Conjoined Man and Woman (Curing Ritual Narrative), Jalisco, dates to 100 BC-AD 300, from Jalisco, Mexico.

Conjoined figures constitute an infrequent but not unknown narrative type of West Mexican tomb sculptures. […] Some double figures have been interpreted as portrayals of a marriage or otherwise affianced couple given that the man and woman touch or embrace and visually engage each other with what could be interpreted as a tender gaze of affection, as is seen in this sculpture. However, the rendering of personal affection is rare in Mesoamerican art, and the few Classic Maya examples from Jaina Island are interpreted as symbolic renderings rather than depictions of interpersonal intimacy. And although the often published “marriage couple” pairs of similar-looking male and female figures from West Mexico may imply a local tradition for ceramic portrayals of devoted couples, these pairings have no basis in archaeological reality.

[…] A closer examination of this paired figure artwork suggests an alternative interpretation as a healing ceremony by a shaman-curer and his patient. In myriad similar examples, one of the figures wears a curious panachelike or hornlike element atop his/her head, as seen here, which may identify the person as a shaman. Other conjoined figures feature one member grasping a rattle, rasp, or drum. These instruments are intimately associated with shamanic practice, and they are frequently integral to healing rituals among present-day shaman-curers in Mexico.

[…] The weight of the available evidence suggests that this exceptionally expressive and sensitive sculpture portrays a curing ceremony rather than an amorous couple. 

Courtesy & currently located at the Walters Art Museum, Balitmore, USA, via their online collections (where you can also read more about this artifact). Acession number: 2009.20.149.

A quick look at: Pulque in Mesoamerica.
“In daily life and ceremonies, pulque (a fermented cactus drink) was poured from clay pots or containers which had the image of the god with an elegant bi-conical cup. The affect of drunkenness can be seen in this anthropomorphic sculpture where the eyes are represented with red shells." (NMOA)
Used as an intoxicating ritual sacred drink, pulque was consumed by priests, scattered on the ground, and was offered to the gods to drink. It appears to have also been associated with some forms of sacrifice, a sculpture at El Tajín shows a figure conducting a bloodletting-sacrifice, and adding his blood to the pulque. The intoxication it caused helped people in experiencing an altered state of being, which was done to aid their communication with the supernatural. 
The use of pulque also appears to have been used in the Day of the Dead festivities. Bernardino de Sahagún (1499-1590), sometimes referred to as the “first anthropologist”, spent over 50 years studying Aztec beliefs, culture and history. He conducted interviews with Aztec elders and other survivors of the war against Tenochtitlan. The following section from one of his accounts:

They also used to place the image of the dead on those grass wreaths. Then at dawn they put these images in their shrines, on top of beds or reed mace, sedge, or rush. Once the images were placed there, they offered them food, tamales, and gruel, or a stew made of chicken or dog’s meat. […] And the rich sang and drank pulque in honor of these gods and their dead, while the poor offered them only food. (via: Davíd Carrasco’s Religions of Mesoamerica: Second Edition)

Artifact shown courtesy & currently located at the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico. Photo taken by Travis S.

A quick look at: Pulque in Mesoamerica.

In daily life and ceremonies, pulque (a fermented cactus drink) was poured from clay pots or containers which had the image of the god with an elegant bi-conical cup. The affect of drunkenness can be seen in this anthropomorphic sculpture where the eyes are represented with red shells." (NMOA)

Used as an intoxicating ritual sacred drink, pulque was consumed by priests, scattered on the ground, and was offered to the gods to drink. It appears to have also been associated with some forms of sacrifice, a sculpture at El Tajín shows a figure conducting a bloodletting-sacrifice, and adding his blood to the pulque. The intoxication it caused helped people in experiencing an altered state of being, which was done to aid their communication with the supernatural. 

The use of pulque also appears to have been used in the Day of the Dead festivities. Bernardino de Sahagún (1499-1590), sometimes referred to as the “first anthropologist”, spent over 50 years studying Aztec beliefs, culture and history. He conducted interviews with Aztec elders and other survivors of the war against Tenochtitlan. The following section from one of his accounts:

They also used to place the image of the dead on those grass wreaths. Then at dawn they put these images in their shrines, on top of beds or reed mace, sedge, or rush. Once the images were placed there, they offered them food, tamales, and gruel, or a stew made of chicken or dog’s meat. […] And the rich sang and drank pulque in honor of these gods and their dead, while the poor offered them only food. (via: Davíd Carrasco’s Religions of Mesoamerica: Second Edition)

Artifact shown courtesy & currently located at the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico. Photo taken by Travis S.

Carved bones at the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico.

Bone shown in the first photo:

This bone shows fine incisions outlined in black, with the image of the god “9 Wind”, the creator of wisdom and the wind. In Mixtec mythology he is the ancestor of the rulers and gives them power and is recognized by his attributes — the cut shell and the conical hat and mouth mask.

The bones in the second photo have been made into musical instruments:

Carved in a human femur is a xylophone, ke’e, and carved in wood is a noise maker, having two parts to strike on to produce sound. The use of these instruments was only done during religious ceremonies and they were typically carving a depiction of mythological scenes and symbols.

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

The Palma Sola archaeological site in Acapulco, Mexico.
These petroglyphs date from 200 BC to AD 600, and are located deep within a forest above Acapulco. The Palma Sola archaeological site is one of the 12 known petroglyphs sites in the Acapulco area. Little is known about the site, or the people who created these drawings.
The shown section from the site is called Element 2. The sign near these petroglyphs reads:

For Pre-Hispanic societies myths held the keys to the endless repetition of cycles, and whoever had command of them was able to give guidance to the community in terms of issues as important as birth, puberty, adulthood and death, as well as of all the rituals that sealed the agreement with the deities.
This petroglyph shows in three different panels the involvement of people in community celebrations in order to procure the attention and aids of the gods. People are show dancing and praying. Individuals from various kinship groups are differentiated from one another by lines that represent the link to their forefathers.

From the same sign, here’s an illustration showing the details of the petroglyphs:

Photos courtesy & taken by Kim F.

The Palma Sola archaeological site in Acapulco, Mexico.

These petroglyphs date from 200 BC to AD 600, and are located deep within a forest above Acapulco. The Palma Sola archaeological site is one of the 12 known petroglyphs sites in the Acapulco area. Little is known about the site, or the people who created these drawings.

The shown section from the site is called Element 2. The sign near these petroglyphs reads:

For Pre-Hispanic societies myths held the keys to the endless repetition of cycles, and whoever had command of them was able to give guidance to the community in terms of issues as important as birth, puberty, adulthood and death, as well as of all the rituals that sealed the agreement with the deities.

This petroglyph shows in three different panels the involvement of people in community celebrations in order to procure the attention and aids of the gods. People are show dancing and praying. Individuals from various kinship groups are differentiated from one another by lines that represent the link to their forefathers.

From the same sign, here’s an illustration showing the details of the petroglyphs:

Photos courtesy & taken by Kim F.

Maya ball court, Coba, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Major building construction seems to have occurred in Coba during the middle and late Classic period (500-900).

The Native American ball game was played with a rubber ball on a masonry court, and was widely known in Central America and Mesoamerica. Its range extended over an area of 2,500,000 square kilometers, from the U.S. Southwest into the Amazon region of South America. It was played for at least 2,000 years prior to European contact.

The object of the game, as indicated by archaeological and ethnohistoric evidence, was to score a goal by propelling the ball into the ground of the opposing team’s end of the court, or through a ring or other marker along the side of the court. As in modern soccer, players could not use their hands to propel the ball, and the game in play may have resembled soccer, with considerable action. 

[…] Scholars have frequently associated the game with human blood sacrifice. Much of our understanding of the myth and significance of the ball game comes from the account of the Third Creation in the Maya epic, the Popul Vuh, wherein both generations of Hero Twins, avatars of the Sun and Venus, are sacrificed by decapitation and then reborn. Numerous portrayals of the game show decapitation of a ballplayer, the same image emphasized in the Popul Vuh.

[…] Although the game had important ideological overtones, it was also no doubt a widespread form of more casual recreation, and the outcome of a game was the focus of considerable gambling action, with bets of all sizes and bettors of all social classes. 

-Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia (2001).

Photos courtesy & taken by Dennis Jarvis.

'Structure VIII' from the Maya archaeological site of Becan, Campeche, Mexico.
Rediscovered in 1934 by archaeologists John Denison and Karl Ruppert, ‘Becan’ was named after the distinctive ditch surrounding the center of the city -its original ancient name is not known.
Becan was occupied in the middle Pre-Classic period (ca. 550 BCE), and reached its peak in population and as a ceremonial center during the late Pre-Classic, declining in the early Classic period (ca. 250 CE).

Photo courtesy & taken by Luca Penati.

'Structure VIII' from the Maya archaeological site of Becan, Campeche, Mexico.

Rediscovered in 1934 by archaeologists John Denison and Karl Ruppert, ‘Becan’ was named after the distinctive ditch surrounding the center of the city -its original ancient name is not known.

Becan was occupied in the middle Pre-Classic period (ca. 550 BCE), and reached its peak in population and as a ceremonial center during the late Pre-Classic, declining in the early Classic period (ca. 250 CE).

Photo courtesy & taken by Luca Penati.

Chac, the Maya Rain God. 
Chac is one of the Maya pantheon’s longest-surviving and oldest deities, and is still worshipped by the Maya today.

The god of rain, thunder, and lightning was known to the Maya as Chac and, like many of their deities, he was both adored and feared. The rain he brought was necessary for the growth of crops, but, if it fell to heavily, it could also destroy them, and his storms and bolts of lightening often spelled death and disaster.
Depictions of Chac in surviving Maya books show a figure, often painted blue, with a curving pendulous nose, hair tied up on top of his head, and barbels projecting from the corners of his mouth. Sometimes these barbels are in the form of snakes, an animal often associated with lightening. Chac holds an axe with which, as he strides through the celestial realm, he occasionally hits a hard object. The resulting sparks are transformed into shafts of lightning, which come down to strike the Earth. The sound of the axe’s impact rolls around the sky as thunder.
-Timothy Laughton, Exploring the Life, Myth, and Art of the Maya

The photograph above is of an effigy urn in the form of Chac. Mexico, eastern Yucatan, Late Postclassic Maya, Mayapan style. Earthenware and paint. 
Courtesy & currently located at the de Young Museum, San Francisco. Photo taken by Leonard G.

Chac, the Maya Rain God. 

Chac is one of the Maya pantheon’s longest-surviving and oldest deities, and is still worshipped by the Maya today.

The god of rain, thunder, and lightning was known to the Maya as Chac and, like many of their deities, he was both adored and feared. The rain he brought was necessary for the growth of crops, but, if it fell to heavily, it could also destroy them, and his storms and bolts of lightening often spelled death and disaster.

Depictions of Chac in surviving Maya books show a figure, often painted blue, with a curving pendulous nose, hair tied up on top of his head, and barbels projecting from the corners of his mouth. Sometimes these barbels are in the form of snakes, an animal often associated with lightening. Chac holds an axe with which, as he strides through the celestial realm, he occasionally hits a hard object. The resulting sparks are transformed into shafts of lightning, which come down to strike the Earth. The sound of the axe’s impact rolls around the sky as thunder.

-Timothy Laughton, Exploring the Life, Myth, and Art of the Maya

The photograph above is of an effigy urn in the form of Chac. Mexico, eastern Yucatan, Late Postclassic Maya, Mayapan style. Earthenware and paint. 

Courtesy & currently located at the de Young Museum, San Francisco. Photo taken by Leonard G.

Palacio Quemado (“Burned Palace” or “Palace of the Columns”), Tula, Mexico.

The Mesoamerican archeological site of Tula was an important regional center, which peaked between the fall of Teotihuacan and the rise of Tenochtitlan. The building of Palacio Quemado (sometimes also referred to as ‘building C’) is dominated by three large, colonnaded rooms, each with their own interior patio. “This building seems an ideal setting for certain kinds of ceremonies and for meetings associated with the administration of a sophisticated state.” (-J. Palka, Palaces and Power in the Americas: From Peru to the Northwest Coast)

Acosta coined the name Palacio Quemado because he thought it was a palace which was burned to the ground when Tula was abandoned… it seems unlikely to have been a residential palace because the layout does not resemble other Toltec houses, no kitchens have been identified, and there are not nearly enough rooms for a palace. Furthermore, Acosta found caches of tobacco pipes and other ceremonial objects which suggest a non-residential function. I suspect the building served as a council hall where priests or rulers met, deliberated, and staged rituals like those shown in the friezes. (Diehl 1983:65)

Photos courtesy & taken by Erasmo Perez.

As eternal guards watching over the deceased ruler, nine warriors were modeled on the walls of the funerary chamber in bas-relief. They represent the Lords of the Night, who were the regents of the nine levels or tiers, into which according to ancient Maya belief, the underworld was divided. (-Palenque Museum)

The sarcophagus of Maya ruler K’inich Janaab’ Pakal (Late Classic period, 603-683), Palenque’s greatest ruler. His tomb is located beneath the Temple of Inscriptions, and lay undetected for more than a century of explorations before being discovered by Alberto Ruz Lhuillier in the mid-twentieth century. The burial chamber contained the bones of one women and four men as sacrifices.

A mammoth limestone sarcophagus, its sides carved with portraits and hieroglyphs, filled most of the chamber. Inside lay the skeletal remains of Pakal, covered with jade beads, a disintegrated jade mosaic mask, and other offerings.

The most stunning object in the tomb was the magnificently carved sarcophagus lid, depicting Pakal’s apotheosis, emerging like the sun at sunrise from the jaws of the underworld, reclining on the mask of the partially skeletal sun god, marking the transition from death to life. The implication of this association is clear, for like the sun, Pakal mastered the forces of death and was reborn as a deity, just as the sun is reborn each day at sunrise. The pathway of their ascent is marked by the world tree, shown sprouting from behind Pakal. In its jeweled branches rests the double-headed serpent bar, the cosmic symbol of Maya rulership, and its crown sits the celestial bird. The entire scene is framed by a sky band containing the symbols of the most important celestial deities, including the sun, moon, and Venus.

-R. Sharer, The Ancient Maya, page 453.

+ For those interested, this drawing shows the details of the sarcophagus lid spoken of.

Courtesy & currently located at the Palenque Museum, Mexico. Photos taken by Maya Portrait Project.

The Zapotec archaeological site of Yagul, located in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The name Yagul comes from the Zapotec language: ‘ya’ (tree) and ‘gul’ (old), hence “old tree.”

Caves and shelters in nearby hills contain remains of human habitation dating back at least five thousand years. Caballito Blanco, a smaller outcrop about a kilometer from Yagul, has wall paintings and petroglyphs attributed to early hunter-gatherers who sheltered in the caves and overhangs. By 200 B.C., a structure similar to the building known as the “Observatory” at Monte Alban had been built on Caballito Blanco, but it appears that Yagul’s fortunes as a minor urban center waxed and waned until Monte Alban went into decline after A.D. 700. Then Yagul emerged as an autonomous city-state, and construction began on the structures that are the most distinctive elements of the site.

The fortress crowning the heights above the main platforms suggests that threats from other city-states or from invaders were a significant concern. Bernal and Gamio believe the last of the major ceremonial buildings was abandoned in the century before the Conquest, although the local population remained until they were concentrated in Tlacolul in the mid-sixteenth century.

-Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia.

Photos courtesy & taken by Fernando González.

The pre-Columbian archaeological site of Monte Albán, inhabited for over 1,500 years by the Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs. Oaxaca, Mexico.

Monte Albán, Zapotec capital set on a steep bluff in the middle of the Valley of Oaxaca which rose to prominence after about 400 BCE. Four main phases in the developement and occupation of the site have been recognized.

In period I (500-200 BCE) the slopes of the hill were leveled off to form over 2000 terraces. An acropolis protected by stone walls lay at the centre. Inside was a stone platform surrounded by 140 carved stone slabs depicting contorted human figures. These were executed in Olmec style.

In Period II (200 BCE-AD 300) the palaces were built, along with ball-courts, temples, and an arrow-shaped building in the main plaza. During this period there appears to have been extensive contact with Maya Lowland centres and the increasingly powerful Teotihuacán.

At its peak in Period III (AD 300-750), Monte Albán had an estimated population of 25-30,000. Public buildings, terraces, and residences covered over 40 square kilometres.

Period IV (AD 700-1000) was a time of decline as the main plaza was abandoned. Zapotec influence disappeared, although the site was partially reoccupied by the Mixtec.

-Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology, Timothy Darvill.

Photos courtesy & taken by Omar Bárcena.