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Saturday Art and Archaeology; Maya Glyphs, Symbol Writings

1:16 am in Art by Ruth Calvo


Stela 2, Glyphs on rear view, Field of Stelae,  Copán

Spiro Mounds, OK, symbolic artistic representations

Use of symbols has characterized early communications as far back as petroglyphs, cave drawings, and our earliest art objects now for the most part being recovered from graves.   Often, early art reflects a use of modeling that resembles the same element from other, far distant locations.

Glyphs formed a Mayan means of communication, and have been translated ever more deeply in present day studies of the civilization.  Excavations are turning up ever more in-depth knowledge of the culture as relics are found and their history discovered.

Mayan glyphs are a combination of logograms (symbols that represent a word) and syllabograms (symbols that represent a phonetic sound or syllable). Any given word can be expressed by a lone logogram or a combination of syllabograms. Sentences were composed of both of these types of glyphs. A Mayan text was read from top to bottom, left to right. The glyphs are generally in pairs: in other words, you start at the top left, read two glyphs, then go down to the next pair. Often the glyphs were accompanied by a larger image, such as kings, priests or gods. The Glyphs would elaborate on what the person in the image was doing.


The glyphs were once thought of as an alphabet, with different glyphs corresponding to letters: this is because Bishop Diego de Landa, a sixteenth century priest with extensive experience with Maya texts (he burned thousands of them) said so and it took centuries for researchers to learn that Landa’s observations were close but not exactly right. Great steps were taken when the Maya and modern calendars were correlated (Joseph Goodman, Juan Martíñez Hernandez and J Eric S. Thompson, 1927) and when glyphs were identified as syllables, (Yuri Knozorov, 1958) and when “Emblem Glyphs,” or glyphs that represent a single city, were identified. Today, most of the known Maya glyphs have been deciphered, thanks to countless hours of diligent work by many researchers.

The Maya Codices:

Pedro de Alvarado was sent by Hernán Cortés in 1523 to conquer the Maya region: at the time, there were thousands of Maya books or “codices” which were still used and read by the descendants of the mighty civilization. It’s one of the great cultural tragedies of history that nearly all of these books were burned by zealous priests during the colonial era. Today, only four badly battered Maya books remain (and the authenticity of one is sometimes questioned). The four remaining Maya codices are, of course, written in hieroglyphic language and mostly deal with astronomy, the movements of Venus, religion, rituals, calendars and other information kept by the Maya priest class.

Glyphs on Temples and Stelae:

The Maya were accomplished stonemasons and frequently carved glyphs onto their temples and buildings. They also erected “stelae,” large, stylized statues of their kings and rulers. Along the temples and on the stelae are found many glyphs which explain the significance of the kings, rulers or deeds depicted. The glyphs usually contain a date and a brief description, such as “penance of the king.” Names are often included, and particularly skilled artists (or workshops) would also add their stone “signature.”

The appearance of the stelae at Copán shows use of glyphs to identify individuals, and tell about their heritage.   Last week’s Altar Q has figures that trace a lineage that was the basis of the rule of the leader who had it created, to authenticate his reign.

Other cultures and societies have used such symbolism, and our own country’s tribes have left relics such as those at Albuquerque’s Petroglyphs.  Egyptian writing took long ages to translate, and was the original heiroglyph translation.

Heiroglyphs in Copán Archaeological Museum

Descriptiion of glyphs

Copán ruins, deathheads and glyphs

The use of death heads, and probosces of butterflies, that go through a deathlike chrysalis stage, is associated with reverence for past rulers and shows them as returning from death to be assistance to the reigning house at the time of the sculpture.

Peruvian ceramic, in Smithsonian Museum, from 750 – 0 B.C., featuring inscribed symbols, and death head


Proboscis of butterfly on altar in Copán Archaeological Museum

Petroglyphs appear to represent snakes, Big Bend National Park

Saturday Art and Archaeology: Copán, Altar Q

2:35 am in Art by Ruth Calvo


Replica of Altar Q, outside Temple 16 at ruins

Among the treasures excavated at Copán Mayan Archaeological Site is the Altar Q that represents a lineage that has been traced from its origins to the regime in power at the time of its construction.  Each historical figure is recognizable by the glyphs that associate with him.

Altar Q is the designation given to one of the most notable of the rectangular sculpted stone blocks (dubbed “altars”) recovered at the Mesoamerican archaeological site of Copán, present-day Honduras.

Copán was a major Maya civilization center during the Classic period of Mesoamerican chronology, and Altar Q records a dynastic lineage for the Copán-based polity in the Maya script. It was created during the rule of King Yax Pac in 776. Each of the sixteen leaders of Copan are shown with a full body portrait, four on each side of the monument. It starts with Yax K’uk’ Mo’, who ruled starting in 426 AD, and extends through 763 AD, ending with Yax Pasaj Chan Yoaat.[1] Therefore, the monument’s depictions span three hundred and fifty years of time. Each ruler is seated on a glyph that represents his name. The most important part of the picture is Yax Kuk Mo handing down the insignia of reign to Yax Pac. This was a form of propaganda, intended to show that Yax Pac was just as worthy of rule as the first leader.

As with other changes of regime, the altar shows what has gone before, and represents a change that was accompanied by renewing and rebuilding of the structures of the ceremonial site.   From the excavations that have been conducted there, layer upon layer has been found that track back to the past from rebuilding that represented change.

Altar Q in Archaeological Museum at Copán


Inside Archaeological Museum at Copán, description of Altar Q

Saturday Art and Archaeology: Copán, Rosalila

2:39 am in Art by Ruth Calvo




(Picture courtesy of Urban Sea Star at

In the Mayan ceremonial center of Copán in Honduras, an ancient temple has been covered and preserved over the centuries by the builders themselves.  Nicknamed ‘Rosalila’, it was preserved as it had been constructed and is considered as a sacred temple which had the main building of the Copán center built over it.

One of the best preserved phases of Temple 16 is the Rosalila, built over the remains of five previous versions of the temple. Archaeologist Ricardo Agurcia discovered the almost intact shrine while tunneling underneath the final version of the temple. Rosalila is notable for its excellent state of preservation, including the entire building from the base platform up to the roof comb, including its highly elaborate painted stucco decoration. Rosalila features K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ placed at the centre of a mythological tableau, combining the founder of the dynasty with the sky deityItzamna in avian form. The mythological imagery also includes anthropomorphic mountains, skeletons and crocodiles. Vents in the exterior were designed so smoke from incense being burned inside the shrine would interact with the stucco sculpture of the exterior. The temple had a hieroglyphic stone step with a dedicatory inscription. The stone step is less well preserved than the rest of the building, but a date in AD 571 has been deciphered. Due to the deforestation of the Copán valley, the Rosalila building was the last structure at the site to use such elaborate stucco decoration — vast quantities of firewood could no longer be spared to reduce limestone to plaster. A life-size copy of the Rosalila building has been built at the Copán site museum.[35]

Uaxaclajuun Ub’aah K’awiil encased the Rosalila phase under a new version of the building in the early 8th century AD. An offering was made as part of the rites to terminate the old phase and included a collection of eccentric flints worked into the profiles of humans and gods, which were wrapped in blue-dyed textiles.[78]

The structure has been moved to the archaeological museum at Copán, where it has been once again preserved for the ages.

(Picture courtesy of Adalberto H. Vega at

Rosalila from second tier

Upper level of Rosalila

Saturday Art and Archaeology: Mayan Dedicatory Vessels

2:54 am in Art by Ruth Calvo


Reconstructed pottery in lab where work goes on.

Array of excavated pottery at Blue Creek lab.

Among the excavated items that form a large body of the pottery being studied from digging at Blue Creek, Belize, are the lip-to-lip vessels that occur in many of the temples now explored. These have revealed customs that played a part in the Maya society which ongoing archaeological science is ferreting out with its examination of the occurrence and content of the jars.

Intricate analysis of the vessels has been underway at the digs where I worked this July, and the content showed much about what the Maya celebrated and reverenced.  A published scientific article on the studies analyzes the contents, the nature of the offerings, and what concepts are embodied in the formation of the vessels which contain elements of sea at the bottom, earth in the middle, and sky in the upper portion.  It is scholarly in tone, and its content gives exciting views into the celebratory offering itself. The excerpt was difficult to transfer here, and at the end it is disjointed because of the impossibility of extracting whole sentences from the report, which itself you may want to read through.

Preclassic and Classic Maya peoples commonly placed dedicatory caches within the construction fill, commonly in the front of the building along the medial axis.  Maya archaeologists have long understood that such caches aided in dating construction events due to their primary context. Further, Maya archaeologists also have long understood that these caches represent the material residue of important dedication ceremonies [57]. An early examination of such caches was William Coe’s analysis of caches from the site of Piedras Negras [19]. Given the recent expansion of our understanding of Maya writing and religion, specifically in terms of how religious and cosmological concepts are embedded in architecture and site planning [1,44], attention has been turned to grappling with the meaning of these caches. Importantly, such caching events must be placed into the ritual context. The cache is not the event of interest, rather it is the ritual. The cache is simply our only existing material remains of the ritual.


Maya archaeologists have long understood that such caches aided in dating construction events due to their primary context. Further, Maya archaeologists also have long understood that these caches represent the material residue of important dedication ceremonies [57]. An early examination of such caches was William Coe’s analysis of caches from the site of Piedras Negras [19]. Given the recent expansion of our understanding of Maya writing and religion, specifically in terms of how religious and cosmological concepts are embedded in architecture and site planning [1,44], attention has been turned to grappling with the meaning of these caches. Importantly, such caching events must be placed into the ritual context. The cache is not the event of interest, rather it is the ritual. The cache is simply our only existing material remains of the ritual.


Until now, Maya archaeologists have been very restricted in their ability to interpret the meaning of such caches.  While their function in building dedication seems clear, their symbolic purposes are more obscure…embedding of sacredness in public architecture.  ..actions that gave “physical expression to the pipeline between humans and their gods” [46] or reflections of the cosmos and the act of embedding sacredness to public space [17,24,54].

Each dig brings up more witness to the customs and culture of the ancient Maya that they inculcated into their structures and the way they were conducted.

Intensive study shows us more constantly about the culture that produced the fascinating structures of Maya sites, and gives meaning to the life we are learning more about through these efforts.  The work is difficult, and requires deep analysis and enriches our lives with knowledge and the means of acquiring it.

Worked flake with common rock, daily task is sorting and categorizing


Saturday Art and Archaeology: Blue Creek, Belize

3:16 am in Art by Ruth Calvo


Present appearance of formerly excavated Blue Creek Mayan temple.

Blue Creek Center,  close up of Mayan temple after being restored following excavation

Wall overlooking Ball Court at Blue Creek Center, returned to original condition, picture taken July 1, 2014

The findings at Blue Creek, Belize, have been the subject and background for my reports on archaeological findings of this summer.

The particular project that I worked with this summer, Maya Research Group, has been of major interest to many people I’ve talked with and it seems like the history and findings there would be a fitting object for this post.   Much of its story has been told in academic papers, and I will excerpt from a major one, ‘Scorpions, Wetlands and Jade, 20 Years of Research at Blue Creek, Belize’, here.

By the end of the Late Preclassic period (a.d.150–250) and through the Early Classic period(a.d. 250–600), Blue Creek became a wealthycity. We found a building (Structure 9) with a set of plaster masks of the image of an Early Classic ajaw or king, along with a unique set of dedicatory caches, which identified the site’s axis mundi  or symbolic central place. These included nearly 1,000 jade artifacts, the fourth largest collection of Maya jade ever found. More accurately known as jadeite and nephrite, these were prized in the Maya world and, like many naturally sourced products of great value, came from a restricted area and were available only to elite members of society. Other prestige goods have been found,including metamorphic grinding stones, obsidiantools, and sponges from the Caribbean, indicating that Blue Creek was considerably wealthier than other comparable cities.

Blue Creek’s wealth derived from two equally important factors. The frst was the availability of some of the richest and most extensive agricultural soils in Central America. Blue Creek encompassed an area of approximately 150 square kilometers, more than half of which was used for agriculture. This was simultaneously used for different agricultural practices, from small household gardens to the large-scale production of upland non-irrigation and lowland drained field farming. Blue Creek produced far more food than its population could consume. A wide variety of crops were grown, including kakaw (cacao) which was used as money.The second factor was its extraordinary access to trading markets. Blue Creek is at the headwaters of the Rio Hondo, the northernmost river draining into the Caribbean Sea, a three-day canoe trip. It was possible to export goods on canoes bound for cities in the north, which had lesser agricultural potential and a higher risk of crop failure. Blue Creek would have also been the final port of call for canoes traveling from the Caribbean en route to the interior. From here commodities were most likely conveyed overland to Petén sites such as Tikal and Uaxactún.


By the end of the Classic Period, construction activities in the central precinct and adjacent residential areas, such as Kín Tan, came to an abrupt halt. Ultimately, the Terminal Classic is marked at Blue Creek by the abandonment and termination of sacred structures, both within the site core and within its most elite residences.

The director of the program and author of this report, Dr. Thomas Guderjan, explained that findings at Blue Creek Center showed that termination included massive broken pottery and sealing off of the occupied parts of the temples.   An article entitled ‘Blue Creek; Rise and Fall of a Maya Center’, he describes the findings.

By the Terminal Classic, Blue Creek’s political structure had been dramatically and negatively transformed. Construction activities within the site core and adjacent residential areas, such as Kin Tan, had come to an abrupt halt. Ultimately, the Terminal Classic is marked by the abandonment and termination of sacred structures – both within the site core and within its most elite residences.

In the central precinct, large quantities of broken ceramics and other portable goods were deposited on the front of a shrine associated with Structure 3. This represents the final cultural event within the site core and the central precinct was subsequently abandoned.

During this same period, large deposits of broken ceramics and broken portable objects such as manos, metates, obsidian blades, and bifaces were deposited against the baseline of buildings within the Structure 13 Courtyard. In addition, smaller terminal deposits have been recovered from the Structure 19 Courtyard.  Again, these deposits mark the final cultural event within these palace complexes and these groups too were subsequently abandoned.

The symbol or logo of the Maya Research Program is a Mayan mask which was excavated at the original Blue Creek dig, and described with its surroundings below;

The facade of the outset is adorned with a complex five paneled, deep relief stucco frieze which included at least two and probably three anthropomorphic masks. Two of these are in excellent condition but the left face has been destroyed. Despite their Early Classic style, these were originally dated these to the Late Classic based on confusing ceramics from an associated cache and argued that this was an archaizing trait (Grube, et al. 1995). However, after the 1995 season, it was recognized that this was not correct and that these masks actually date to the Early Classic period.

Both faces have chin straps or bib motifs. The center image has closed eyes, hollowed cheeks, a slack jaw and a protruding tongue. The face is wearing an elaborate head-dress decorated with volutes shaped like an Ahaw glyph. The volutes represent smoke or foliation and may be the Early Classic form of the phonetic symbol ya (Thompson’s T126) Grube (1990) has shown the Ahaw sign, when not used as a day sign, is a logogram for the word nik or “flower”. This was interpreted as marking the building as a nikteil na or “flower house” (Grube, et al. 1995). These are specific houses for dancing and counsels (Freidel, et al. 1993: 257-263) and may have also served as accession houses for rulers.

Another element of the stucco facade supports this interpretation as well. A single glyph is located above the recessed panel between the two masks. This is interpreted as representing a sky or earth band with the phonetic value ki, meaning “heart” or “center” (Grube, et al. 1995). This glyph may represent the axis mundi (Grube et al. 1995), which Freidel (1992:127) associates with Ahaw (kingship) and political authority.

The presence of a nikteil na at Blue Creek is strong evidence that the community was ruled by an independent, local royal lineage.

The Blue Creek Center has been returned to the state in which it was found, and its treasures have been made available to the Belizian government for display and research.


Work site at IX’Noha, present activity of Maya Resarch Program


Saturday Art and Archaeology: Burial Deposits

7:09 am in Art by Ruth Calvo

Jade ear decoration displayed in Belize City archaeological museum

Many of the finds from ancient cultures are discovered in burial sites.  
As we discussed in comments last week, there are significant finds associated with the discoveries of tombs and their treasures, and some of the rituals are being understood from writings, but much we can only conjecture about.

One of the great finds in Belize was unearthed in a burial site at Altun Ha, outside Belize City, the jade skull.  It is a large carved head, from an intensely colored stone, and was situated in the grave of a middle aged man assumed to be a ruler there.  There were other items found in the grave as well, and all are evidently meant to accompany this revered person in his death.  Many graves contain bodies that have had a jade carved item inserted into the mouth, and this custom is known as giving the ‘breath of life’, as jade is associated with life and health.

Some of the offerings found at graves unearthed at other sites include carved shells from Caddo Mounds, and in Croatia much jewelry and carving, among others.  The reason for interring precious objects with the dead has acquired a lot of speculation, but we have no really solid knowledge.  The findings for our culture today are of course of immense value, but this was hardly the reason the past cultures embedded them.

The graves at Blue Creek contained the fourth largest find of jade in this continent, associated with ritual offerings that have come to be known as the ‘collapse’ of Mayan society and include many broken ceramic vessels which were interred with last rulers of the generation.  The ‘termination’ of the epoch of those families is evidenced in many locations throughout the region, and indicates a cataclysm for that ruling family.  In some locations the remains of human beings have been found that show they were in a way offered, sacrificed, for the sake of the ritual being performed.

As I am presently traveling and am not able to access the internet, this post will have to be completed later when I can do so.

Burial site where cache found


Saturday Art and Archaeology: The BallCourt in Mayan Culture

12:12 am in Art by Ruth Calvo

Ballcourt at Lamanai

The excavation of Mayan centers of worship and society have revealed that the ballcourt played an essential role in their community and is included in the ceremonial structures that life existed in. At Lamanai, pictured above, there are remains of a distinct playing ground, and in many places the representation of ball games and courts have been discovered.

The rules of Ōllamaliztli are not known, but judging from its descendant, ulama, they were probably similar to racquetball,[3] where the aim is to keep the ball in play. The stone ballcourt goals are a late addition to the game.

In the most widespread version of the game, the players struck the ball with their hips, although some versions allowed the use of forearms, rackets, bats, or handstones. The ball was made of solid rubber and weighed as much as 4 kg (9 lbs), and sizes differed greatly over time or according to the version played.

The game had important ritual aspects, and major formal ballgames were held as ritual events, often featuring human sacrifice. The sport was also played casually for recreation by children and perhaps even women.[4]


Ballcourts were public spaces used for a variety of elite cultural events and ritual activities like musical performances and festivals, and of course, the ballgame. Pictorial depictions often show musicians playing at ballgames, while votive deposits buried at the Main Ballcourt at Tenochtitlan contained miniature whistles, ocarinas, and drums. A pre-Columbian ceramic from western Mexico shows what appears to be a wrestling match taking place on a ballcourt.[44]

Like much of ritual, the representations of the play has left us with artwork that tells a story about the time of Mayan civilization. We can only guess at the form and meaning of the game, but it was a vital part of the ceremonial life that went on in the now ruins we are excavating throughout Mesoamerica.

Across Mesoamerica, ballcourts were built and used for many generations. Although ballcourts are found within most sizable Mesoamerican ruins, they are not equally distributed across time or geography. For example, theLate Classic site of El Tajin, the largest city of the ballgame-obsessed Classic Veracruz culture, has at least 18 ballcourts while Cantona, a nearby contemporaneous site, sets the record with 24.[40] In contrast, northern Chiapas[41] and the northern Maya Lowlands[42] have relatively few, and ballcourts are conspicuously absent at some major sites, including TeotihuacanBonampak, and Tortuguero, although Ōllamaliztli iconography has been found there.[43]

Ancient cities with particularly fine ballcourts in good condition include TikalYaxhaCopánIximcheMonte AlbánUxmalChichen ItzaYagul,XochicalcoMixco Viejo and Zaculeu.

There seems to be a tradition of human sacrifice associated with the games again that we can only guess; but as with much representation, it shows a meaning to the ceremonies which gives scholars puzzles to solve but no answers. Ritual figures with human heads featured are among the many art works recovered from the region, and have been featured before in my previous posts.

Ballcourt structure at Copan


Saturday Art and Archaeology: Copán

2:56 am in Art by Ruth Calvo

Jaguar Court inside Copán Temples


Ballcourt decorative end platform with macaw heads in Archaeological Museum at Copán ruins

A major architectural and artistic wonder of the Mayan realm is found at Copán, in Honduras.  While it had a rule of vast areas the Mayan center at Copán came to an end around 1000 A.D. for causes that are the subject of speculation but no certitude.   It was built and lasted for generations detailed on the Hieroglyphic Staircase and stayed a ruling ceremonial center beginning somewhere in the area of 600 B.C. until its sudden decline.

 Little is known of the rulers of Copán before the founding of a new dynasty with its origins at Tikal in the early 5th century AD, although the city’s origins can be traced back to the Preclassic period.[14] After this, Copán became one of the more powerful Maya city states and was a regional power in the southern Maya region,[2] although it suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of its former vassal state Quirigua in 738, when the long-ruling king Uaxaclajuun Ub’aah K’awiil was captured and beheaded by Quirigua’s ruler K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat (Cauac Sky).[15] Although this was a major setback, Copán’s rulers began to build monumental structures again within a few decades.[6]

The area of Copán continued to be occupied after the last major ceremonial structures and royal monuments were erected, but the population declined in the 8th and 9th centuries from perhaps over 20,000 in the city to less than 5,000. This decrease in population took over four centuries to actually show signs of collapse showing the stability of this site even after the fall of the ruling dynasties and royal families.[16] The ceremonial center was long abandoned and the surrounding valley home to only a few farming hamlets at the time of the arrival of the Spanishin the 16th century.


The Main Group represents the core of the ancient city and covers an area of 600 by 300 meters (1,970 ft × 980 ft). The main features are the Acropolis, which is a raised royal complex on the south side, and a group of smaller structures and linked plazas to the north, including the Hieroglyphic Stairway and the ballcourt. The Monument Plaza contains the greatest concentration of sculpted monuments at the site.[68]

The Acropolis was the royal complex at the heart of Copán. It consists of two plazas which have been named the West Court and the East Court. They are both enclosed by elevated structures.[66] Archaeologists have excavated extensive tunnels under the Acropolis, revealing how the royal complex at the heart of Copán developed over the centuries and uncovering several hieroglyphic texts that date back to the Early Classic and verify details of the early dynastic rulers of the city who were recorded on Altar Q hundreds of years later. The deepest of these tunnels have revealed that the first monumental structures underlying the Acropolis date archaeologically to the early 5th century AD, when K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ established the royal dynasty.[69] These early buildings were built of stone and adobe and were themselves built upon earlier earth and cobble structures dating to the predynastic period.[70] The two styles of building overlap somewhat, with some of the earthen structures being expanded during the first hundred years or so of the dynastic history of the city.[71] The early dynastic masonry buildings of the Acropolis included several with the Early Classic apron-molding style of Tikal and one built in the talud-tablero style associated with Teotihuacan, although at the time the talud-tablero form was in use at both Tikal and Kaminaljuyu as well as in Central Mexico.[71]

The dimension and depth of the art work at Copán are developed to an extent found few other places in the Mayan regions, and have a skill that is seldom found on such vast scale.


Stela 4 was erected by Uaxaclajuun Ub’aah K’awiil in the early 8th century AD.[18]


Plaza containing Stelae of kings of Copán


Saturday Archaeology: Digging the Mayans in Stages

12:46 am in Art by Ruth Calvo

Corner of post-classic pyramid being excavated, plaster floor has been revealed

Gargoyle uncovered at Copan

A first lesson in rediscovering the Mayan architecture that built their many impressive temples has been that each successive generation took a lesson from the past, literally, and covered the existing structure with another.   While digging at the Blue Creek, Belize, Maya Research Program dig, we were finding the later layers, recording the data we found, then going deeper to find the preceding structures.  To find a Mayan pyramid means that you have found the last, top, layer of the civilization that built it and under that structure there is another, earlier, one.

Tombs were often encased within or beneath Mayan structures. Frequently new temples were built over existing structures. The Mayans also expressed themselves artistically. Their ceramics were made in a large variety of forms and decorated with complex scenes. The Mayans also designed works of art from flint, bone and shell, along with making decorated cotton textiles. Even metal was used for ceremonial purposes. Items made with metal include necklaces, bracelets and headresses.

It is evident that all of the structures built by the ancient Mayans were built in honor of the gods. Compounds were built with large open areas, from which all the citizens could view the religious ceremonies taking place on the platforms elevated above the city.

IX’noha excavation uncovered this grave with some offerings under later layer constituting a bench

At Copan we can now view many generations of the past, with references to those earlier generations incorporated into each new building and commemorative work of art.

Archaeologists have excavated extensive tunnels under the Acropolis, revealing how the royal complex at the heart of Copán developed over the centuries and uncovering several hieroglyphic texts that date back to the Early Classic and verify details of the early dynastic rulers of the city who were recorded on Altar Q hundreds of years later. The deepest of these tunnels have revealed that the first monumental structures underlying the Acropolis date archaeologically to the early 5th century AD, when K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ established the royal dynasty.[69] These early buildings were built of stone and adobe and were themselves built upon earlier earth and cobble structures dating to the predynastic period.[70] The two styles of building overlap somewhat, with some of the earthen structures being expanded during the first hundred years or so of the dynastic history of the city.[71] The early dynastic masonry buildings of the Acropolis included several with the Early Classic apron-molding style of Tikal and one built in the talud-tablero style associated with Teotihuacan, although at the time the talud-tablero form was in use at both Tikal and Kaminaljuyu as well as in Central Mexico.[71]

Below, the Hieroglyphic Staircase forms a major record of dynastic history as well as one of the outstanding artworks known from Mayan civilization.

Hieroglyphic staircase at Copan, history of the generations of rulers written out in hieroglyphs that form the longest written history in existing Mayan cultural discoveries.


Saturday Art: Archaeological Dig in Belize

4:52 pm in Art by Ruth Calvo

Mayan pyramid in Blue Creek Central square, restored to pre-excavation condition

Cabanas used by archaeological site diggers

As many of you know, I’m in Belize, at Blue Creek, the Maya Research Group facility, digging for Mayan information, relics, structure, and of course anything we can find.

Several members of FDL have asked me to describe a dig.   This one is different from the one last year in Pennsylvania.   We’re in the tropics, hearing howler monkeys and spider monkeys that swing high overhead, surrounded by rainforest and digging small hills that contain the remnants of Mayan pyramids.

We are using picks, shovels, trowels, pans to hold dirt, buckets, and lots of bandanas for the constant sweat.   Actually, it’s hotter in TX but the humidity here can be oppressive.

We are directed by archaeological faculty who’ve been digging in this area and can see the evidence of structure underneath, and we uncover rocks as structure while looking for the symmetrical forms that Mayans build, also picking up shards of pottery and flakes, the evidence of cut tools such as scrapers and drills.

Below you can see the outline emerging of the base of the pyramid we’re excavating, stone by stone dug from the hillock that’s formed over it through the years since it was last used.   Estimates of the end of Mayan temples, the height of their civilization, estimate that the last occupation was in @ 1000 A.D.   The pyramid below has been out of use except for the possible occasional pilgrimage since then, a little over a thousand years.  What we unearth has lain here for about that amount of time.

What we unearth is saved for laboratory analysis, and over the years of research here large numbers of historic material is catalogued and much of it stored, as display space is limited.

When an excavation is complete, the structure is studied and photographed, and returned to its original form as much as possible.

Base of post classical period pyramid, where I’ve been digging for several days

Flake (showing cut edges) below common quartz rock, unearthed July 2