropolis at Yaxha.

Yaxha is a pre-Columbian Maya archaeological site in the northeast of the Petén Basin region, Guatemala. Yaxha was the third largest city in the region, and was particularly powerful during the Early Classic period (c. AD 250–600).

Photo courtesy & taken by Carsten ten Brink.