Death and the Classic Maya Kings by James L. Fitzsimmons

By James L. Fitzsimmons

Like their regal opposite numbers in societies around the world, historic Maya rulers departed this global with complicated burial ceremonies and indulgent grave items, which frequently incorporated ceramics, pink pigments, earflares, stingray spines, jades, pearls, obsidian blades, and mosaics. Archaeological research of those burials, in addition to the decipherment of inscriptions that list Maya rulers' funerary rites, have opened a desirable window on how the traditional Maya envisaged the ruler's passage from the area of the residing to the area of the ancestors. targeting the vintage interval (AD 250-900), James Fitzsimmons examines and compares textual and archaeological facts for rites of dying and burial within the Maya lowlands, from which he creates versions of royal Maya funerary habit. Exploring old Maya attitudes towards dying expressed at famous websites akin to Tikal, Guatemala, and Copan, Honduras, in addition to less-explored archaeological destinations, Fitzsimmons reconstructs royal mortuary rites and expands our figuring out of key Maya options together with the afterlife and ancestor veneration.

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During its time of use, the cham glyph was modified to include either a “death-eye” prefi x (no syllabic or phonetic value) in the monumental inscriptions or a visual representation of breath, with the glyph ik’, “breath, wind,” escaping from the nostrils of the skull and depicted on ceramics. indb 26 10/30/08 12:37:55 PM de ath and the af ter life in the l ow l ands cham glyph, when modified by ik’, reads t’ab’ay, “[it] ascends”; (Figure 12).  Souls, exhaled from dying bodies, rose in much the same way.

Therefore, remembering their distance in time, we can look to further parallels between ancient, colonial, and modern rites to gain insight into Classic Maya mortuary ceremonialism. k i ngsh ip a n d t h e a ncest or s In any discussion of death and the rituals surrounding it, notions of an afterlife must come into play. Despite an abundance of iconographic depictions of the Maya Underworld, few texts even come close to describing the Classic Maya conception of it. As noted earlier, analyses of ceramic or monumental depictions of the Underworld have traditionally focused on imagery from the Popol Vuh or other Colonial Period sources, despite the fact that no known glyph for Xibalba, or the Underworld, exists.

A similar attribution of human qualities to maize is an integral part of modern Maya religion. Evon Vogt notes that for the Tzotzil, maize plants, like humans, are believed to have “inner souls,” ch’uhlel, in the ear and heart of each kernel, just as they are found in the heart of each person.  morta l i t y Given the symbolism associated with maize, both as represented by the Maize God and in the humanized aspects of maize in Classic Maya iconography, we might picture the Maya as eating more than just food when they consume corn.

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