(ORDO NEWS) — The ancient Maya built hundreds of pyramids throughout Mesoamerica, from about 1000 BC to 1500 AD, placing a wide variety of artifacts in them.
But what exactly did they put inside them?
It turns out that, like the pyramids of Ancient Egypt, the Mayans built contained rich treasures and burials. But they also often contained something weirder – smaller pyramids inside larger ones.
“When the ancient inhabitants of the Yucatán peninsula arrived at a previously inhabited and abandoned site, they did not destroy the old structures,” said Andrés Tejero-Andrade, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) who has studied and written about El Castillo.
“Rather, the new one was built on top of the existing ones, and so on,” he said, noting that this is why El Castillo has this nesting doll.
This practice was not unique to El Castillo. Other Mayan and non-Mayan pyramids have this arrangement, Denis Lorenia Argote Espino, a researcher at Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).
Espino noted that building a pyramid on top of another pyramid “was a common practice in pre-Hispanic times” and that “the main structures in long settlements usually have several structural phases”.
However, such pyramidal “stacks” are not the most common things that archaeologists find in Mayan pyramids. While some Mayan temples were used for rituals, others served as tombs for rulers or other elite people.
According to Michael Coe (Thames & Hudson, 2011), these burials contained artifacts such as jade masks (for the dead), jade beads, obsidian blades, and stingray spikes, which were a symbol of self-sacrifice for the ancient Maya.
The stingray’s thorns were associated with self-sacrifice because they were sometimes pierced “in the ears, cheeks, lips, tongue and penis, and the blood was splattered on the paper used to [anoint] the idols,” Coe wrote in his book.
The ancient Maya valued objects made of jade. One of the most famous examples is the jaguar throne found in the El Castillo pyramid.
“The classical Maya revered jadeite not only for its value and beauty, but also as a stone of great symbolic significance,” wrote Carl Taube, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Riverside, in a 2005 article published in the journal Ancient Mesoamerica.
For example, the Maya associated jade with corn, power, and the wind itself, Taube wrote.
“Jade was an important component of funeral rites and ritual incantations of gods and ancestors,” he added.
More Mayan Artifacts
The Mayan pyramids contained many other remarkable artifacts. For example, the pyramid at the site of San Bartolo in northern Guatemala contains a fragment of what may be the earliest Mayan calendar ever found, dating back over 2,200 years.
The pyramid at Copan, in Honduras, has a massive inscription containing over 2,000 Mayan symbols inscribed on its stairs.
The inscription tells the story of the rulers of Copán, according to a 2006 report by the Getty Conservation Institute. The Maya used a system of writing in the form of glyphs, which represent the sounds that form words that scientists can read and translate.
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