miércoles, 3 de octubre de 2012

Travel to the Maya World / Canadian Museum of Civilization / Lecture September 27, 2012

Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Québéc, Canada

The Mayan civilization is considered as one of the original civilizations of the world because of their development. They had: an original hieroglyphic writing, accurate calendars and a mathematical religion based on the movements of the planets, 13 constellations, the Sun and the Moon.

The Mayan are notorious for their mysterious and monumental pyramids and for developing an agricultural civilization in conditions of adversity sowing between the stones. 

Corn Growing amoung the stones

Flute whit wells

They knew the concept of the wheel but never used for transporting goods or stones.

Well then, the pyramids were built with their hands, carrying small stones. When the mountains of stone were ready, they were coated with stucco and painted in red. Why red? Because for the Mayans, the pyramids were alive, were objects that possess souls and the red was the symbol of the blood and the divine.

Copan, Honduras

We hear in the media many stories about the Mayans, some of them really fantastic and other fatalistic. But, today we can read, translate and understand most of the Mayan Hieroglyphic texts and we know what the Mayans really said. During the conference I will present recent interpretations of the Mayan history and get to know the life of some Mayan kings and queens. We will see the most important Mayan cities, their pyramids and their secrets in a journey through the Mayan World.

Stela number 5, Izapa

As we can see in this photo of the Izapa Stela number 5, for the Mayans the earth was seen as a rectangle, like other old cultures, the Maya believed that in the beginning, the waters of the sky and the seas were once united, and then the earth emerged from the waters. Later, four trees supported the sky; it was then when the gods decided to create conscious beings to worship them.

On the right side of the trail we can see that the Gods met and decided to form beings of mud but unable of speaking and the gods destroyed them with a flood.

Then, to the left side we can see the Gods created beings of wood, they could talk but they were not accepted by the gods and were also destroyed. Finally, next to the tree, we see the third attempt of the gods; they are our ancestors, who according to the Mayans were created with corn.

The beings of corn were very intelligent, and the gods did not appreciate that, they knew the names of each god and also the things and beings, they realized that there was the big and the small.

Their gods disliked this new discovery, so they said: Our creations are dangerous, they recognize the big and the small, soon they will know the reason for this difference and be themselves gods.

The Mayan gods met and decided to blind these human beings, giving them a partial knowledge of reality. So, a God named “Heart of Heaven” blew his divine breath on the eyes of our ancestors and since then we see distances too distant but we stumble twice with the same stone.

It is curious that in this myth of the Maya creation is raised one of the most significant debates of contemporary physics: the asymmetries between the laws that govern the starry universe and the laws regulating the garden of subatomic particles. 

That’s why we are looking for the Higgs Boson in the accelerators of subatomic particles. If some day we knew the reasons for the differences between big and small, we would understand the secrets of creation. The Mayan gods didn’t  want us to realize this.

Lets talk about the first Mayas:

At the first millennium before our era, several people, such as the Olmecs and the Zoque civilization, inhabited the territory that we call now Mesoamerica. 

Olmec Civilization

The first Mayan groups that jumped from hunting to agriculture, were located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean and founded the small cities of Paso de la Amada, Izapa, and others. Archaeological investigations carried out by John Clark, Tomás Pérez and Richard Hansen revealed that the first Mayans met in rectangular platforms that represented the earth emerging from the waters, to listen the discourse of the first king named "ahau" in singular and “Ahauob’” (we translated this as “the first one who speaks”). 

The First Mayan Citys

The fishermen and gatherers were reunited around the speech of the ahau who was the expert of the secrets of the movement of heaven. To keep attention, attendees received a very warm drink made with corn call “atole” and also some tamales, which is also a pasta of corn cooked with fruit or meat and chili, wrapped in corn leaves. (This millenarian tradition is still a live in Mexico, we eat tamales during our celebrations, meetings and every day on the street)

Tamales in Mexcio City

The ahau spoke about the cycles of heaven. He was also considered the son of the god of corn, maybe for this reasons the maya kings  distorted the skull in the form of corn and to convince the will of the people, giving them to eat and drink corn products.

Towards the year 400 B. C the Olmec people entered into a cultural decline and the first great Mayan cities appeared in the jungle territory in the Petén.  The city of El Mirador is developed with success to be found in the step of a trade route by which arrived products from Central America, the jade of the Motagua Valley, the obsidian of the mountains located between Belize and Guatemala, cotton, cocoa, precious plumage among other goods that were continuing their way to the Central Highlands.

El Mirador, Mayan City in Guatemala

On the Mirador, the Mayan built a pyramid that exceeds 600 thousand cubic meters to the pyramid of Cheops in Egypt, is so enormous that on top of the pyramid there are another three pyramids. To dig the earth to get the stones to build the pyramids, there were gullies that served to capture rainwater and thus survive during droughts.

The studies of Richard B. Gills as well as discoveries of human sacrifice in the cenotes of Chichén Itzá by the underwater archaeologist Guillermo de Anda, have indicated that the Mayan had 4 severe droughts. The first one was in the year 300 BC, the second in 550, the third in 850 and the last in 1460. The drought of the 850 was the most severe and most of the Mayan cities were abandoned after wars, epidemics and hunger. When the rain came back, they were planted again and resurged civilization, the Maya did not disappear, evolved.

The city El Mirador was abandoned in 300 B.C, but some cities persisted, and in 200 B. C, in San Bartolo, the Mayans painted a few fantastic murals that were discovered in 2004 by the archaeologist William Saturno.

The murals of San Bartolo narrate the Maya creation and the relationship between the Gods and the Kings. Surprised by its quality and age, the murals also reveal us passages of the mayans  mythology that are similar to the stories that we found in the sacred book of the Maya, named the Popol Vuh written 1700 years later.

San Bartolo, Guatemala

God of Corn in the murals of San Bartolo Guatemala

There is a period of 300 years in which there is not much information of the Mayan, until the third century after Christ, when in the archaeological area of Tikal appeared hieroglyphic texts of the dynasties, the battles of their kings as well as the dates of his ascension to power.

The Mayan Hieroglyphic writing enables us to understand the mayans mentality and we know that it was also a communication link with their gods. On the contrary of the Mesopotamian writing, that was born as the need for accounting for the surplus of production, in the Maya World, the writing had the function to communicate the kings with the gods, the writing was then known as sacred and therefore they kept it to their graves as we can see in the royal tomb of Rio Azul archeological site.

Río Azul, Mayan arquological site, in Guatemala

The mayan writing informs us that the pyramids were called Witsob' which means Magic Mountains. For the Mayans there were three worlds, the heaven that they called Ka'ab, the land called Kab'  and the underground world called Xibalba. In our contemporary words the pyramids were as reversed parabolic antennas that communicated the three worlds.

The Three Mayan Worlds

The Maya were not a Empire, were organized in cities states just as the Greeks. They had alliances but also great differences and many wars. Currently spoken 33 Mayan languages and in ancient times there were more than 100 languages.

That’s why there are different types of pyramids, some were built in the jungles as other in the plains of  Yucatan and some in front of the sea.

Now let's look about some of the most important Mayan pyramids and the treasures of the kings buried in some of them.

The first Mayan pyramids were the largest that were built and are located in the Peten, Guatemala. El Mirador and San Bartolo are two good examples that we can see in this map. Commented that the Pyramid of El Mirador, call the tapir, is larger than the pyramids of Egypt, but was built 1700 years later, the city of El Mirador was abandoned by a great drought in the year 300 BC and the jungle covered until our days.

In the city of San Bartolo, Guatemala, the archaeologist William Saturn discovered the spectacular murals that dedcribe the creation myths of Mayas in the remnants of a temple buried by the Mayan when they enlarged the pyramid called The paintings, there appears, in addition to the corn god, the guardians of heaven called Bacabes who performed a rite of blood next to the four trees that sustain the heaven. It also shows the coronation of one of the first Mayan kings who strangely has no shoes.

King from San Bartolo, Mayan site in Guatemala 

Now we are in the VI and VII century and in a period called Classic, the Mayan cities of Palenque and Tonina fought for power in the northern part of the territory which today we call Chiapas.


Located at the foot of a mountainous rage, the city of Palenque is famous for its Temple of the Inscriptions, where the king K'inich Janaab' Pakal K'in was buried in 683 , his tomb was discovered by the archaeologist Alberto Ruz in 1952, the treasury of the tomb had an extraordinary mask of Jade, collars, and objects of power. 

Temple of Inscriptions, Palenque, Chiapas, México

Tomb of K'inich Janaab' Pakal K'in

Mask of Jade of the ahau K'inich Janaab' Pakal K'in

The tombstone of the tomb is famous because Erik Von Daniken invented that he was an astronaut. The hieroglyphic texts and iconography indicate to us that the king Pakal is not driving any spaceship, but that descends into the underground world to be reborn as the corn, his right hand has the symbol Mih, which means zero, for the Maya, the zero symbolizes the beginning and emerge the maya sacred tree called La Ceiba which unites him with the sky.

The Tombstone of K'inich Janaabp Pakal K'in

In the upper part of the temple, a prophesy says that Pakal will return on October 22 of 4772, this prophecy notes that for the Maya the 21th of December of 2012 it will finish a cycle of 1 872 000 days and start another cycle of equal magnitude.

Next to the Tomb of Pakal, it  was discovered the tomb of the Red Queen who was buried in a coffin, covered with water with cinnabar, there are still a few remnants of the red that symbolized the union with the gods; the mask of the Red Queen is found today in the museum.

The temple of the Red Queen

The Tomb of the Red Queen

The maska of de Red Queen

In the city of Tonina, one of the highest pyramids of the Mayan world was built, with the height of 72 meters. 


The kings of Toniná were enemies of the Palenque and in the year 771, king K'inich B'Chaak aaknal of Toniná took prisoner the king of Palenque K'inich K'an Joy Chitam II, the sculpture that depicts the capture is also exhibited in the museum.

  1. Jasaw Chan Kawil ll

K'inich Kan Joy Chitam ll

The Mayan pyramids were magic mountains and had rooms, squares and theaters for the dramatization of their rituals and dances. In the city of Bonampak, there are some frescoes that show us actors and musicians in performances and rituals, we also see images of their battles. The mayan war had as priority to trap the enemy and then bring it to the city of the victors to be ill-treated publicly, dishonored and finally sacrificed.

Murals of Bonampak

Two other Mayan cities rivals were Tikal and Calakmul, the first is currently in Campeche, Mexico and the second in the Petén, Guatemala. 

Tikal was a powerful city, its enormous monuments showed that there was a need for labor in cities due to count on labor force in cities to build their pyramids. 


In the year 562 the king of Tikal Wak Chan Kawil was captured by the king of Calakmul, Witness Heaven, and Calakmul during 133 years it was the most important city of the Mayan World, until August 5th of 695, when the king of Tikal, Jasaw Chan Kawil, took revenge and regained the freedom of Tikal making him prisoner and sacrificing to the king of Calakmul, Yuknoom Ch'een II.

Jasaw Chan Kawil                                                                                                      

During the domain of Calakmul on Tikal, beautiful pyramids were constructed and in some burials were placed jade masks that are also exhibited in the museum.

Jade Mask of Calakmul

In 2004, the murals of Calakmul were discovered, there was a woman of the Mayan nobles dressed in a blue transparent color, the color blue was the funeral and in accordig with my translation the mayan hieroglyph text says Ul-Ku -u Ba-Ix Sac Chan, which translates as the Sacred Atole of the Lady of the North. Refers to the atole that offers women noble to his people, in a ceremony that reminds us of the relationship between the power and the food in th agricultura Mayan World.

Ul-Ku -u Ba-Ix Sac Chan
 Sacred Atole of the Lady of the North

Towards the year 850 A.D. the mayans suffered a great drought and provoked a collapse and some cities were abandoned, there were epidemics, diseases as well as a kind of Mayan War, the codes of the war were broken, there was despair and tragedy. Some cities survived the collapse because they were close to natural sources of water such as lakes or rivers.


The stela nomber l of Coba

This is the case of the city of Coba located in the Peninsula of Yucatan, there were also built enormous pyramids and together they are the monuments that the Maya called chentunob' which means stone trees and we call it a stela. Effectively the Stela number 1 of Coba has a registration of a surprising date. In our decimal number system, we need 42 numbers to write it; if we take into consideration that according to the latest astronomical radiometric dating, the universe has 13 750 million years, we use 11 numbers  to write the age of our universe; In contrast the Mayas of Coba had in their mind a mythological date equal to nearly four times the history of the universe. It is surprising that the Mayas dated such a distant date.

Four times the history of the universe

North of the Mayan World

Another equally important city in the northern Peninsula of Yucatan was Ek Balam, where it ruled the king of kings called Ukit K’an Lek’ Tok who in 802 was buried in a magnificent Tomb called "The White House of scripture". 

Ek Balam

The Tomb of Ek Balam

"The White House of scripture"

The decoration of this tomb is white because for the Maya, the place of the dead was the North and it was painted in white color, the entrance to the tomb is the mouth of the earth monster that was in the form the mouth of a jaguar, at the top of the tomb there are the gods of creation as the Remero Raya and Bolom Ok Te who carried wings on their backs.

The gods of Ek Balama, Remero Raya and Bolom Ok Té

He was buried with a treasure comprising six thousand jewels of jade, turquoise, obsidian, seashells and curiously some gold earrings, I say curiously because for the Maya, the gold was not important, they called it Sun´s poop, and perhaps the earrings were gifts from distant lands as Colombia or Oaxaca in Mexico, where there were cultures that valued gold as a precious object. The only image we have of Ukit Kan Lek' Tok is this face in bone in which we can observe that besides the fact that he wasn’t very photogenic, had the lower jaw fractured s a result of a battle.

Ukit Kan Lek' Tok

The agricultural and ceremonial life of the Maya Classic period suffered a decline by the drought of the year 850 and the World of the Ahauob', collapsed forever. The latest dating of this era was the January 15 of 909 and the sculpture of the mark is also here at the museum, it comes from Toniná.

There was a cultural renaissance at the end of the X century, the Mayan World had some migrations that came from Teotihucan, an imperial city that was very much related to the Mayan World and also succumbed to the drought. Thus was born a new historical period called Postclassic in which the city of Chichen Itza had a renaissance. In this new historical period, the city-states were ruled by the Halach Uinicob' which translates as "the true men" and, instead of having a king, the Mayans were ruled by an oligarchy, a community government that persists until our days.

Chichén Itzá, The Kukulkan Pyramide
The serpent of light descends from de heaven

The pyramid of Kukulkan is perhaps the most famous of those times. It was built between 1185 and 1204. During the equinoxes, on its upper staircase there is a phenomenon of light and shadows that represent a serpent of light that descends from heaven to visit the human beings and then continues its journey to the Sacred Cenote To welcome the Rain God Chaak Xib' Chak who lives in the underworld. 

Sacred Cenote of Chichén Itzá

The browser Eduard Thompson invented at the beginning of the last century that the Maya threw virgin women to the Sacred Cenote, as offerings to Chaak Xib' Chak. This modern myth has prevailed, but the studies of the National Geographic explorer, Guillermo de Anda, as well as some ceremonial vessels, we indicate that the Maya did not sacrificed virgins, 73% of the human remains excavated from the Sacred Cenote we identified as children.

National Geographic Explorer Guillermo de Anda
Photograph:  Melissa French

Photograph: Justin Kerr

But they were not thrown alive, they were first slaughtered as we see in this image or they used bones from already dead people and tossed to the cenote as a sign of renewal and rebirth, symbolized the return to the womb of the mother earth.

In the jungle there is cannibalism among animals and plants, 70% of the trees in the Yucatan they grow one over another, as we can see in this photograph.

Canibal Tree at Chichén Itzá

The Mayan observed this phenomenon and they reproduced it in their architecture, regularly they would build a pyramid on top of another and cities on top of other cities, as recently found in Chichen Itza. 

New discovery in Chichén Itzá

The city of Tulum was built facing the Caribbean Sea and was a religious and commercial center, where it arrived both goods and pilgrims. The Maya sailed along the coasts with oars.

Tulum, Quintana Roo, México

The Maya sailed along the coasts with oars.

Mayan Market

The Mayans currency was the cocoa bean, which was very precious because it was used to make a drink with water called Kakawua. The Mayan architecture reproduces the natural order in some cases, such as in the houses of the rulers of Tulum, where the walls play with the laws of gravity, and, at the same time, the walls are not completely straight. 

The Mayan Walls are not straight

The Mayas built palaces, pyramids and temples that had no symmetry but were perfectly aligned to the rise of the Sun, as we see in this photo of the temple dedicated to the planet Venus. A hole in the wall allowed during certain days of the year the step of the solar light to the interior of the room, in this way the monument became an way of communicating with their gods.

Temple of Venus, Tulum, Quintana Roo, México
Photograph by Don Milo

The archaeological site of Tulum saw the arrival of the Spaniards of the sixteenth century and in here lived some years a shipwrecked named Jerónimo de Águilar, who learned to speak maya and would later help Hernán Cortés as an interpreter. When Jeronimo de Aguilar reported that for the Maya, the gold was not considered important, the Spaniards continued its journey to conquer the Aztecs, who appreciated the gold.

The Maya were not conquered, they were invaded, since their culture is still alive, and has evolved. My friend Efrain Cetz once told me that they will never disappear because they are adapted to the changes. 

My friend Efrain Cetz

There are currently a number of different mayan groups who maintain ancient traditions mixed with Christianity. In some Mayan villages in the Yucatan Peninsula is accepted religious diversity.

But in the Mayan villages of Chiapas, there are conflicts between the followers of the catholic religion and the Anglicans. In the village of San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, there are three crosses on the plaza that they call the heart of the sky, the cross to the maya does not represent the christian cross, it plots a celestial forming in the sky with the crossing of the East to the west of the ecliptic and the Milky Way which runs from north to south. There are three crossings because in the Mayan cosmogony there are three worlds, heaven, earth and the underground world.

The Mayan Crossings
There is a communal power with representatives of the different neighborhoods, as the Maya were organized in the last historical period, the tradition is still in force.

Mayan Communal Power, San Juan Chamula, Chiapas

Atrium of San Juan Bautista Church, at San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, México

Polygamy is normal between the Tzotzil Maya and in the atrium of the. In the interior of the church rituals that merge the Christian beliefs and Maya, they drink alcohol but within the church is regarded as sacred, it can be smoked because they say that with the smoke grows the moustache and beard, shamanistic rituals, candles and sacrifices of chickens there are enters into communion with the Christian saints. 

Interior of San Juan Chamula Church, Chiapas, México

It is forbidden to take photographs inside the church, but the picture that we see now was taken by a Tzotzil Maya and shows the shamanic rituals of communion where, their words are linked to the gods transforming the world. In the surroundings of the church, we see modern buildings and a occidental lifestyle.

The News Mayans

In the north of the Yucatan Peninsula the Maya have another perception of the matter and they don’t have a land as fertile as the land they have in Chiapas, this influences their development and its mentality. They are tolerant to the religious diversity, drink less alcohol and are very smiley, especially the children. The dance is a very important cultural expression to the maya and in Yucatan the dancers are dressed in white, showing purity and clean thoughts.

Mayan Children from Coba, Quintana Roo, México

Mayan Children from Izamal, Yucatán México

Since they are little children they are taught the traditions and therefore remains a living culture. During the feasts of veneration of the dead, there are altars that symbolize the Three Worlds and the Cross in the sky.

The Mayan Altar, Cancún, Quintana Roo, México

The offerings of food to the dead show us a profoundly religious meaning and of communion with the souls of the ancestors. 

Lacandonses Mayan Children, Bonampak, Chiapas, México

In southern Chiapas, the Mayas Lacandones were isolated for several centuries until the explorers Franz Blom, Gertudris Blom and Ruth Lechuta Deutsh arrive to the jungle and saw them for the first time. 

Ruth Lechuga Deutsh

I had the honor of being friends with of Ruth Lechuga and in a talk I asked her how did they found the Lacandons? With a big smile she told me: We didn’t found them, they found us. She told me that in the beginning it was very difficult to comunicate with the Lacandons but they soon learned to speak spanish and my friend Ruth regretted that by coming into contact with the occidental world, the traditions were lost. Today the Lacandons have the Adventist religion, do not pronounce the names of their ancient gods and lost the tradition of shamans.

Lacandones Mayan Childrens, Lakanhá, Chiapas, México

Everything evolves and the religions change but in the unconscious of the Mayan people remain millennial culture and an intimate relationship with the cycles of nature. In Chichen Itza, there are many mayan artists who with a stick and a knife make excellent works of art to reproduce the sacred stones of their ancestors and in their masks we note the traces of an ancient religion that worshipped the jaguar and the death and life as a unit.

Mayan artist, Chichén Itzá, Yucatán México

 Traces of the ancient Mayan Cosmogony

The Mayans did not disappeared, they evolved and its history gives us a surprise because they had an extraordinary knowledge but their tools were sticks and stones, their calendars are accurate, and the knowledge of medicine is maintained with the oral tradition.

Their social organization is still communitarian, ritual, and agricultural, they have televisions, cell phones. iPhones, blackberries, etc,  But if one day they would not have electricity or satellite connection they would still be smiling, because their greatest treasure is their culture.

My Maya Friend "Guarachín", Chichén Itzá, Yucatán México

It is an honor to be the voice of the mayan sacred knowledge, here, in the Canadian Museum of Civilization, I thank the mayan divine entities that will allow me to speak of his existence and also to the invitation of the Canadian Museum of Civilization that has offered me the opportunity to talk with you in the framework of this wonderful exhibition of Sacred Mayan Art.

Claudio Obregón Clairin

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