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The ancient Maya city Palenque (Lakam Ha) had a unique creation myth that linked the origins of their ruling dynasty to primordial goddesses and gods.
All the Maya regions in southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras shared a common creation myth about the Hero Twins and how they outsmarted the Death Lords of Xibalba and resurrected their father, securing life on earth for their people. This legend is recorded in the Popol Vuh, an 18th century copy of the original codex rendition that has been lost. Palenque’s unique myth incorporates deities widely known in their region, but nowhere else honored in the same way. The Triad deities were the patron gods of ancient Lakam Ha, bringing the blessings of abundance and prosperity when properly attended and worshiped. The ruling dynasty was believed to be descended from these gods and their mother, Lady Cormorant (Muwaan Mat in the Mayan language). (more…)
Excerpts from The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque
The Travel Writers of Their Time
Thanks to the remarkable four-volume books Incidents of Travel, by John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, we are given much insight into the hardships of travel and the impact of this splendid and high civilization on these explorers.
John Lloyd Stephens is a masterful storyteller and Frederick Catherwood a fine artist. Their first two-volume book, featuring Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, was published in 1841. It became an instant success, with publisher Harper and Brothers in New York making 11
printings of 20,000 copies each in only three months. I keep a copy with me to enjoy comparing their impressions with present-day Palenque. Although his prose is typical for that period, it’s richly descriptive and amusing. Stephens weaves details of their harrowing adventures, gives astute character profiles, evocative descriptions and levelheaded reasoning, spiced with wry humor. Catherwood provides distinctive drawings and quality architectural designs with floor plans, elevations and outside views of Palenque’s major structures. Thirty-one of his Palenque drawings were converted to engravings and published in the two Central American volumes.
You get a real sense of travel in the mid-1800s in the back-country of Mexico and Central America.
Stephens and Catherwood came from Guatemala to Ocosingo and followed the same route Dupaix took thirty years earlier, an ancient Indian path over mountains giving “one of the grandest, wildest, and most sublime scenes I ever beheld.” They made the trip in five days to reduce nights in the wild during the rainy season. Clambering along steep paths hovering over thousand-foot precipices, they mostly walked leading mules and occasionally risked being carried in a chair by an Indian using a tumpline across his forehead. The chair-bearer’s heavy breathing,
dripping sweat and trembling limbs failed to inspire confidence and made them feel guilty, so they used the chair very little. The descent was even more terrible than the ascent, and the sun was sinking. Dark clouds and thunder gave way to a violent rainstorm, men and mules slipping and sliding. Stephens admits “. . . it was the worst mountain I ever encountered in that or any other country, and, under our apprehension of the storm, I will venture to say that no travelers ever descended in less time.”
Once on the plains below and camped for the night, they suffered an onslaught of “moschetoes as we had not before experienced.” Even fire and cigars could not keep the vicious insects at bay. After a sleepless and much-bitten night, Stephens went before daylight to the nearby shallow river “and stretched myself out on the gravelly bottom, where the water was barely deep enough to run over my body. It was the first comfortable moment I had had.”
“Moschetoes” and rainstorms continued to plague the explorers after they arrived at the ruins of Palenque. They no sooner got their wood frame beds and stone slab dining table set up, with a meal of chicken, beans, rice and cold tortillas prepared proudly by their mozo Juan, than a loud thunderclap
heralded the afternoon storm. Though located on the upper terrace of the palace and covered by a roof, the fierce wind blasted through open doors followed instantly by a deluge that soaked everything. They moved to an inside corridor but still could not escape the rain, and slept with clothes and bedding thoroughly wet.
Rather, they tried to sleep but “suffered terribly from moschetoes, the noise and stings of which drove away sleep. In the middle of the night I took up my mat to escape from these murderers of rest.” Finding a low damp passage near the foot of the palace tower, Stephens crawled inside and spread his mat as bats whizzed through the passage. However, the bats drove away the mosquitoes, the damp passage was cooling and refreshing, and “with some twinging apprehensions of the snakes and reptiles, lizards and scorpions, which infest the ruins, I fell asleep.”
They solved the mosquito problem by bending sticks over their wood beds and sewing their sheets together, draping them over the sticks to form a mosquito net. Not all insects were odious. At night the darkness of the palace was lighted by huge fireflies of “extraordinary size and brilliance” that flew through corridors or clung to walls. Called locuyos, they were half an inch long and had luminescent spots by their eyes and under their wings. “Four of them together threw a brilliant light for several yards around” and one alone gave enough light to read a newspaper.
Exploring the Ruins
To explore the heavily forested ruins they hired a guide, the same man employed by Waldeck, Walker and Caddy. It’s hard now to imagine how dense the jungle was then, trees growing on top of every structure and filling plazas. Without the guide, they had no idea where other structures lay and “might have gone within a hundred feet of all the buildings without discovering one of them.” The palace was most visible and could be seen from the northeast path leading to the ruins. Stephens described its many rooms, stuccos, tablets, and ornaments while Catherwood rendered detailed floor plans and copied images. Stephens hoped their work would give an idea of the “profusion of its ornaments, of their unique and striking character, and of their mournful effect, shrouded by trees.” Perhaps readers could imagine the palace as it once was “perfect in its amplitude and rich decorations, and occupied by the strange people whose portraits and figures now adorn its walls.”
According to the guide, there were five other buildings that Stephens numbered, but none could be seen from the palace. The closest was Casa 1, a ruined pyramid that apparently had steps on all sides, now thrown down by trees that required them to “clamber over stones, aiding the feet by clinging to the branches.” From descriptions and drawings, this structure is the Pyramid of the Inscriptions. Bas-relief stuccos on the four piers of the upper temple were reasonably well preserved, depicting four standing figures holding infants. The famous hieroglyphic tablets covering the interior wall were also in good condition.
Casas 2, 3 and 5 are part of the Cross Group. Stephens and Catherwood were deeply impressed by the stuccos and tablets that we now know belong to the Temple of the Cross and Temple of the Foliated Cross. The fantastic tablets from the first temple were incomplete and only the left tablet containing glyphs was in place. The middle tablet with two figures facing a cross had been removed and carried down the side of the pyramid, but deposited near the stream bank below. A villager intended to take it home, but was stopped by government orders forbidding further removal from the ruins. The right tablet was broken and fragmented, but from remnants they saw it contained more glyphs.
The second temple contained another tablet in near-perfect condition. It had a central panel with two figures facing a large mask over two crossed batons, flanked on each side by panels of glyphs. The four piers of the temple’s entrance once contained sculptures; the outer two adorned with large medallions were still in place. The other two panels had been removed by villagers and set into the wall of a house. Copied earlier by Catherwood, these panels depicted two men facing each other. One was richly dressed and regal, the other an old man in jaguar pelt smoking a pipe. Later these famous sculptures were moved to the village church, and again later to the Palenque museum.
Casa 4 was farthest away, southwest of the palace. It sat on a pyramid 100 feet above the bank of the river with the front wall entirely collapsed. The large stucco tablet inside showed the bottom half of a figure sitting on a double-headed jaguar throne, the lovely Beau Relief partially destroyed by Waldeck. Stephens regretted this loss greatly (as do I) because it appeared to be “superior in execution to any other stucco relief in Palenque.” This small structure is now called Temple of the Jaguar.
This story is told in my post:
Difficult Working Conditions
Stephens complains that artists of former expeditions failed to reproduce the detailed glyphs in Casas 1 and 3, and omitted drawings of Casa 2 altogether. He believes these artists were “incapable of the labour, and the steady, determined perseverance required for drawing such complicated, unintelligible, and anomalous characters.” Catherwood used a camera lucida to project a light image of the glyphs and sculptures onto paper, and then drew the images to accurate scale and detail. He divided his paper into squares for copying glyphs to give accurate placement, reducing these large images and hand correcting the later engravings himself.
One must admire these two men, working under terrible conditions with limited equipment, yet providing such a thorough account of the Palenque structures they saw. They needed to scrape off green moss, dig out roots, clean away layers of dissolved limestone, use candles to light dark inner chambers, build scaffolds to access high places, and endure a plethora of climate and insect assaults. They paid the price of multiple mosquito bites, for both men contracted malaria and suffered repeated episodes of illness.
They left us a few astute conclusions. Stephens proved more insightful than later Mayanists by writing, “The hieroglyphics doubtless tell its history” and “The hieroglyphics are the same as were found at Copan and Quirigua . . . there is room for belief that the whole of this country was once occupied by the same race, speaking the same language . . .”
“Here were the remains of a cultivated, polished, and peculiar people, who had passed through all the stages incident to the rise and fall of nations; reached their golden age, and perished, entirely unknown . . . wherever we moved we saw the evidences of their taste, their skill in arts, their wealth and power.” John Lloyd Stephens
Excerpts from The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque
These excerpts from the Archeological Field Journal of Francesca Nokom Gutierrez, a fictional archeologist in my books, describe the history of archeological exploration at Palenque. I’ll be doing several posts taken from her journal in the first 3 books in my “Mists of Palenque” series.
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Excerpts from The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque
Early explorers: Del Rio, Armendariz, Dupaix, Waldeck, Walker-Caddy
In the 1780s, a couple of Spanish expeditions came to Palenque and made crude drawings of structures and art. The King of Spain was interested in the geography and history of his overseas colonies, and dispatched Artillery Captain Antonio del Rio from Guatemala to bring away samples. Del Rio removed stucco hieroglyphs, parts of figures and small panels that now reside in Madrid’s Museo de America.
Numerous drawings by artist Ignacio Armendariz from this expedition were the first reasonably accurate reproductions of Palenque’s huge array of art.
Another Spanish expedition in the early 1800s produced 27 drawings of panels and tablets, floor plans, and sketches of buildings, a bridge and aqueduct. Guillermo Dupaix, Dragoon Captain stationed in Mexico, and artist Jose Luciano Castaneda took a 50-mile trek from Ciudad Real (now San Cristobal de las Casas) to Palenque that required eight days on a trail winding through mountains that were “scarcely passable by any other animal than a bird.” Unfortunately, the work of these two Spanish artists got confounded and appeared in a book by Alexander von Humboldt in 1810 labeled as “Mexican reliefs found in Oaxaca,” a city nowhere near
The flamboyant artist, traveler and antiquarian, self-styled “count” Jean-Frederic Maximilien de Waldeck adapted Armendariz-Castaneda’s art with his own embellishments of musculature and costumes that gave a distinctly Roman look. Waldeck, like some other early explorers, believed the people who built these cities came from the “old world,” perhaps Rome, India or Egypt. This art appeared in an 1822 publication of the del Rio report, with many images copied into Lord Kingsborough’s sumptuous volume the Antiquities of Mexico in 1829. Waldeck resided at Palenque in 1832, building a pole-and-thatch house near the Temple of the Cross and recruiting a local Maya girl as his housekeeper. The structure called Temple of the Count is named for him. He made numerous drawings of reliefs and glyphs, some were careful reproductions but many were fanciful with evocative views of buildings and romantic landscapes used later for paintings and lithographs.
I can forgive Waldeck for many of his absurdities, such as including elephant heads and Hindu designs in renditions of Maya art. But I cannot forgive him for partially destroying one of Palenque’s loveliest stucco sculptures, the “Beau-relief” that once adorned the Temple of the Jaguar. It depicts a graceful figure with flowing headdress and geometric-patterned skirt, seated on layered cushions upon a double-headed jaguar throne. The figure’s arms and legs hold elegant, ballet-like poses. Waldeck did draw the figure first, as did Armendariz half-a-century earlier. Why he destroyed it is a mystery.
These drawings were reproduced in a number of books and magazines, and caught the attention of two men in the United States who really “put Palenque on the map;” John Lloyd Stephens, American popular travel writer and Frederick Catherwood, English architect and illustrator. Intrigued by the fantastic images and cities depicted, they determined to travel in search of Maya ruins and publish a book with illustrations about these wondrous things. They went first to Belize to visit Copan (now in Honduras), and then planned visits to Uxmal, Palenque and other sites.
Belize was under British control then, and some international competition got sparked. Patrick Walker, aide to the superintendent of British Honduras, and Lt. John Caddy of the Royal Artillery heard about Stephens and Catherwood’s plans to visit Palenque. Irked that the American expedition might reach Palenque before the British, Walker and Caddy quickly put together their own expedition. The Britons planned to reach Palenque first by going due west along the Belize River and across the Peten in Guatemala. They endured a grueling journey through swamps and jungles, arriving two months ahead of the American team.
Walker and Caddy made some quite accurate drawings of figures, panels and buildings and produced a report that remained unpublished for over 125 years. Their primary goal seemed to be winning the race
with the American team, and Walker’s greatest interest was hunting game along the way. Caddy’s report did make prophetic observations; saying that the massive buildings, elegant bas reliefs, and beautiful ornaments prove that in ancient times the city was inhabited by “a race both populous and civilized.” He also concluded that many more buildings once stood at the site that extended for several leagues. One entry remarked on a Spanish manuscript from around 1796, in which the local priest claimed that he “discovered the true origin” of these ancient people because of their “perfect knowledge of the Mythology of the Chaldeans.”
Excerpt taken from The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque.
These excerpts taken from the Archeological Field Journal of Francesca Nokom Gutierrez, a fictional archeologist in my books, describe the history of archeological exploration at Palenque. I’ll be doing several posts taken from her journal in the first 3 books in my “Mists of Palenque” series.
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS POST, WHY NOT JOIN MY BLOG NEWSLETTER?
Click here: 13 Rabbit Scribe
Maya Exhibit: Murals and Monuments
Balboa Park, San Diego Museum of Natural History
In December, 2016, while spending holidays with family in San Diego, I was fortunate to find a Maya exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in Balboa Park. After warning my family that I would spend hours perusing the exhibit, camera in hand, I was not surprised that no one wanted to accompany me. Alone and mesmerized by the wonderful display of Maya monuments, ceramics and art, I spent a most enjoyable afternoon. Many original pieces were on exhibit, loaned from other institutions, as well as reproductions of murals and larger monuments. In this blogpost, I’ll focus on murals and monuments, with other posts to follow for ceramics and artwork.
The Murals at San Bartolo, Guatemala
In 2001 William Saturno, of the University of New Hampshire and Harvard’s Peabody Museum, found an entrance into buried chambers while seeking shade. He ducked into a looters’ trench in an unexcavated pyramid, and when he shone his flashlight on the walls, he saw an elaborate, finely-painted mural. Called “Las Pinturas,” the structure’s murals were dated from 100 BCE and showed mythological scenes related to the origin of kings. Later excavations revealed additional murals, called a masterpiece of ancient Maya art. The 30 x 3 foot mural on the west wall reveals the Maya story of creation, the mythology of kingship and divine right of kings, and depicts two coronation scenes—one mythological and the other an actual king’s coronation. Other discoveries at the site include the oldest known Maya royal burial, around 150 BCE, and significantly older painted polychrome murals in a deeper chamber with Maize God images, dated around 200—400 BCE. Glyphs within the murals date to centuries before most other Maya texts, and remain hard to read. David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin, leading Maya epigrapher, said one scene names a young god as “star man” and emphasizes his cosmological role within the larger creation myth represented.
The San Bartolo mural featured at Balboa Park is the scene of the Maya creation myth, the first known depiction in narrative form, according to Karl Taube, University of California, Riverside, an expert in ancient Mesoamerican history.
In this mythological story, the Maize God travels through the underworld and is eventually resurrected, giving birth to the Mayan people. From left to right, the mural begins with an unusual birth scene; four infants scattering from a gourd that may represent the four cardinal directions, while a fifth emerges in the cleft or center of creation. A supernatural being with a serpent headdress witnesses the birth scene, and to its right is a stylized Flower Mountain that offers passage from the underworld, place of ancestors, to the Earth’s surface. This represents the birth of the people from the mythic cave of origin, depicted as a small serpent emerging from a hole at the base of the mountain. A kneeling woman near the cave offers a ceramic pot of tamales, symbolic of the people being formed from corn. In front of her, a kneeling black-faced man offers water in a gourd, symbolizing the essentials (food and water) needed to sustain life. The pair present their offerings to a red-bodied Maize God, who looks over his shoulder at two stacked kneeling women, waiting to take the offerings from him. They are possibly aspects of the wind goddess. Next is the Maize God’s wife, the only standing woman who is wearing an elaborate bird headdress. Behind her are two black and red figures bearing burdens on their heads and carrying ritual
implements in loincloths. They carry sacred objects for the Maize God and his wife. The final figure is an immense serpent whose body underlies the entire scene. Its tail emerges from Flower Mountain and its upturned head with open mouth emits large red speech scrolls. Black footprints along the red part of the snake’s body indicate it is a path for supernatural travel. The snake-as-ground motif is found widely in Mesoamerica. The Maize God is the central figure in the scene, personification of cycles of life, death and rebirth. The woman may be dressing him for his journey to death and resurrection. Red spirals coming from his mouth indicate breath and speech. Two short columns of glyphs between the bearers are ancient, hundreds of years earlier than most known Maya glyphs.
The Murals at Bonampak, Chiapas, Mexico
The Bonampak murals are perhaps the best known of all Maya wall paintings. Lying close to a tributary of the Usumacinta River, it was first seen by non-Mayans in 1946, but it’s unclear who first visited the site. Two American travelers were led to the ruins by a local Lacandon Maya; his people still visited the site to pray in ancient temples. The site itself is unimpressive, but a small structure on a low hill holds the famous murals. Structure 1 at Bonampak, which holds the murals, was dedicated on November 11, 791 CE. Bonampak had become a satellite community of nearby Yaxchilán, whose ruler Itzamnaaj Bahlam II (Shield Jaguar) appointed his nephew Chan Muwaan II to govern the city in 790 CE. Shield Jaguar hired Yaxchilán artisans to construct the Temple of Murals.
Structure 1 has three rooms containing murals. The paintings show the story of a single battle and its victorious outcome. Among the best preserved Maya murals, these are noted for their vivid depiction of battle scenes, captive torture, sacrifice, and royal rituals and processions. They also depict women doing self-bloodletting by piercing tongues and earlobes with stingray spines. The battle scenes contradicted early assumptions that the Maya were a peaceful culture of mystics, a position long-held by influential Mesoamerican archaeologist, ethnohistorian and epigrapher from the Carnegie Institute of Washington, Sir John Eric Sidney Thompson.
Colors on the mural are intense and bright, although covered by a film of dissolved limestone when first discovered. Musical Instruments, costumes, body adornment, and weapons are documented from the
period giving valuable information about Mayan culture. The vivid colored frescos of turquoise blues, yellows and rust colors are a treasure of data about royal life and ceremonies. Unfortunately the murals have deteriorated badly since their discovery. Early archeologists from the Carnegie Institution doused them in kerosene to remove the film and intensify the colors. This weakened the plaster, causing paint and plaster to flake and fall off.
Mary Miller of Yale University, who studied the murals extensively, wrote “Perhaps no single artifact from the ancient New World offers as complex a view of pre-Hispanic society as do the Bonampak paintings. No other work features so many Maya engaged in the life of the court and rendered in such great detail, making the Bonampak murals an unparalleled resource for understanding ancient society.”
Monuments: A few large replicas of stelae, buildings, plazas and carved frescoes were on display.
The island of Cozumel, called Cuzamil by ancient Mayas, lies off the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. It was a shrine and pilgrimage destination for women, sacred to the goddess Ix Chel. Mayan women made the journey to Cuzamil twice during their lives, at menarche and menopause. They sought the blessings of Ix Chel for a good marriage, fertility, abundance and safe childbearing. Thousands would travel by canoe from Pole, present-day Playa del Carmen, across treacherous currents. The trip took twelve hours, and specially trained men, who understood the shifting currents, rowed the canoes. Legends tell that between 600-800 CE only women and children could live on the island. It was a place of sanctuary for marginal women, and sheltered orphans, widows, barren women and those who crossed sexual boundaries.
Today in Yucatan, the ritual crossing to Cozumel is held annually, called “La Travesia.” It is a re-creation of the ancient Cuzamil pilgrimage that was lost for over 500 years. The ruins of a city called San Gervasio hint at its former splendor, with columns rising on large platforms, shrines to the goddess and the elements, and a long causeway (sakbe) leading to the landing point for canoes bringing women for pilgrimage. One shrine to Ix Chel holds a carved stone column with a woman giving birth, with imprints of red hands over the carving. Another shrine called “Las Manitas” has a stucco facade with murals
decorated by designs in black lines on a Maya blue background. To the right side of its facade, Maya visitors left their own red hand prints on the wall, a common practice in the region. Passages run underneath these structures leading to small shrines inside caves, and causeways connect many complexes. The site was abandoned during the 10th century, but it continued as a pilgrimage site, noted by Spanish friars in the early 16th century.
The Oracle of Cuzamil. The Spaniards reported that Mayas sought advice of an oracle on the island of Cuzamil. A large statue of Ix Chel, made either of ceramic or wood, allowed a person to remain concealed inside. Pilgrims would ask the oracle questions, either directly or through a priest, and the Ix Chel priestess inside the statue would give answers. Pilgrims believed the Ix Chel oracle gave true answers to questions about their lives and guidance about which choices to make. It was even reported that the oracle would prophesy outcomes of conflicts and wars.
Oracles exist in many cultures, and usually function under the influence of mind-altering substances. The famous Oracle of Delphi, Greece, who prophesied during the seventh to the fourth centuries BCE,
was said to allow Apollo to possess her body and speak through her. Called Pythia, she sat on a tripod seat over a fissure in the earth. Myth relates that when Apollo slew the great snake Python, its body fell into this fissure and fumes arose from its decomposition. The priestess breathed these fumes and became intoxicated, falling into a trance during which Apollo spoke through her. Plutarch described that Pythia would lapse into semi-consciousness, and respond to questions in an altered voice. At other times, her trance involved frenzied delirium, with wild thrashing of limbs, groaning and inarticulate cries. After this delirium, she died in a few days and another Pythia took her place.
According to toxicologists, these symptoms are associated with inhalation of hydrocarbon gasses. Similar effects are observed in “huffers” who breathe fumes from glue, paint thinner, or gas. The presence of a sweet smell, which Plutarch reported during Pythia’s trances, indicates the hydrocarbon gas ethylene. Greek geologists have identified a small fracture in the earth extending up from the intersection of two major fault lines running underneath the Delphi temple. The limestone under the temple is bituminous (oil-bearing) with a petrochemical content as high as 20 percent. It appears that slippage in the faults heated adjacent rock masses, vaporizing the lighter petrochemicals in the limestone and expelling gasses upward through the fissure. They believe that gases produced rose up the crack and entered the temple just below the stool on which Pythia sat. Ethylene is known to produce violent trances. Probably when smaller amounts were expelled, the oracle was less affected and was able to speak lucid prophesies.
The Oracle of Cuzamil also used hallucinogenic substances to vacate her body and offer it as a vessel for the goddess Ix Chel.One such substance came from the skin glands of a large bufonid marine toad. A disproportionate number of these toad bones are found in human burials on Cuzamel, probably because of their ritual uses. The poison from toad glands was prepared in special ways, because when ingested it can cause tremors, paralysis, convulsions and death. It appears that the ancient Mayas made it into an enema; these clysters or enema syringes had a distinct glyph and appear frequently in painted ceramics. The clysters were gourds with an elongated, pointed end. Other substances were included, such as concentrate made from crushed Datura flowers and fermented maguey juice. Maguey is an agave plant related to those used for tequila. Datura, which grows wild in regional jungles, is a well-known hallucinogen. The oracle’s preparation probably included ritual purification in a steam bath, infused with herbs such as basil, cedar, vervain and Pay-che; and a period of fasting. She likely smoked potent tobacco in a small clay pipe that also affected her senses. A rare blue-leafed tobacco was grown on Cuzamil that is said to produce a floating sensation and separate consciousness from the body. Morning glory seeds, which alter consciousness, may have been used, along with other herbs, in an ointment to massage the oracle’s skin, opening the path to disembodiment.
After such a potent mixture of hallucinogens, the oracle would be semi-conscious and need assistance walking. She may have been carried by attendants to the temple and helped into the statue, where she probably was tied to a chair or other type of support to prevent falling over. It seems amazing that the oracle could function, much less understand communications and give coherent responses. But, such is
the sacred mystery of the oracle. Those with mystical leanings will believe that another intelligence took charge of this vessel, emptied of its human awareness and ritually purified. Whether goddess, god or the collective consciousness, this intelligence reached down through the human vessel to deliver messages to seekers.
To be an oracle required extensive training, unwavering commitment and a strong constitution to survive the rigors of the process. Still, oracles did not have a long life expectancy, either in Greece or Cuzamil. The great honor of serving the Goddess and her people drew many young women into training, and the gifts given in appreciation built the wealth of the oracle’s city.
The Oracle of Cuzamil appears in the final book of the Mists of Palenque Series, as youthful K’inuuw Mat makes the sacred pilgrimage to the island of Ix Chel and hopes to remain there to serve the goddess. However, fate has other plans and she is destined to marry Pakal’s youngest son in Lakam Ha (Palenque), and through this union to continue the dynasty.
The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque, Book 4 by Leonide Martin (expected publication date summer 2016)
Buy Books 1, 2 & 3 at my Amazon Author Page
Revelations of the Mayan Red Queen’s skeleton about who she was.
It took ten years after the discovery of the Mayan Red Queen’s skeleton in 1994 for archeologists to make progress on her identity. They had narrowed the candidates to four royal women, all connected to K’inich Janaab Pakal, but who she was eluded them. Since the Red Queen’s tomb was found in a small pyramid adjacent to Pakal’s magnificent Pyramid of the Inscriptions holding his burial chamber, it was clear that she must be closely connected with this famous ruler. There were no inscriptions on the sarcophagus or walls of the crypt to indicate the identity of the interred woman. The candidates were:
Yohl Ik’nal, his grandmother – Heart of North Wind
Sak K’uk, his mother – Resplendent White Quetzel
Tz’aakb’u Ahau, his wife – Accumulator of Lords
K’inuuw Mat, his daughter-in-law – Sun-Possessed Cormorant
Early on, Pakal’s grandmother was eliminated because she died more than seventy years before the Red Queen’s tomb was built, and archeologists determined it was not a secondary burial. Both his mother and wife died within the time frame, and possibly the daughter-in-law, although her date of death is not known. The bones were permeated with red mercuric oxide called cinnabar, used as a preservative by ancient Mayas. The bright red color also symbolized sacred energies of blood, called itz. It was the color of the east, the rising sun, the renewal of life eternal. Cinnabar made the bone cells very difficult to examine microscopically, and the bone matrix had deteriorated over time.
Strontium isotopes analysis. Between 1999 and 2003, a project under the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) extracted samples of bone and teeth from both Pakal and the Red Queen. Studies of strontium isotopes were done by Dr. Vera Tiesler and Dr. Andrea Cucina, of the Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan (UADY) during those years. Strontium isotopes are found in
bedrock, and vary with the age and type of rock. Isotopes move from rock into soil and groundwater, into plants and through the food chain. In humans, strontium isotopes in skeletal bones reflect diet during the later years of life; those in tooth enamel indicate diet during childhood. Geologically different regions will have different isotope ratios. When the isotope ratios of Pakal’s bones and teeth were examined, these showed he was born and resided in later life in the Palenque region. The Red Queen’s tooth enamel had isotope ratios of a different geographic region located in the western part of Veracruz, making it likely that she came from Tortuguero or Pomona. Epigraphic evidence also indicates she was from a different city than Palenque. The strontium isotopes studies made it unlikely that the Red Queen was Pakal’s mother, who was born and lived her life in Palenque.
DNA analysis. More definitive evidence that the Red Queen was not Pakal’s grandmother or mother came from DNA studies completed several years later. Dr. Carney Matheson at Lakehead University in Canada studied several bone samples from Pakal, the Red Queen, and three other individuals from Palenque. His group specialized in studying biomolecules and the processes of their degradation, especially focusing on ancient biological remains that were challenging to recover using conventional methods. In June 2012, INAH released a statement with the DNA analysis results that “confirmed that there was no relationship between the Red Queen and Pakal.” They did not have common DNA, so she was not a blood relative. Most Mayanists now believe his wife, Tz’aakb’u Ahau, was the Red Queen. There is still a slight chance it might be his daughter-in-law, or another unrelated woman. If future excavations discover the tomb of one of Pakal’s sons, DNA studies on those bones would confirm the red skeleton’s identity as Pakal’s wife. Of interest, the Red Queen’s bones were returned to
Palenque in 2012, after residing in Mexico City since their discovery in 1994. Placed in several carefully sealed boxes, her bones are kept in the archeological zone in a structure where humidity and temperature can be controlled. Her burial chamber in Temple XIII has too much humidity and temperature fluctuation to safely house the bones and prevent further deterioration. Her empty sarcophagus can be viewed in its chamber, still coated with cinnabar.
Read the story of The Mayan Red Queen in well-researched historical fiction. Compelling depiction of her life with Pakal at Palenque (Lakam Ha) during its height as a creative and political vortex.
Part 1 – The Candidates For the Mayan Red Queen.
“The Red Queen” was the nickname given by archeologists to the red cinnabar-permeated skeleton of a tall woman, covered with jade and shells, found inside a sarcophagus whose inner walls were also coated red. They knew she was someone important, probably royalty related to famous Maya king K’inich Janaab Pakal, since Temple XIII which contained her sarcophagus was adjacent to his burial pyramid in Palenque. After an expert Mexican physical anthropologist determined the skeleton was female, speculation ran rampant over who she was. Discovering her identity would be difficult, however, because the crypt and sarcophagus did not have any inscriptions. This was surprising, since Pakal’s crypt walls, sarcophagus walls and lid were literally covered with Maya hieroglyphs, symbols and portraits of ancestors. The process of deduction led to identifying four candidates in Pakal’s family. From Pakal’s burial, tablets and panels we know the names of his mother and grandmother. From panels in the Palace and Temple of the Inscriptions we can identify the names of his wife and daughter-in-law. He apparently did not have any sisters or daughters, although he did have four sons.
The candidates for The Red Queen were Pakal’s grandmother, mother, wife and daughter-in-law.
Yohl Ik’nal was the grandmother of Pakal. Her birth date is not known, but the glyphs recorded that she ascended to the throne of Palenque in 583 CE. She was the first Mayan woman to rule in her own accord, and most probably inherited rulership from her father, Kan Bahlam I. She ruled successfully for 21 years, fending off attacks from Kalakmul and bringing prosperity and new constructions to her city. Although there is disagreement among Mayanists about dynastic succession, the interpretation I’m following holds that Yohl Ik’nal was the mother of Aj Ne Ohl Mat, a son who ruled from 605-612 CE, and Sak K’uk, a daughter who ruled from 612-615 CE.
Sak K’uk was the mother of Pakal. She was born around 578 CE, and became the second Mayan woman to rule in her own right. She took over during a chaotic
period in Palenque, when the city suffered a devastating defeat by Kalakmul near the end of her brother’s reign. After he was killed, the city was without leadership and in spiritual crisis, because their sacred portal to the Gods and Ancestors (the Sak Nuk Nah–White Skin House) had been destroyed. Sak K’uk managed to assume the throne and hold it until her son, Pakal, was 12 years old and acceded. It’s highly likely that she continued to provide leadership for several more years.
Tz’aakb’u Ahau was the wife of Pakal. Her birth date is unknown; they married in 626 CE. Born in a neighboring town, very little is recorded about her. She bore Pakal four sons, two of whom became rulers. She is depicted on the Dumbarton Oaks tablet sitting with Pakal on either side of their second son to rule, K’inich Kan Joy Chitam, and again on the Palace Tablet tendering him the symbols of divine ancestry. Her death in 673 CE is recorded in the Tablets of the Temple of the Inscriptions. An image that many consider to be her appears on the inner piers of that Temple, cradling the lineage deity Unen K’awiil (of the Palenque Triad Deities).
K’inuuw Mat was the daughter-in-law of Pakal. She married Pakal’s youngest son, Tiwol Chan Mat (647-680 CE.) Although two of Pakal’s older sons ruled, neither of them left heirs. Succession passed on after the last brother died to the nephew of the previous kings. We know almost nothing about K’inuuw Mat, except that she was not from Palenque. Her son K’inich Ahkal Mo’ Nab III continued Pakal’s dynasty by acceding to the throne in 721 CE.
The lives of these Mayan queens are told in compelling historical fiction in The Mists of Palenque series. www.mistsofpalenque.com