Death and the Classic Maya Kings by James L. Fitzsimmons

By James L. Fitzsimmons

Like their regal opposite numbers in societies around the world, old Maya rulers departed this international with difficult burial ceremonies and extravagant grave items, which regularly integrated 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 checklist Maya rulers' funerary rites, have opened a desirable window on how the traditional Maya envisaged the ruler's passage from the realm of the dwelling to the area of the ancestors. concentrating on the vintage interval (AD 250-900), James Fitzsimmons examines and compares textual and archaeological facts for rites of demise and burial within the Maya lowlands, from which he creates types of royal Maya funerary habit. Exploring historic Maya attitudes towards demise expressed at famous websites equivalent 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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Indb 20 figure 5. Chaak, God A, and the Jaguar God of the Underworld (4011 © Justin Kerr) 10/30/08 12:37:51 PM figur e 6. Hun Ajaw and Yax B’alam (K 1892 © Justin Kerr) figur e 7. Crocodile from Copan Altar T (after Schele and Miller 1986, fig. ” maize As a metaphor for the annual agricultural cycle, the story of the Maize God goes far beyond ancient conceptions of landscape. Karl Taube has made a case for these events describing not only the origins of corn in Mesoamerica, but also the creation of mankind: Although it is not mentioned in the early colonial Popol Vuh, the resurrection of the maize god by the hero twins and the Chacs adds an important insight into the underlying meaning of the journey of the hero twins in search of their father [as mentioned in the Popol Vuh].

Despite the clarity of iconography depicted in this example, there is some question as to what happens to the institution of kingship when a ruler dies. It is clear that at some point the status of ancestor is reached, whereupon the ruler is engaged as an ancestor in a variety of religious and politically motivated rituals. It is the point between death and dynastic succession, mentioned earlier for Piedras Negras Ruler 1, that is troubling.  Research into the nature of death rituals and ancestor worship among the Classic Maya kings has implications for the study of the burials of elites and commoners.

Perhaps the Classic Maya situation was analogous to that of the modern Tzotzil: Man needs to eat in order to live; but in order to eat he sees himself forced to kill other beings.  Thus, we might postulate that the royal rationale for death arose from two distinct but compatible ideas: (1) it was part of the maize cycle, where the individual is maize, growing and proceeding from death in order to return to it; and (2) it was a function of eating maize, eating of the crocodile, turtle, or other substance wherein death had been planted, thereby becoming more like maize and its growth cycle.

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