The 3.576 feet tall by 2.56 feet wide and 1.2 inch deep stone carving were found at Temple 23 in Yaxchilan, Maya Ruins, Mexico in 1806. This lintel along with six others were removed and placed in the British Museum in Great Britain. The Maya civilization created this specific lintel around 700-750 CE. The lintel is a support for a temple. The carving depicts a blood-letting ritual that occurred on October 24, 1709. The king of Yaxchilan, Shield Jaguar the Great, holds a torch over his wife’s head as she pulls a thorny rope through a hole in her tongue and catches the blood into a paper filled basket.
The Yaxchilan Lintel 24 was carved out of limestone. The lintel was a detailed decoration set above a door way. The carving has traces of blue, turquoise and red pigments on it. The carvings include Yaxchilan hieroglyphics containing the event, date and place of the depiction. There are also hieroglyphics carved in that give the titles and name of Lady K'ab'al Xook [See British Museum].
The carving, as intricate as it may be, was not advanced for the time; however it was for the location and time. The Maya were among the most sophisticated in the Mesoamerican region. The sculptures, art, crafts and paintings of the civilization were the most advanced ever seen in the Americas. The hieroglyphics were the best written language system in America. The most intriguing part is the Maya calendar which made it possible to carve the date into the object.
An English archaeologist, Dr. Alfred Maudslay took an expedition to the Maya ruins and cast the lintel. He later asked to have the carving excavated and placed in the British Museum.
Local Historical Context:Edit
The object depicts a blood-letting ritual of the Maya civilization. These rituals were required of royal, as an offering to the gods to guarantee the continuation of life [See Meisler 2004]. The rituals also helped keep moral for the hierarchy high. Religious offerings to the gods were an important part of the Maya culture. The Maya civilization was composed of 60 city-states ruled by hereditary kings all expected to complete blood-letting rituals if they were true to the position. The king, Shield Jaguar the Great, is the man holding the torch in Lintel 24.
The Maya subjects had many roles in the civilization. There were queens, nobles, priests, messengers, eunuchs, ballplayers, singers, trumpeters, dancers, tortilla makers, weavers, artists, and carvers. Scribes, a vital part of court life, recorded events, kept accounts of tribute and also functioned as artists [See Meisler 2004]. The civilization was filled with rich culture and art. This means that the people creating these immaculate carvings were most likely to be of a higher standing of living, as an artisan, than a peasant or farmer.
The lintel was created to decorate a temple dedicated to King Shield Jaguar the Great’s wife Lady K'abal Xook. The temple was a representation of power. The lintels created to decorate the temple were to memorialize rituals that gave her power. These carvings were a part of the temple’s plan that was made by order of the king. This would be a great honour for the queen to have her own temple built.
The most significant part of the object is within the small hieroglyphics marked on it. The Maya created an elaborate calendar system using astrology. Stone resurrections were focal points and indicators of dates. The Maya could keep well organized records this way. The ritual depicted in the artifact has an exact date of when it occurred marked on it. Among having so many great cultural features the Maya created a full time and date system unlike anything before.
The Maya were also very religious. Like many other civilizations before its time the society was based around religion. The temples built in the centers of the city-states were solely used for religious ceremony and not as an urban populous or living center. The relic comes from a temple in one of these religious epicenters. Religion was used to reinforce the hierarchy as well. Many civilizations have been built and ran by unified religion as the Maya were.
Haines, Helen r., Philip W. Willink, and David Maxwell. "Stingray Spine use and Maya Bloodletting Rituals: A Cautionary Tale." Latin American Antiquity 19, no. 1 (March 2008): 83-98. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 20, 2011).
Meisler, Stanley. "Of Majesty and Mayhem. (Cover story)." Smithsonian 35, no. 4 (July 2004): 49-57. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 20, 2011).
Stuart, David. "Kings of stone." Res no. 29/30 (Autumn96 1996): 148-171. Art & Architecture Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 20, 2011).
“An Introduction to the Maya Civilization,” http://archaeology.about.com/od/mayaarchaeology/a/maya_civ.htm
British Museum, “Maya relief of royal blood-letting,” http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aoa/y/maya_royal_blood-letting.aspx
National Gallery of Art, “Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya,” http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2004/maya/womenatcourt.htm
National Geographic, “Maya Rise and Fall,” http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2007/08/maya-rise-fall/gugliotta-text