Top 100 Mayan Artifacts

Top 100 Mayan Artifacts

       Early Maya society developed from small farming communities to well-developed city-states linked by roadways to other cities and regions. The Classic Maya (250-950 AD) are famous for building impressive monumental architecture, their sophisticated hieroglyphic writing system, their knowledge of astronomy and mathematics, and for craft production including polychrome pottery and intricately woven textiles. Symbolic sculptural records such as Stela H from Copán have provided additional insight into ancient traditions and spirituality. Near the end of the Classic Period cities had grown in size and power. Royal dynasties and powerful gods colored Maya politics, economics, and religion. Ritual performances including dance, music, feasting, sacrifice, and sacred bloodletting were all used to uphold traditional beliefs and ancestor worship. Many unknowns regarding the following chapter in Maya history, the Post-classic Period (950-1520 AD), remain. During that time, Maya life changed fundamentally and building construction ceased at many lowland centers. The reasons why Maya life changed and how remain heated topics of debate.

  1. The Dresden Codex (Codex Dresdensis)

           The Dresden Codex (Codex Dresdensis) is held in the Sächsische Landesbibliothek (SLUB), the state library in Dresden, Germany. It is the most elaborate of the codices, and also a highly important specimen of Maya art. Many sections are ritualistic (including so-called ‘almanacs’), others are of an astrological nature (eclipses, the Venus cycles). The codex is written on a long sheet of paper that is ‘screen-folded’ to make a book of 39 leaves, written on both sides. It was probably written just before the Spanish conquest. Somehow it made its way to Europe and was bought by the royal library of the court of Saxony in Dresden in 1739. The only exact replica, including the huun, made by a German artist is displayed at the Museo Nacional de Arqueología in Guatemala City, since October, 2007. The Venus cycle was an important calendar for the Maya and much information in regard to this is found in the Dresden codex. The Maya courts employed skilled astronomers, who could calculate the Venus cycle with extraordinary accuracy. There are six pages in the Dresden Codex devoted to the accurate calculation of the location of Venus. The Maya were able to achieve such accuracy by careful observation over many centuries. The Venus cycle was especially important because the Maya believed it was associated with war and used it to divine appropriate times (electional astrology) for coronations and war. Maya rulers planned for wars to begin when Venus rose. The Maya may have also tracked the movements of other planets, including Mars, Mercury and Jupiter.
    Links: Top Ten South American Codices, Top 100 Ancient Texts,
  2. Pacal’s Burial Mask

    Links: Top 100 Masks, Top Ten North American Masks,
  3. Mayan Volcanic Explosion Relief

    This Mayan relief depicts the explosion of a volcano and a man and women fleeing from the situation. Some speculate that this scene could be reminiscent of the Atlantean disaster.
    Links: Top 100 Mayan Artifacts,
  4. Tablet of the Sun

           The original Tablet of the Sun on the left, (the right tablet is a plaster cast),
    Links: Top Ten Suns,
  5. Tombstone of Pacal the Great

           This artifact has been a topic of heated debate and curiosity. The widely accepted interpretation of the sarcophagus lid is that Pakal is descending into Xibalba, the Maya underworld. Around the edges of the lid are glyphs representing the Sun, the Moon, Venus, and various constellations, locating this event in the nighttime sky. Below him is the Maya water god, who guards the underworld. Beneath Pakal are the “unfolded” jaws of a dragon or serpent, into whose mouth Pakal descends. This is a common iconographic representation of the entrance to the underworld. Other examples of this imagery are found in sculpture on Monument 1 “El Rey” and Monument 9 at the Olmec site of Chalcatzingo, Morelos, on Altar 4 at the Olmec site of La Venta, Tabasco and in recently discovered murals at the Late Preclassic Maya site of San Bartolo, Guatemala.
    Links: Top Ten Tombs, Top Ten Ancient Cosmonauts Artifacts,,
  6. Stela H from Copán

    Links: Sculptures, Top 100 North American Sculptures, Top Ten Stele, Top Ten North American Stele,
  7. Lintel 15 Relief

           Lintel 15, now in the British Museum, depicting one of the wives of Bird Jaguar IV invoking the Vision Serpent in a bloodletting rite. Originally spanned a doorway in Structure 21, it was removed to the British Museum in 1982-3. Like Lintels 16 and 17 from the same series, it was carved from limestone. It was originally set above the southeast doorway of the central room. Lintel 15 depicts Lady Wak Tuun, one of the wives of king Bird Jaguar IV, during a bloodletting ritual that results in the appearance of the Vision Serpent. Lady Wak Tuun is carrying a basket containing the tools used for the bloodletting ritual, including a stingray spine, rope and bloodstained paper. The Vision Serpent emerges from a bowl containing strips of bark paper.
    Links: Relieves and Petroglyphs, Top Ten North American Relieves,
  8. Palenque Relief

    Links: Relieves and Petroglyphs, Top Ten North American Relieves,
  9. K’inich Janaab’ Pakal (Pacal the Great)

           K’inich Janaab’ Pakal (23 March 603 – 28 August 683) was ruler of the Maya polity of Palenque in the Late Classic period of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican chronology. During a long reign of some 68 years Pakal was responsible for the construction or extension of some of Palenque’s most notable surviving inscriptions and monumental architecture.
    Links: Top 100 Busts,,
  10. Mayan Crystal Skull

    Links: Top Ten Skull Artifacts, Top Ten Human Skulls, Top Ten Skulls,
  11. Mayan Mask

    Links: Top 100 Masks,
  12. Wood Lintel Celebrating Military Victry of Yik’in Chan K’awiil

           The elaborately carved wooden Lintel 3 from Temple IV. It celebrates a military victory by Yik’in Chan K’awiil in 743.
    Links: National Parks, Top Ten North American Parks,
  13. Jade Bust of Jasaw Chan K’awiil I

           A vessel with jade inlays from the tomb of Jasaw Chan K’awiil I beneath Temple I and bearing an effigy, probably that of the king.
    Links: Top 100 Busts,,
  14. Relief of Pacal the Great

    Links: Relieves and Petroglyphs, Top Ten North American Relieves,
  15. Figural Whistle Depicting a Musician (672 – 889 AD)

           The figure, clad in a headdress, ear-spools and a loincloth, is holding a turtle carapace drum in his left hand and a drumstick in his right. Whether they were musicians, painters, carvers, potters or scribes, artists were very important figures in Maya community life. These people communicated and preserved the history and expressions of ancient Maya culture. Figures similar to this one were excavated at the site of Nebaj. The figure stands 22 cm.
    Links: Top 100 Songs, Top Ten Instruments,
  16. Vase (650-850 AD)

           This is a Holmul style cylinder vase depicting a dancing lord (ruler). He dances within a frame created by a horizontal sky-band (above him) and vertical hieroglyphic text which may reflect the architecture of Maya royal court buildings. The broad stairways of some Maya buildings were probably used in public performances as stages for dance rituals and pageants. The imagery of the scene depicted around 360° of this vase suggests this dance may have been part of a war ritual. This vase was very probably used for the consumption of cacao beverages during feasting and other rituals. The vase stands 22.8 cm and resides at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art.
    Links: Top Ten Vases,,
  17. Temple of the Warriors Altar

           This is the altar at the Temple of the Warriors at Chichén Itzá upon which human sacrifices were made. The altar was painted blue. After human victims were stripped, painted blue, and thrust back down on the altar, their beating hearts were removed.
    Links: Temples, Top Ten North American Temples,
  18. Musician Mural

    Links: Top 100 Musical Artists, Top 100 Songs, Top Ten Instruments,
  19. Figure

    Links: Sculptures, Top 100 North American Sculptures,
  20. Ceramic Plate

           This large ceramic plate from the Late Classic Period is encircled with twenty-two Mayan glyph blocks which convey information about its function and its owner. The text states that it was a plate used for eating white venison tamales and it was owned by The Great Ballplayer, the son of the ruler of Uaxactun. The plate has a diameter of 40 cm and resides in the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art.
  21. Cylinder Vase Depicting Players of the Maya Ballgame (600–850 AD)

           The painted scene provides information on the equipment required for the game, including leg protection, the padded white waist yoke, and perhaps the unusual upper-body costume. We can assume that the attire is exaggerated here or is an example of pre-game ceremonial garb, for he could scarcely have controlled the black rubber ball in front of him while dressed in an elaborate headdress and a long skirt. The vase stands 24.2 cm and is located in the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art.
    Links: Top Ten Vases,,
  22. Tetra-Pod Vessel (495-544 AD)

           This lidded tetra-pod vessel is representative of a lagoon environment. The lid of the dish features a beautiful handle in the shape of the curved neck and head of a water bird, possibly a cormorant. In the bird’s mouth is a fish. The top of the lid and the body of the vessel are decorated with swirling designs which might be symbolic of water. The four legs of the dish are thought to be representative of the legs of the peccary, pig-like animals native to Central and South America which often forage for food in wetland areas. The vessel stands 22.8 cm and can be found at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art.
  23. Mayan Eccentric

           Mayan chipped stone artifacts called “eccentrics” or “eccentric flints”. They are non-utilitarian chipped stone objects that are normally found in caches or burials, within a ceremonial context associated with the Maya elite. They were made by craft specialists from various types of chert, chalcedony, and obsidian. These mysterious objects were flaked into a large variety of animal and geometric forms. They were linked to ritual practices.
  24. Links: Artifacts, Top Ten North American Artifacts,,

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