69.8 F
Mérida
Saturday, January 22, 2022
###

Newly found hieroglyphics contain clues to breakdown of Maya civilization

Text written during a period of instability gives an eyewitness account of Maya warfare

Latest headlines

Booster shots arrive for Mérida residents between 40-59

Booster shots for Mérida residents in their 40s and 50s arrived Friday. Photo: Courtesy A military plane with...

Mexico celebrates International Mariachi Day

Mariachis in Mexico and around the world celebrate International Mariachi Day observed every Jan 21. 

Marines to take over security at Mérida and Cancún airports

Mexico's Marines will be taking control of seven airports across the country, with  Mérida and Cancún among them. 

What to do if you find baby sea turtles on the beach

Most people realize that it is not a good idea to disturb nesting or baby turtles, but what should we do if one appears to be in peril or distress?
Yucatán Magazine
Sign up to get our top headlines delivered to your inbox twice a week.
Left, fragments of the Komkom Vase showing the A.D. 812 Long Count calendar date. Right, a digitized image of the Komkom vase. Photos: Courtesy

A vase found at an ancient royal palace in Belize has hieroglyphics that reveal clues to the Maya empire’s collapse.

Its texts were written during a period of instability, providing an eyewitness account of Maya society at war.

The shattered vessel — found amid artifacts associated with the abandonment of the royal palace complex at the Maya site of Baking Pot — was discovered in excavations directed by Julie Hoggarth, assistant professor of anthropology in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

When Hoggarth stumbled upon the first fragment, she spotted the emblem hieroglyph for “Yaxha,” an ancient Maya city and ceremonial center in Guatemala.

She took a cellphone photo and sent it to Christophe Helmke of the University of Copenhagen, archaeologist and scholar of Classic Maya hieroglyphic scripts.

“He emailed from Copenhagen within an hour,” Hoggarth said. “He said, ‘This is really important. Find more.’”

The story on the Komkom vase focuses on the warfare that was taking place during the period. The vase is providing a peek into the propaganda that was being sold to society at the time, according to Baylor .

The Maya were one of the most important of all the pre-Columbian civilizations.

The team pieced together 82 vase fragments, eventually assembling what they believe to be about 60 percent of the original. It measured about nine inches in length and, in its entirety, would have been made up of an unusually long 202 hieroglyphic blocks.

After deciphering the text, Hoggarth and colleagues realized it provided an unusual insight into a period where there is little remaining written information. Hoggarth and her colleagues now published details of the vase in a book, “A Reading of the Komkom Vase Discovered at Baking Pot, Belize.” Co-authors include Helmke, and Jaime Awe, from Northern Arizona University.

At the time the vase was created, the Maya civilization had started to collapse. Cities had already been abandoned and by around 900 AD, the Mayan people had stopped building monuments. Multiple factors likely combined, resulting in a breakdown of the political system.

“Population growth at the end of the Classic period also meant that the Maya were clearing more of the landscape to grow food, which may have contributed—in some cases—to environmental degradation,” Hoggarth told Newsweek. “On top of all of this was a series of severe droughts that date to the mid-to-late ninth century (around AD 820-900) that likely impacted agricultural production. Since Maya divine kings were considered intermediaries with the gods, you can imagine how if they did not bring the rains that their legitimacy could have been diminished and the populace likely voted with their feet and left those cities.”

“We know that the Classic Maya did not typically write about mundane topics,” Hoggarth said. The Maya normally focused on political histories, including births, deaths, ascensions, alliances and rituals. Few mention droughts or trade problems, which in retrospect, are relevant topics to any researcher seeking insight into Maya civilization.

The text on the vase provides information on the royal owner. While he is not named directly, it says his father is Sak Witzil Baah, the King of Komkom, and his mother is a royal from the kingdom of Naranjo. This suggests the owner was a later king of Komkom.

The story provides information about a series of martial actions led by the king. It says that in July, 799 AD, he “axed the middle of the Yaxa’ cave.” The cave, Hoggarth said, probably refers to the polity or settlement of Yaxha. “The text goes on to describe how the king of Yaxha, K’inich Lakamtuun, now powerless, fled from the city to a place ‘where mosquitos/flies abound.’ The text later describes how the owner of the vase performed a ‘frog-like turtle dance’ to celebrate the victory over Yaxha.”

All history is recorded by the victors, so it is hard to distinguish between political propaganda and fact. Still, the text is valuable.

“One interesting aspect of the Komkom Vase is that many of the events that are described on the vase are also detailed in written texts on carved monuments from the site of Naranjo,” Hoggarth said. “In those accounts, it is the rulers of Naranjo who led the martial attacks on Yaxha. Naranjo was a larger and a more powerful kingdom than Komkom, but the parentage statement describes the mother of the owner of the Komkom Vase with a royal title from that site, so there were clearly political and marriage alliances between the two kingdoms.

“The accounts in the Komkom Vase make it appear that the owner of the vase, assumed to be the King of Komkom, led the attacks against Yaxha. So, you can see here how easily historical accounts can be slightly changed as a form of political propaganda to enhance the reputation of the protagonist of the story.”

“One minute they are painting beautiful texts in the Classic tradition, and the next, collapse,” said Elizabeth Graham, professor of Mesoamerican Archaeology at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, U.K.

- Advertisement -

Subscribe Now!

More articles

Yucatán’s muralism boom —  an explosion of color, tradition and meaning

Yucatán’s history of muralism famously dates all the way back to the elaborate frescoes of the ancient Maya.

Students at Mérida’s private Catholic Universities caught trading thousands of explicit photos of their classmates

Numerous students at Mérida’s Anáuac Mayab University are reportedly active in a “secret” chat group to trade intimate photos of classmates, as well as engage in cyberbullying. 

New benches at ancient archaeological site anger Izamal residents

Modern slab benches detract from an ancient ruin at Izamal, neighbors say. Photo: Courtesy Modern-looking benches installed at...

Being a good neighbor to Yucatán’s roof cats and street dogs

Illustration: Juan Pablo Quintal García Cats replaced people as my friends soon after quarantine 2020 began. 

What my rescue dogs taught me

I thought I knew a lot about dogs until I took in two rescues. I was wrong....

Bus full of construction workers catches fire in Mérida’s north

A bus went up in flames just before 8 this morning in Mérida’s Francisco de Montejo neighborhood.

Mérida’s new surveillance center now has eyes on over 6,700 cameras

Yucatán's government has opened a new remote surveillance center to oversee the state's thousands of active security cameras. 

600 acres expropriated in Quintana Roo for new Mayan Train route

Mexico has seized 198 lots of land in Quintana Roo along phase 5 of the Mayan Train's path.

Omicron strain now dominant in Yucatán

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 now appears to be the most common form of the virus in Yucatán.

Exploring Tazumal and Casa Blanca in Western El Salvador

Though part of the Mayan world, archaeological sites in El Salvador have largely remained unvisited by all but the most avid adventurers. But this tiny country boasts several interesting sites full of unique features and blends of cultural traditions.