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Blog Tour – The Prophetic Mayan Queen

Join the Blog Tour for The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque

Mists of Palenque Series Book 4.

Blog Tour Dates January 7 – 11, 2019.

Drawing of K'inuuw Mat Name Glyph

K’inuuw Mat Name Glyph

Journey back 1300 years to the splendor and intrigue of Mayan civilization, the most advanced in the Western World. K’inuuw Mat, a royal girl who wants to dedicate her life to serving Mother Goddess Ix Chel, instead finds her destiny is marriage into the Palenque royal family, overlords of her region. With her skills in scrying and prophecy, she seeks a vision of her future husband. But, upon arriving at his city, she realizes the face she saw is his older brother, Kan Bahlam. They are immediately attracted, though she resists and follows through with marriage to the younger brother. As family conflicts, regional politics, and high court dramas play out, K’inuuw Mat shares astronomical interests with Kan Bahlam while keeping her distance. He schemes to fulfill his passion for her, assisted by fateful events that bring them together in most unexpected ways. The Goddess gives K’inuuw Mat a mandate to preserve Mayan culture for future generations, as their civilization begins the decline her prophecy foresees. She rises to meet the challenge, aided by mystical connections with ancestor women rulers who give guidance through visions. Her children help carry out the mandate through surprising links with Kan Bahlam.

K’inuuw Mat was a real Mayan women who lived during the late 7th and early 8th Centuries CE. Her portrait appears on a panel in Palenque (Tablet of the Slaves),

Drawing of Tablet of the Slaves

K’inuuw Mat on right, her husband Tiwol Chan Mat on left, offering rulership symbols to their son.
Tablet of the Slaves

seated on the right, where she offers a symbol of royal status to her son. Her husband, Tiwol Chan Mat, is seated on the left. Not much is recorded about her life, but there is a lot of information about the men surrounding her–the ruling family of Palenque and their magnificent architectural and artistic creations. Many characters are from this family, their courtiers and warriors. Fictional characters help fill out the complex relationships and intrigues.

To the Mayas, spirituality merged with everyday life. They moved between dimensions to meet with star ancestors, sky Gods, Underworld demons, shamans, tricksters, and deities who influenced every aspect of life. Rulers and priests were trained as shamans, did vision quests, and used hallucinogens to alter consciousness. They interacted with deities, cast spells, and had visionary powers. During trance rituals where they offered their own blood, the most precious substance to the Gods, they saw incense smoke turn into the Vision Serpent. From its huge jaws they saw an ancestor or God’s head emerge, giving predictions or answering questions.

I hope you’ll want to read this book, and plunge into the Maya’s exotic, advanced, and astonishing culture full of passion, pageantry, and mysticism.

BUY BOOK

Pre-order now!  Ebook available Jan. 13, print book Jan. 22, 2019

The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque.  Mists of Palenque Series, Book 4.

Each book in the series stands alone and tells the story of a real ancient Mayan Queen.

Mists of Palenque Series

BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE   January 7 – 11, 2019

Learn some little-known trivia about the Mayas, and find out some things you never knew about me.  On the blog tour I’m answering a variety of interview questions, and writing some guest blog posts. The interviews were lots of fun, asking such questions as “What made you want to be an author,” “What is your favorite part of this book.” ‘Which character would you go drinking with,” “What should readers expect from this book,” “Tell about the cover and the inspiration for it,” “What part of the book’s world would you want to visit for a day,” “If a dwarf challenged you to a duel what would you do,” and details about my writing habits and quirks. My answer to the last question might surprise you, and it gives insight into the Maya world.

Visit each blog on the date listed below.  Be sure to enter Rafflecopter for a chance to win an Amazon or Barnes&Noble gift certificate!

Tour by Goddess Fish Promotions.

January 7: Mythical Books – review only
January 7: Lisa Haselton’s Reviews and Interviews
January 7: Candrel’s Crafts, Cooks, and Characters
January 8: Bookaholic
January 8: T’s stuff
January 9: Fabulous and Brunette
January 9: Edgar’s Books
January 10: Paranormal and Romantic Suspense Reviews
January 10: Kit ‘N Kabookle
January 11: All the Ups and Downs
January 11: Let me tell you a story – review

Guest Blogpost by Amanda Jayne

I’m delighted to host Amanda Jayne, intrepid author of Close Encounters of the Traveling Kind, stories of her near-death travel adventures in some of the world’s most exotic and unusual places. Jayne was inspired during her youth by a teacher, and always yearned for far-away places. She began these travels in the late teens-early twenties, and had much to learn about staying safe and well in foreign lands. In this humorous and gripping book, Jayne gives vivid descriptions of hair-raising escapades and provides wit and wisdom through “lessons learned” and”tips on how not to die” should other travelers be brave enough to follow her steps.

Below are Jayne’s thoughts about why she sought travel around the world and what traveling means to her. My review of her book follows. —Leonide Martin

Photo of Amanda Jayne

Amanda Jayne

I’ve been fascinated by other cultures and countries since I was young. I’m not sure what it is inside me that draws me to them but it’s some kind of magnetic power that pulls at me. I remember pouring over the atlas we had on the bookshelves in my home. It was bigger than I was at the time, at least that’s how I remember it. I would follow the lines and contours of the countries wondering what and who they held inside them. One Christmas I received a large book of mysterious places of the world. Inside were photos of places like Machu Picchu, the Nazca lines and Easter Island. I traveled the world in the pages of this book, from England to Australia, Peru, Mexico, China and beyond. I could feel the energy of each place as I pored over the pictures and read about the countries and I knew that one day I would travel and see them. At school, some of the kids laughed at my idea of traveling and told me I was going to be the first to marry, settle down with 2.4 kids and abandon my travel plans. “Anyway,” they said, “There’s no way you could do it, it’s too difficult.” Then I met Mrs. Joseph.

In my book I have written about Mrs. Joseph in the introduction. She was my English teacher, originally from Myanmar and had lived in several countries that seemed so exotic to me as a teenager. She taught me that travel was not only possible, but that experiencing other countries and cultures was an essential part of life. The stories she shared with me were of strange animals in India making impossible leaps across wide roads in the dead of night, or of her friend who was cursed by an Indian man and told he would die at 22 – and he did (“this was simply because he believed her, the man was not magic”, Mrs. Joseph would say, “your mind is strong, you can use it to help yourself or hurt yourself.”) She spoke casually of her countless miraculous escapes from death, mostly at the hands of cars that ran her over in different ways but also of other strange co-incidences in which her life was saved.

As I look back now, her strongest influence on me was her causing me to begin to see the world around me differently. She wasn’t sharing her strange stories for the drama or to provoke a reaction, she was genuinely concerned that I see that there was more to life than the school walls and learning facts. Mrs. Joseph was a strict teacher, not impressed by nonsense and prone to giving out detentions to those who used the words, nice and a lot in essays (“they are not real words; they don’t say anything to me. Use a word that means something!”). Outside the classroom though, she taught me there is more to life than meets the eye, that the things you need in life will turn up at the exact moment you need them (if they don’t, you didn’t need them) and that the magic and mystery is all around us, right here, in the natural world and in the way we can interact with it, if only we are willing to see. I say ‘she taught me’ but really she told me and encouraged me because these are things you can only learn from experience, and travel is one of the best ways to learn because it tends to put you in unusual places and situations that make you look more clearly and deeply into the world.

Armed with all I’d learned from my favourite teacher and all I’d dreamed of from my books (pre-Google days!) I started traveling. The first thing I noticed was that it is easier than it looks – like anything in life, the thoughts and fears about doing something are most often the toughest part. Once you commit and start, the way opens up for you. I didn’t intend for anything to be ‘adventurous’ travel, I simply wanted to see and explore the world. I’m not an adrenalin junkie and even refused to bungee jump when I was already in the queue at the famous bridge in New Zealand where it all began – I am afraid of heights, can’t swim and when I saw people returning with burst blood vessels in their eyes I felt ok with backing out. However, I am happy to take risks when there is an encounter I really want, a place I long to see or I know I will grow and learn from the experience.

Any travel outside of resorts and hotels is going to bring strange circumstances and adventure primarily because we are in an alien environment. I find that being in foreign cultures where I don’t have a clue what people are saying and I have no idea what is going on makes me feel alive. It stirs something within that wakes me up and causes me to look differently at the world and the people around me. I am more in the present moment during those times, I have the kind of wonder a child must feel when she sees a flower for the first time and is in awe of it. I love that, and I adore the feeling of expansion that comes over me when I am in the presence of a place or creation that has enormous energy.

Mostly, the experiences I write about in the book simply come from exploring places that were fascinating to me. I have worked in an orphanage and an English school in Bolivia, lived in Japan for five years and walked 1,200km alone around the 88 temple pilgrimage on Shikoku. In India I’ve been stalked by a man who shouted at me wherever I went for several days (“You are crap madam, crap!”) and given a bunch of grapes by a Sadhu (wandering holy man) when I had my pack stolen. It was his only possession in the world and his selfless compassion reached out to me as I cried over the loss of my backpack and helped me see clearly again. I’ve nearly come a cropper in Peru, Bolivia, Japan, Thailand, Nepal and South Africa. All of these experiences have taught me valuable lessons about who I am, how I want to be and how I can live more fully and peacefully in this wonderful world.

Now I understand that just living each day, no matter where you are, can be an adventure if you approach life with wonder and awe. It’s true I’m not being attacked by snakes in my bedroom in Kent or chased out of a makeshift drinking tavern by several angry tribesmen, but there is magic and adventure to be found in life wherever you are. And there are always more countries and cultures to explore… I’d better start packing. — Amanda Jayne

Close Encounters of the Traveling Kind  by Amanda Jayne

Review by Leonide Martin

Hair-raising travel adventures told with wit and brevity.

For those who love traveling, Close Encounters of the Traveling Kind will provide both uproarious amusement and cautionary tales. Inspired by a teacher, Jayne seeks out some of the world’s most exotic and unusual places for adventurous travels. She narrowly escapes death from altitude sickness on Mt. Fuji, getting lost in the Amazon, a vengeful snake in Thailand, freezing on the way to Machu Picchu, typhoid and salmonella in La Paz, and falling down a ravine bicycling the Death Road in Bolivia. From each near mishap, she culls wisdom and humor, leaving lessons learned for those daring enough to follow her steps.

Her mishaps in South Africa while taking local native buses to Lesotho to ride mountain ponies are downright terrifying. Only a naive 20-something would attempt such dangerous travel alone. A solo white woman in a sea of black faces during the upheaval following the fall of Apartheid, Jayne is nearly kidnapped, assaulted, and threatened with death. From these she learned to listen to her gut, mistrust local advice, take food and water, and watch for the “guardian angel,” a large native woman who took her under a wing to safety.

The last adventure proved to be truly numinous. Rafting the Bhote Kosi River in Nepal, Jayne is thrown from her raft into Class 5 rapids and sucked into a whirlpool. In the near-death experience, she entered a divine calm, her mind stilled and everything crystal clear. But the whirlpool released her to live for yet another adventure. Her lesson learned there perhaps sums up Jayne’s approach to travel close encounters: “Let go, life has got me.” Written with brevity, wit, and gripping description, any adventurous traveler will enjoy—though probably not emulate—these travel stories.

Enter this Giveaway for a chance to win a print copy (U.S. only) or ebook (worldwide) of Close Encounters of the Traveling Kind.

Teotihuacan – Empire of Enigma

Two pyramids at Teotihuacan,

Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan: Central Mexico Empire With Wide Influence into Maya Regions.

A huge city was built in the Basin of Mexico, not far northeast of modern Mexico City. It flourished in these highlands between 150 BCE-650 CE, and for much of that time it was the largest city in pre-Columbian Americas. Population at its height was estimated at 125,000, making it among the world’s top 10 cities at the time. The architecture and layout were unique. There were multi-family residential compounds, apartments of several stories, towering pyramids, streets laid out in a grid pattern, and a 1.3 mile-long central avenue bordered by splendid elite residences. Today Teotihuacan is the most visited archeological site in Mexico. Over 4 million people from around the world come each year. Visitors marvel at the immense Pyramid of the Sun, the elaborate Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent (Quetzalcoatl), and the long straight avenue leading to the Pyramid of the Moon. They stroll into the past through chambers and patios of the partially reconstructed

Avenue of the Dead leading to Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan

Palace of Quetzalpapalotl, and ponder the vibrant murals and fine obsidian tools made by ancient artists and craftsmen. The site covers 32 square miles and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.

Palace of Quetzalpapalotl, Teotihuacan

The original name of the city is unknown. The Aztecs who came nearly 1,000 years later named it the Nahuatl word Teotihuacan, “place where gods were born.” They believed the gods created the universe at that location. The Classic Maya wrote its name in hieroglyphic texts, calling it puh,”Place of Reeds.” Such places were considered the locus of creation, which took place in swampy, reedy, and watery locations. These creation locations are also referred to as Tollan or Tula. Rich soils from swamps supported agriculture, and early settlers constructed raised beds called chinampas.

Who Were the Teotihuacanos?

The advanced culture that created Teotihuacan did not leave any writings in the strict sense. They used signs or symbols; 229 have been cataloged but their meanings are mostly unknown.  Our understanding of their civilization comes from study of buildings and pottery, placed in context of what is known of regional settlements.

Photo of painted mural signs

Signs painted on mural at Teotihuacan

Map of major sites in central Mexico

Major Sites in Central Mexico

Around 500 BCE several urban centers arose in central Mexico. The most prominent was Cuicuilco, with a population of 20,000 located on the south shore of Lake Texcoco. A volcano called Xitle erupted around 400-200 BCE and covered this city in ashes, prompting mass emigration toward the north valley. Researchers think that other peoples joined this migration from 13 small regional villages. There was a huge eruption of the volcano Popocatepetl in 200-1 BCE, forcing survivors in the Amecameca-Chalco-Xochimilco regions to migrate. Maybe Teotihuacan leaders capitalized on the Volcano Gods’ sparing their area of the valley to entice more settlers. The earliest buildings at Teotihuacan date to around 200 BCE, and the Pyramid of the Sun was completed by 100 CE.

Teotihuacan expert George Cowgill reports that “the people who first built and occupied Teotihuacan were simply some of the people whose ancestors had already lived for millennia in Mesoamerica.” (Cowgill, Ancient Teotihuacan: Early Urbanism in Central Mexico, 2015) He believes that asking who were the Teotihuacanos is a false issue; the better questions involve why and how the city and the state it ruled flourished so long, looking at its sociopolitical system, religion and ideology, environmental factors, and commercial enterprises. Teotihuacan built on the urban tradition already developed at Cuicuilco, stretching back to 500 BCE with Monte Alban in Oaxaca.

Teotihuacan Empire Lasted 800 Years

The city reached its zenith in 250-550 CE. Its population leveled off, the main structures were in place, and the city’s southern section filled in with about 2,300 residential compounds that housed people from all around its realm of influence. There were enclaves with foreign connections and craft specialists, including styles from highland Oaxaca, the Gulf Lowlands, the Maya area, and Michoacan to the west. There were distinct quarters occupied by Mixtec, Maya, Otomi, Zapotec, and Nahua people. The city’s influence continued to expand with growing political complexity. Early political institutions may have been collective, but the sheer scale of civic-ceremonial structures suggest talented and charismatic leaders responsible for the largest pyramids and increased human

Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent at Teotihuacan

sacrifice. They reached beyond the Basin of Mexico seeking resources, with outposts 124 miles to the west, and by 200 CE Teotihuacan had presences as far away as Pacific coastal Guatemala. Their tendrils reached far south to Maya preclassic sites such as Kaminaljuyu and Abak Takalik. Around 250 CE a burial in Altun Ha, Belize held 243 pieces of green obsidian from Teotihuacan’s mines in Pachuca. Altun Ha was a large-scale center for jade carving, obtained from mines in the Motugua Valley in southeastern Guatemala. Teotihuacan coveted jade and such elite trade goods underlay the empire’s expansion. This spurred greater incursion into Maya regions.

The Maya “Entrada.”

Just over 100 years later, in 378 CE, a group from Teotihuacan changed Maya history in the Peten region. A warlord named Siyaj K’ak (Fire is Born, Smoking Frog) led his warriors to overcome Maya cities of Uaxactun and El Peru. From there his warriors entered Tikal, a venerable city and major power, and the death of Tikal’s ruler Chak Tok Ich’aak  on that same day was recorded. The next ruler was Yax Nuun Ayin, the son of a Teotihuacan lord or ruler called Spearthrower Owl (translated in Mayan as Jatz’om Kuh). It is thought Yax Nuun Ayin married into the local Tikal dynasty, perhaps a royal woman named Une Balam who may have been the Tikal ruler’s daughter. (Janice Van Cleve, “Who Was Queen Une Balam?”) Tikal Stela 31 records these events; shortly afterwards Teotihuacan imagery and building styles such as talud-tablero architecture appeared in Tikal.

Less than 50 years later Teotihuacan influence spread south to Copan, Honduras. Yax K’uk Mo’ (First Quetzal Macaw) was a warrior who spent his early years near Tikal, according to strontium isotope analysis of his bones. He became the “first” ruler of Copan in 426 CE, although there must have been a local dynasty since the city had existed for years. He is portrayed in typical

Photo of Yax K'uk Mo figure

Yax K’uk Mo figure with Tlaloc goggle-eye mask

Teotihuacan battle dress wearing the “goggle-eye” mask typical for the god Tlaloc. He was buried in a rich grave inside Temple 16, and his image has first position in the carvings on Altar Q showing 16 rulers of Copan. His descendants attributed Teotihuacano heritage to their founding ruler. Yax K’uk Mo’ possibly accompanied Siyaj K’ak in the earlier invasion of Tikal as a youth, and continued to spread Teotihuacan’s reach to important jade sources in the Motagua River region. He installed a vassal who had traveled with him, named Tok Casper, at nearby Quirigua. Both these settlements lie on the river network leading from the Motagua Valley to the Caribbean Sea. This gave links for Teotihuacan to control the jade trade.

Photo of structures in talud-tablero style

Talud-tablero architecture at Teotihuacan

Variants of the Teotihuacan talud-tablero building style are found in Tikal, Kaminaljuyu, Copan, Becan, and Oxkintok, especially in the Peten Basin and central Guatemala highlands.

Reasons for Teotihuacan’s success appear to be built into their sociopolitical and religious systems. Some experts think they offered a new, attractive world view that blended religion and government in a unique way. The extensive urban planning and awe-inspiring monuments still observable today provide testimony to this well formed civic-spiritual ideal. The Teotihuacano fusion of extreme religious rituals that included human sacrifice, formalized social structure, and astute political organization formed a powerful matrix that controlled the lives of all who lived within it, and many in distant locales. How closely the ruling elite administered outposts is debated; more likely their agents influenced trade arrangements and local dynastic politics. Cultural diffusion led to adoption of Teotihuacan styles and traits to emulate the powerful empire.

Collapse of an Empire

The enigmatic leaders of Teotihuacan appear by the mid-500s to hold sway over much of Mesoamerica. They mainly accomplished this through political alliances and vassal rulers. By controlling trade networks, they kept the Teotihucano people well fed and living in comparative luxury in an advanced city with running water, sewers, brick homes, neighborhood communities, and multi-level residences. Public rituals with human sacrifice that played out before thousands of viewers maintained priesthood and elite power. Eventually the system did fail by 650 CE. As with collapse of other major civilizations, a number of factors were involved. Perhaps most insidious was internal competition between priests, elites, and leaders. Resources were siphoned off from central government, weakening the discipline and social control systems. A series of long droughts occurred around 535-536 CE, with evidence of famine and malnutrition. It is possible the eruption of the Ilopango volcano in El Salvador in 535 CE created climate changes. There was increased warfare and internal unrest. Popular rebellion led to burning elite dwellings and major civic structures along the Avenue of the Dead. Sculptures inside palaces were shattered. Population declined to 20,000 and Teotihuacan’s power diminished. Many of the elite may have fled the city, going on to create new cultural centers to the south. Other nearby centers such as Cholula, Xochicalco, and Cacaxtla competed to fill the power void. This led to rise of the Totonac, Toltec, and later Aztec peoples.

In October 2018 I visited Teotihuacan for the first time–it was on my bucket list! I went with archeologist Edwin Barnhart on his Maya Exploration Center tour of Basin of Mexico sites. No better way to experience and learn about ancient Mesoamerican cultures. Visit Maya Exploration Center for more information. Dr. Barnhart also made a video lecture series for Great Courses on Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed.

Photo of author at Teotihuacan

Leonide Martin at Teotihuacan, October
2018

Resources

George Cowgill.  Ancient Teotihuacan: Early Urbanism in Central Mexico. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Edwin Barnhart.  Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed. The Great Courses, 2017.

Simon Martin & Nikolai Grube.  Chronicles of the Maya Kings and Queens. Thames & Hudson, 2000.

David Stuart.  “The Arrival of Strangers.” Teotihuacan and Tollan in Classic Maya History. PARI Online Publications, Newsletter #25, July 1998.

Janice Van Cleve.  “Who Was Queen Une Balam?” Research Paper published online, 2003.  http://www.mayas.doodlekit.com

Leonide Martin.  Facebook Page Photo Album, November 2018.  https://www.facebook.com/leonide.martin

The Devil is in the Detail

MayaShamanXC

Mayan Shaman or Brujo

“The Devil is in the Detail” implies that although something might look simple at first, there is a catch hidden in the details.

Often an idea seems wonderful, but turns out impossible to implement. We may be able to agree on generalities, but come to blows on specifics. A project may appear straightforward and easy, but takes more time and effort to carry out than we expected. “The Devil”—our difficulties and challenges—hides in the details.

This is the contemporary understanding of the idiom. But, it was not always interpreted this way. Use of the phrase goes back at least to the early 1800s when French writer Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) said “Le bon Dieu est dans le détail.” By saying “The good God is in the detail” Flaubert was emphasizing that details were sacred and significant.

Photo of Gustave Flaubert, French Novelist

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) French Novelist, Wikipedia

Whatever one was doing, it should be done thoroughly and with full attention. Details are important.

The actual source of the idiom is unknown. It’s generally accepted that German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) used it, but almost certainly did not invent the phrase. It was a favorite of German art historian Aby Warburg (1866-1929) although his biographer could not be certain it originated with him. Some have attributed it to Michelangelo (1475-1564). Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations lists it as an anonymous saying.

Whether “The Devil” or “The Good God” is in the detail, we are led to conclude that details are very important, even possibly sacred. Writers of historical fiction know this all too well. Get the details or facts wrong, and you’ll never stop hearing about it from readers and critics. Put in too many details, in hopes of giving readers a rich and full experience of a culture and time period, and you’re criticized for unnecessary information that slows down the plot. Put in too few details, and readers complain they cannot get a good sense of the setting, culture, character, time period, geography, and so forth. The historical fiction author has then failed in the all-important task of “world-building.”

Books about well-known societies and cultures have fewer challenges in world-building. Most readers already know the Regency or Victorian era, the Tudor or Plantagenet dynasty, Renaissance Italy, medieval times, and popular ancient cultures such as Rome, Greece, or Egypt. Historical fiction authors writing about less known cultures have more need for thorough world-building. In particular, I have in mind ancient Mesoamerican civilizations. Even indigenous groups in North America lived in worlds generally less understood by most readers. In these cases, putting in sufficient details is important.

copy-palanque-pal-dark-cloud_wideview1.jpg

My HF novels are set in ancient Mayan civilization. There is a dearth of literature focused on this culture; even the Aztecs and Incas get more press. Because of this, my books include details of everyday life, technology, arts, and cosmology to provide a fuller picture of this advanced culture. I weave this information into the story with several writers’ caveats in mind: whenever possible “show rather than tell,” make expositional dialogue seem natural, make the details serve the plot or character development. Most importantly, keep it interesting.

Ah, there’s the rub. How much is enough and not too much? Reviewers have called my books “well-detailed,” “no light read,” full of detailed descriptions,” “complex world-building.” They also say the books “provide a realistic feel,” give “depth and meaning to overall events,” and make “the Mayan world and its underlying influences come alive.” But one review from a pricey and well-respected source felt there were just too many details. While the information was captivating, there was far too much for an enjoyable novel. Besides, they complained that readers really didn’t need to know about the “trapezoidal linear truss using high strength timber crossbeams” that made Lakam Ha’s architecture innovative.

Who would want to know? Anyone interested in ancient Mayan civilization.

One often pondered question is how the Mayas built their soaring pyramids of huge stones in a jungle environment without metal tools. Ancient Lakam Ha (Palenque) is widely known as the most graceful and architecturally unique Mayan city. A good deal of literature examines how they built and what innovative technologies allowed Lakam Ha to create its harmonious structures. Mayas traditionally used a corbel arch technique to form ceilings of chambers and passageways. Not a true arch, this technique lacked support strength. At Lakam Ha, ceilings were higher and rooms wider than at other Mayan cities. The trapezoidal linear truss was the technology that made this possible.

Photo of Maya trapezoidal truss

Maya Trapezoidal Linear Truss

In any case, this is mentioned only once in a short passage of three paragraphs. The description is set in dialogue between ruler Pakal and his chief architect. To my thinking, it is such tidbits of detail that give readers a good sense of this remarkable culture’s immense creativity.

But perhaps I get carried away . . . in my most recent book about Mayan queens, publishing in October 2018, one major character is a brilliant astronomer and numerologist. Kan Bahlam II, who becomes ruler of Lakam Ha when Pakal dies, invented the 819-day calendar and a secret code language based on astronumerology called “Zuyua.” He conceived and had built The Cross Group, a three pyramid complex considered the ultimate statement of Palenque creation mythology. Panels in these pyramids are carved with hieroglyphs and figures that embed the secret codes and calendar, and weave them with Kan Bahlam’s personal history. It is pure creative genius.

Photo of stone carving of Kan Bahlam II, Temple XVII Tablet

Kan Bahlam II – Temple XVII Tablet

Therefore, I wanted to share this knowledge with readers. After sending the manuscript to my beta readers, however, their feedback made me realize that although captivating, this really was too much information. Several pages of explanations and examples of astronumerology were cut from the book. After all, it had taken me several years of study to understand it and I couldn’t expect readers to grasp it on first exposure.

Because the Devil is in the Detail.      

Photo of decorated skull

Dia de los Muertos Skull

BUY:  The Mayan Queens Series

The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque

Book Cover The Prophetic Mayan Queen

2019 (paperback and ebook) on Amazon or ask your local bookstore.

An Author’s Appreciation

Leonide MartinIn the writing process, an author comes to realize that readers are an invaluable part. We may write due to internal compulsions, and our books are fulfillment of the creative process, but without people to read those books, something very critical is missing. As we move into 2018, I’m reminded of how blessed I am to have your support and friendship as readers.

In appreciation, I’m giving you a gift. This is a nonfiction booklet I wrote bringing together material about Mayan Queens and women rulers in several cities in Mexico and Guatemala.

Magnificent Mayan Queens:

Native women of Power and Vision, Maya Preclassic to Late Classic Periods.

Magnificent Mayan Queens_V2Booklet on Mayan Queens

Why do we read?

Storytelling has been part of  human society as long as anyone can remember. Before writing, primitive people gathered around a campfire to listen in rapt attention to the local storyteller weave tales of adventure or mystery. Now we sit down with a good book, e-reader, tablet, smart phone, even the TV or DVD for the same experience. Why is reading or listening to stories so compelling for humans? Psychologists who study the “Theory of Mind” say we’re always trying to guess what other people are thinking and feeling, even though we do this unconsciously. Why is this something people universally do? Because this helps us learn which people we can trust and which we cannot. It also provides basic foundations for social interaction; without this we would be in a quandary about how to respond to others.

Not much has changed in this quintessentially human trait in thousands of years, except the way we engage with stories. Researchers at the University of Liverpool found that social topics make up two thirds of people’s conversation through public media, regardless of age or gender. We continue to be fascinated by other people’s stories, one reason why gossip columns and celebrity cults stay popular.  There’s no doubt a voyeur element here, but researchers believe the key value underlying this is empathy. A University of North Carolina psychologist reported that people with high empathy characteristics more easily engage in stories. However, this characteristic varies greatly among people. Some are easily touched emotionally while others seem unaffected by even the saddest or most miraculous stories.

Empathy is “the ability to identify oneself mentally with a person or thing and so understand the other’s feelings or meaning.”  Native Americans described this ability as being able to walk in another person’s moccasins; the proverbial “walk a mile in my shoes.”An interesting research finding is that people who read more have an 83% chance of forming excellent relationships, while those who seldom read have only a 14% chance.  It seems that when you can see the world through another’s eyes, you have more ability to form good relationships. Research suggests that this drive to seek understanding about the experiences and perspectives of other people is deeply ingrained, perhaps even instinctive.

So keep on reading! 

Reading fiction is good for you. It opens a world onto other people and places, where you learn and have vicarious experiences. It goes beyond providing entertainment and diversion, and helps you develop social skills that enhance your relationships. Of course, I’ve got a few good books I can recommend:

Mists of Palenque Series
Four Great Mayan Queens

The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque

The Controversial Mayan Queen: Sak K’uk of Palenque

The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque

Guest Blogpost by J. Mitchel Baker

Guest blogpost by J. Mitchel Baker

It’s my pleasure to host a guest blogpost by J. Mitchel Baker as part of his blog tour. He is featuring his book Journey Within, a lyrical mix of memoir, adventure, and philosophy as he follows his soul’s call to search for the higher design in his life. He embarks on a personal journey into the wilderness, encountering raw nature with its survival challenges and potential for spiritual revelation. This is the true story of a man whose career involves nature and animals, yet whose inner voice called him into the wilderness. After years of postponement, he embarked on his personal quest into the unknown. In raw nature, he encounters unexpected challenges and finds courage through his animals to forge onward. The book highlights “the duality between both the physical and the spiritual. It carries a message of courage and inspiration to connect with life and the inner self, taking the road less traveled, and living authentically.”

Below are Baker’s reflections on the mystical powers inherent in nature. My review of his book follows. — Leonide Martin 

 

J. Mitchel Baker

J. Mitchel Baker

The mystique of the wild

I rage over the discourtesies shown by other drivers on an overfilled urban stretch of road. I stress over the relentless looming of debt. I obsess with the needs of my children. My hypertension rises with the vagaries of office politics and oppressive timelines. This is an ordinary day, played over yet again and again. But is this the life we were truly meant to live? Oh how I wish I were back in the wilds. The wild is often in my dreams; memories acute with wisdom learned.

Find a place in nature: the ocean, the forest, a river, or a mountain top. Sit and simply listen.

It begins with absolute silence. An ear accustomed to too much input will resist the auditory vacuum. A body learned in the ways of constant motion and a full agenda will fight for purpose. But be utterly still. Do not speak. Breathe deeply. Allow the ego to quiet itself. And be mindful of all things internal and external. There you can find your true self. There you can hear your true inner voice. There, in that setting devoid of space and time, is where you find awareness.

The listless flapping of leaves and the slow sway of the trees in the breeze naturally aligns our rhythms to the earth. The colorful grandeur of a mountain range as the sun settles demands we feel small and insignificant, yet happy to be alive. The vastness and brilliance of the stars on a cloudless night remind us we are part of something greater than ourselves. Sacred moments such as these give us pause to reflect on what is truly important in our lives.

The mysticism of these singular moments is the self-realization that the separation between each of us and nature is an illusion. Everything in nature is connected. Her millions of component parts contribute to create a perfect whole. We are part of that whole. She guides us toward something larger than ourselves, forces us to exist in the moment. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Now.

“There came to me a delicate, but at the same time a deep, strong and sensuous enjoyment of the beautiful green earth, the beautiful sky and sun; I felt them, they gave me inexpressible delight, as if they embraced and poured out their love upon me.  It was I who loved them, for my heart was broader than the earth; it is broader now than even then, more thirsty and desirous. After the sensuous enjoyment always come the thought, the desire: That I might be like this; that I might have the inner meaning of the sun, the light, the earth, the trees and grass, translated into some growth of excellence in myself, both of the body and of mind; greater perfection of physique, greater perfection of mind and soul; that I might be higher in myself.”

–   Richard Jefferies, The Story of My Heart 

The mystique of nature is neither measurable nor empirical but rather a deep experience that heals and inspires; an understanding all indigenous people across the globe have acknowledged for thousands of years; each embracing the earth as their mother. The emotional connection is there if you sit and simply listen. But perhaps we have travelled too far into our urban sprawls.

 

A Journey WithinA Journey Within by J. Mitchel Baker

Review by Leonide Martin

This first person account of the author’s quest for his destiny and personal truth is both lyrical and intensely vivid.  Driven by an inner vision to seek the fullness of who he is, Baker plans an adventure on horseback into the wild country of New Mexico. With his dog and three companions, he braves uncharted mountain terrain along the Continental Divide, taking few supplies and depending on nature to provide most needs. The congenial group of men, horses and dog faces unforeseen obstacles and must use wits and instinct to surmount flooded rivers, steep craggy paths, and disappearing trails.

Weaving through scary accounts of close calls with disaster are Baker’s inner reflections, revealing a profound philosophy and dedication to following his spiritual path. These deeply felt considerations are infused with an appreciation and honoring of nature that borders on the mystical. His love for animals and the natural world shines through. He is a man capable of enduring heart rending loss and yet remaining open to the richness of life’s experiences. Quotes at the beginning of each chapter frame the issues he grapples with, or provide inspirations drawn from a surprising range of teachers, from Jung and Freud to Mark Twain and Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Yogi Bera and modern mystic Caroline Myss.

Baker must make choices toward the journey’s end about following his own goals or keeping solidarity with his companions and ensuring safety. His selfless decision truncates the quest and he ponders what more might have been forthcoming had he continued. Feeling that the journey is incomplete and spiritual revelations remain, Baker ends the story setting off on another nature encounter with his horse, dog and one friend. The journey continues as he seeks to discover a greater design for his life.

Preconceptions commonly held about “cowboys” and outdoorsmen in the southwest are dismantled by this sensitive, eloquent memoir.

Continental Divide

Continental Divide

 

Silver Medal for The Red Queen

DD_Red Queen GeBA SilverSilver Medal GEbA

Silver Medal Winner of the 2016 Global Ebook Awards

The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque receives award in Fiction-Historical Literature-Ancient Worlds.

It was an exciting moment when I received the notice in August that my book won a Silver Medal in the Dan Poynter Global Ebook Awards for 2016!

Book awards mean a lot to authors. They validate our efforts and help bring our books to the LM_red hat-2attention of readers and booksellers. The Mayan Red Queen has been given favorable reviews in The Midwest Book Review (2016) and by Writer’s Digest (2016), but this is her first award. So, I am very happy and invite you to share the moment by recalling the story if you’ve read it, or reading the book if not.

“The Mayan world and its underlying influences come alive, making for a thriller highly recommended for readers who also enjoy stories of archaeological wonders.” The Midwest Book Review, Diane Donovan, Editor and Senior Reviewer.

“The quality of this novel is top notch . . . beautifully written. The plot was interesting and very unique. The author’s best skill is in crafting believable yet mythical characters that carry the story almost effortlessly. . . fans of complex world building will be absorbed by this one–with pleasure!” Writer’s Digest 3rd Annual Self-Published e-Book Awards 

(more…)

Maya Exhibit: Ceramics, Art & Adornment

Maya Exhibit Poster

Balboa Park, San Diego Museum of Natural History.

While in San Diego for the holidays in December, 2016, I spent a mesmerizing afternoon in the Maya Exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, Balboa Park. This wonderful display of Maya monuments, ceramics, and art had many original pieces on loan from other institutions, as well as reproductions of murals and larger monuments. In this blogpost, I’ll focus on ceramics, adornment and artwork.

 

 

Clay Vase with Effigy

Clay Vase with Effigy

Ceramics

The Mayas produced a wide variety of beautiful and intricately designed ceramics. Artists were allowed quite a free range of expression, their designs varying from one workshop to another. Artistic quality was more valued than adherence to standardized forms, and certain artists’ works were in high demand among elite. Some artists signed their works, or named the bowls for their owners and functions: “The cacao drinking vase of Ahau Ukib.” These vessels with detailed scenes were used in the form of straight-sided beakers for drinking chocolate mixed with chili peppers, or as bowls for food. Often they

Simple Clay Vessels

Simple Clay Vessels

were used as grave offerings in the tombs of their owners. Simpler and more utilitarian vessels were used by commoners.

To produce pottery, the Mayas used a device that rotated between the potters’ feet, called a kabal. An early ceramic style, called Amyan, appeared in the Guatemalan highlands around 1,000 BCE. It was monochrome with simple design. Originally the Mayas used gourds cut into cup and bowl shapes, and the first ceramics resembled gourds. These were decorated with rocker stamps and simple slips for color. By the Early Classic (250-550 CE) the ceramic style Tzakol developed with more complex jars, plates, bowls and vases having polychrome decorations. This style evolved into Tepeu of the Late Classic (550-700 CE) with more elaborate scenes and color variations. The polychrome slip paint was of various colors, made from plant and mineral sources. Predominant colors are red, orange, black, brown, yellow and cream. These two ceramic styles are considered the most beautiful made in ancient Mesoamerica, primarily depicting animal deities, grotesque monsters, nobles and priests, ceremonial activities, and scenes of sacrifice. New shapes were developed, including the lidded basal flange bowl, which usually had a knob on top in the form of an animal or human head. The painted body of this being often spreads across the pot. Many also had tetrapod legs for support, called “mammiform” since they resembled animal or human legs.

Polychrome Cups and Decorated Bowl

Polychrome Cups and Decorated Bowl

Tripod Vase with Human Head, Teotihuacan

Tripod Vase with Human Head, Teotihuacan

Straight-sided Drinking Cup, Orange on Cream Slip

Straight-sided Drinking Cup, Orange on Cream Slip

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An especially valued polychrome called “Codex style” was produced during the late Classic re-occupation of the pre-Classic sites El Mirador and Nakbe in Guatemala. These ceramics are characterized by scenes and glyphic texts drawn in dark lines on cream-colored backgrounds, usually framed by red bands on the

Polychrome Codex-style Vase

Polychrome Codex-style Vase

edges of the vessels. This gives them a resemblance to the post-Classic Maya Codex texts. This fine painted Codex-style pottery depicts extraordinary mythological scenes, and is highly sought by antiquities collectors, accounting for extensive looting of house mound complexes in Peten. In ancient times, these ceramics were in demand by elites, and have been found throughout the Maya regions.

 

Figurines and Effigies

The Mayas created many small figurines, busts and effigies that represented deities, specific individuals, symbolic monsters or creatures, or roles in society. Materials used to create them include clay, limestone, sandstone, trachyte, wood, jade, bone, shell, and copper. Very few artifacts were made of gold. As these often depict typical activities of ancient Maya life, archaeologists have learned much about costumes, musical instruments, religious rituals, household customs, ballgames, warfare and sacrifice. Among the most well known figurines are those from Jaina, an island off the coast of Campeche, Mexico, used for elite burials.

Figurine of Ruler in Bloodletting Position

Figurine of Ruler in Bloodletting Position

"Incensario" Effigy of God, for Burning Incense

“Incensario” Effigy of God, for Burning Incense

Bust of Janaab Pakal, Ruler of Palenque

Bust of Janaab Pakal, Ruler of Palenque

 

Figurines were painted with the usual plant and mineral pigments. A unique shade of blue appears on some figurines, and in many murals and codices. Called “Maya blue,” it is the most durable Maya color and has only recently been reproduced. The ancient Mayas combined skills in organic chemistry and mineralogy in their technique for creating Maya blue. The pigment is a composite of organic and inorganic constituents, primarily indigo dyes derived from the leaves of the anil (Indigofera) plant, combined with palygorskite, a natural clay. The mix is cooked at low temperature (100 degrees C) until its color turns from blackish to this exquisite sky blue. Other trace elements are present, including copal incense, leading to the idea that producing Maya blue was a sacred process. Copal, resin of a native tree, is dried into incense and burned in symbolic “incensarios” during ceremonies. Using copal in making Maya blue produces the low heat necessary, and imbues the pigment with sacred qualities.

Royal Woman Wearing Maya Blue Adornments Bonampak Murals

Royal Woman Wearing Maya Blue Adornments
Bonampak Murals

Jewelry and Body Decoration

Body adornment was very important to ancient Mayas. They dressed in lavish costumes, wore huge and heavy jewelry, wore complex headdresses with feathers and decorations, had earplugs that needed a balance weight behind, and often embedded gems in their teeth. Facial scarification was also used along with body painting. The Mayas excelled in working with jade, which was highly prized, as it represented the green vibrancy of new plants and the azure of water. Excavations of tombs have yielded large amounts of jade jewelry, mosaics, masks, effigies, plaques and small figures. Royal burials rich in these items have been found in several Maya sites, particularly Palenque, El Peru-Waka, and Tonina. Metal work did not make a significant appearance until after 900 CE, the Post-Classic Period. The Mayas mostly worked in copper, with a small amount of gold appearing as bowls, cups, rings, and effigies. Other items made from copper include bells, tweezers, axes, earplugs, rings, discs, and small masks.

 

Teeth Embedded With Jade and Stones

Teeth Embedded With Jade and Stones

 

Small Jade Mask of Maya Noble

Small Jade Mask of Maya Noble

Jade Necklace

Jade Necklace

Maya Exhibit: Murals and Monuments

Balboa Park, San Diego Museum Complex

Maya Exhibit: Murals and Monuments

Balboa Park, San Diego Museum of Natural History

In December, 2016, while spending holidays with family in San Diego, I was fortunate to find a Maya exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in Balboa Park. After warning my family that I would spend hours perusing the exhibit, camera in hand, I was not surprised that no one wanted to accompany me. Alone and mesmerized by the wonderful display of Maya monuments, ceramics and art, I spent a most enjoyable afternoon. Many original pieces were on exhibit, loaned from other institutions, as well as reproductions of murals and larger monuments. In this blogpost, I’ll focus on murals and monuments, with other posts to follow for ceramics and artwork.

San Bartolo Mural

San Bartolo Mural

The Murals at San Bartolo, Guatemala

In 2001 William Saturno, of the University of New Hampshire and Harvard’s Peabody Museum, found an entrance into buried chambers while seeking shade. He ducked into a looters’ trench in an unexcavated pyramid, and when he shone his flashlight on the walls, he saw an elaborate, finely-painted mural. Called “Las Pinturas,” the structure’s murals were dated from 100 BCE and showed mythological scenes related to the origin of kings. Later excavations revealed additional murals, called a masterpiece of ancient Maya art. The 30 x 3 foot mural on the west wall reveals the Maya story of creation, the mythology of kingship and divine right of kings, and depicts two coronation scenes—one mythological and the other an actual king’s coronation. Other discoveries at the site include the oldest known Maya royal burial, around 150 BCE, and significantly older painted polychrome murals in a deeper chamber with Maize God images, dated around 200—400 BCE. Glyphs within the murals date to centuries before most other Maya texts, and remain hard to read. David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin, leading Maya epigrapher, said one scene names a young god as “star man” and emphasizes his cosmological role within the larger creation myth represented.

The San Bartolo mural featured at Balboa Park is the scene of the Maya creation myth, the first known depiction in narrative form, according to Karl Taube, University of California, Riverside, an expert in ancient Mesoamerican history.

San Bartolo Mural Redrawn from Heather Hurst by National Geographic

San Bartolo Mural Redrawn from Heather Hurst by National Geographic

In this mythological story, the Maize God travels through the underworld and is eventually resurrected, giving birth to the Mayan people. From left to right, the mural begins with an unusual birth scene; four infants scattering from a gourd that may represent the four cardinal directions, while a fifth emerges in the cleft or center of creation. A supernatural being with a serpent headdress witnesses the birth scene, and to its right is a stylized Flower Mountain that offers passage from the underworld, place of ancestors, to the Earth’s surface. This represents the birth of the people from the mythic cave of origin, depicted as a small serpent emerging from a hole at the base of the mountain. A kneeling woman near the cave offers a ceramic pot of tamales, symbolic of the people being formed from corn. In front of her, a kneeling black-faced man offers water in a gourd, symbolizing the essentials (food and water) needed to sustain life. The pair present their offerings to a red-bodied Maize God, who looks over his shoulder at two stacked kneeling women, waiting to take the offerings from him. They are possibly aspects of the wind goddess. Next is the Maize God’s wife, the only standing woman who is wearing an elaborate bird headdress. Behind her are two black and red figures bearing burdens on their heads and carrying ritual

Maize God in Center of Scene

Maize God in Center of Scene

Woman Kneeling by Flower Mountain

Woman Kneeling by Flower Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

implements in loincloths. They carry sacred objects for the Maize God and his wife. The final figure is an immense serpent whose body underlies the entire scene. Its tail emerges from Flower Mountain and its upturned head with open mouth emits large red speech scrolls. Black footprints along the red part of the snake’s body indicate it is a path for supernatural travel. The snake-as-ground motif is found widely in Mesoamerica. The Maize God is the central figure in the scene, personification of cycles of life, death and rebirth. The woman may be dressing him for his journey to death and resurrection. Red spirals coming from his mouth indicate breath and speech. Two short columns of glyphs between the bearers are ancient, hundreds of years earlier than most known Maya glyphs.

 

Murals at Bonampak Procession of Lords

The Murals at Bonampak, Chiapas, Mexico

The Bonampak murals are perhaps the best known of all Maya wall paintings. Lying close to a tributary of the Usumacinta River, it was first seen by non-Mayans in 1946, but it’s unclear who first visited the site. Two American travelers were led to the ruins by a local Lacandon Maya; his people still visited the site to pray in ancient temples. The site itself is unimpressive, but a small structure on a low hill holds the famous murals. Structure 1 at Bonampak, which holds the murals, was dedicated on November 11, 791 CE. Bonampak had become a satellite community of nearby Yaxchilán, whose ruler Itzamnaaj Bahlam II (Shield Jaguar) appointed his nephew Chan Muwaan II to govern the city in 790 CE. Shield Jaguar hired Yaxchilán artisans to construct the Temple of Murals.

Murals at Bonampak Ruler and Captives

Murals at Bonampak
Ruler and Captives

Structure 1 has three rooms containing murals. The paintings show the story of a single battle and its victorious outcome. Among the best preserved Maya murals, these are noted for their vivid depiction of battle scenes, captive torture, sacrifice, and royal rituals and processions. They also depict women doing self-bloodletting by piercing tongues and earlobes with stingray spines. The battle scenes contradicted early assumptions that the Maya were a peaceful culture of mystics, a position long-held by influential Mesoamerican archaeologist, ethnohistorian and epigrapher from the Carnegie Institute of Washington, Sir John Eric Sidney Thompson.

Colors on the mural are intense and bright, although covered by a film of dissolved limestone when first discovered. Musical Instruments, costumes, body adornment, and weapons are documented from the

Murals at Bonampak Women Performing Self-Bloodletting

Murals at Bonampak
Women Performing Self-Bloodletting

period giving valuable information about Mayan culture. The vivid colored frescos of turquoise blues, yellows and rust colors are a treasure of data about royal life and ceremonies. Unfortunately the murals have deteriorated badly since their discovery. Early archeologists from the Carnegie Institution doused them in kerosene to remove the film and intensify the colors. This weakened the plaster, causing paint and plaster to flake and fall off.

Mary Miller of Yale University, who studied the murals extensively, wrote “Perhaps no single artifact from the ancient New World offers as complex a view of pre-Hispanic society as do the Bonampak paintings. No other work features so many Maya engaged in the life of the court and rendered in such great detail, making the Bonampak murals an unparalleled resource for understanding ancient society.”

Murals at Bonampak Maya Ruler

Murals at Bonampak
Maya Ruler

 

Murals at Bonampak Lord Wearing Solar Disk

Murals at Bonampak
Lord Wearing Solar Disk

Murals at Bonampak Royal Women

Murals at Bonampak
Royal Women

 

 

Cut-away Model of Three Chambers in Bonampak Murals

Cut-away Model of Three Chambers in Bonampak Murals

 

Monuments: A few large replicas of stelae, buildings, plazas and carved frescoes were on display.
Stela from Copan, Honduras

Stela from Copan, Honduras

Carved Fresco on Pyramid in Xunantunich, Belize

Carved Fresco on Pyramid in Xunantunich, Belize

Mask in Profile facing plaza

Mask in Profile facing plaza

 

 

 

 

Carved Lineage of Rulers of Copan Bench/Altar

Carved Lineage of Rulers of Copan
Bench/Altar

 

 

Who Was the Mayan Red Queen? Part 2 – The Evidence of Her Life

Red Queen face closeupThe Mayan Red Queen

continued to be an enigma to archaeologists for nearly two decades after her tomb was discovered in Temple XIII at Palenque in 1994. Her skeleton and inside of her sarcophagus were coated with red cinnabar, a mercuric oxide preservative used in royal burials. This led archaeologists to nickname her “The Red Queen.” It also made analysis of her bones and teeth difficult, and many years passed until scientific techniques advanced enough to provide reliable data. The lack of inscriptions and the sparse ceramic evidence found inside her tomb further muddied the waters. Most Mayan royal tombs contained carved or painted hieroglyphs identifying who was interred. The adjacent pyramid tomb of K’inich Janaab Pakal in Palenque was full of hieroglyphic records; his ancestors were carved on the sides of his sarcophagus, important gods and mythohistoric figures were painted on the crypt walls, and the sarcophagus lid clearly identified him. Numerous ceramic offerings allowed dating of the interment to the late 600s AD.

The situation of the Mayan Red Queen was quite different. Her sarcophagus contained no inscriptions, the crypt walls were bare, and ceramics few. The shape and characteristics of the censer, vases and plate found in her tomb corresponded to the Otolum ceramic complex, which has been placed between 600-700 AD. Her life overlapped with that of Pakal, and her pyramid tomb adjoined his, so it seemed evident that there was an important connection between them. Additional corollaries in their burials include a monolithic lidded sarcophagus inside a mortuary crypt, jade masks, diadems, jade beads, pearls and three small axes in a ceremonial belt. Both skeletons and insides of their sarcophagi were painted red with cinnabar. Two significant women in Pakal’s life died in that time period: his mother Sak K’uk and his wife, Tz’aakb’u Ahau. Some archaeologists believed the Red Queen was his mother; others favored his wife. In 2012 the mystery was most probably solved when DNA studies revealed that The Red Queen and Pakal did not share common DNA. This was further supported by strontium isotopes studies conducted a few years earlier showing that the two grew up in different areas within the region. Now most agree that Pakal’s wife, Tz’aakb’u Ahau, was interred in Temple XIII and she is The Mayan Red Queen.

What do we know of her life?

West Tablet from Temple of the Inscriptions Linda Schele - Mesoweb

West Tablet from Temple of the Inscriptions
Linda Schele – Mesoweb

Unfortunately, very little evidence has been found so far. Palenque is famous for its high quality, graceful hieroglyphs and realistic carved figures. The Three Tablets of the Temple of the Inscriptions (Pakal’s burial pyramid) contain 617 glyphs, one of the longest Maya inscriptions known. The West Tablet, covering the later years of Pakal’s reign, contains two references to her:

“Seventeen days after the 3 Ahau 3 Uayeb (Period Ending), Lady Tz’aakb’u Ahau was married on 7 Caban 15 Pop.”

“Forty-seven years after she became queen, Lady Tz’aakb’u Ahau passed away on 5 Etznab 6 Kankin.”

These follow lengthy descriptions of actions taken by Pakal, and the dates are tied into the Long Count calendar by use of a Distance Number to the nearest Period Ending, which was 9.9.13.0.0 (3 Ahau 3 Uayab) or 626 AD. These later passages of the West Tablet were commissioned by their oldest son, K’inich Kan Bahlam II, after his father’s death. He recorded the marriage and deaths of his mother and father.

Tz’aakb’u Ahau is depicted in carvings on two tablets from Palenque. The Palace Tablet has carved relief figures showing her third son, K’inich Kan Joy Chitam II, seated on a double-headed serpent bar, receiving the headdress of royalty from his father Pakal, as his mother (Tz’aakb’u Ahau) offers him the god-figurine symbol of divine ancestry. This large tablet filled with rows of hieroglyphs originally adorned the rear wall of the Palace’s northern gallery, Houses A-D. The Dumbarton Oaks tablet shows a young K’inich Kan Joy Chitam II dancing in the guise of the rain god, flanked by his mother and father. This is the only surviving part of a larger composition that probably was surrounded by glyphs. The stone tablet was illicitly removed from an unknown temple in the mid-20th century; it now resides in Washington, DC.

The Palace Tablet Pakal - Kan Joy Chitam - Tz'aakb'u Ahau

The Palace Tablet
Pakal – Kan Joy Chitam – Tz’aakb’u Ahau

Dumbarton Oaks Tablet Tz'aakb'u Ahau - Kan Joy Chitam - Pakal

Dumbarton Oaks Tablet
Tz’aakb’u Ahau – Kan Joy Chitam – Pakal

Such fragments of evidence give a little knowledge of The Mayan Red Queen’s life: she came from a nearby city, married Pakal in 626 AD, bore him four sons, participated in accessions rituals symbolically after her death, and died in 672 AD, eleven years before Pakal’s death in 683 AD. She was buried regally in a smaller temple adjacent to Pakal’s.

Would you like to know more about what her life might have been? Her imagined story is told in my historical fiction book The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque.

GEbA-Nominee

Silver Medal Winner 2016 Global Ebook Award!

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