Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Ancient Maya Lady Makes Dramatic Sacrifice at British Museum

Photos and text by Russell Maddicks
There's a fascinating collection of ancient Mexican‬ artifacts at the British Museum in London‬.
This stone stela from the Mayan‬ city of Yaxchilan‬, on the banks of the Usumacinta River in present-day Chiapas State, shows a woman identified as Lady Xoc pulling a rope studded with thorns or obsidian shards through a hole pierced in her tongue while the king, identified as Shield Jaguar III, illuminates the scene with a flaming torch.
Thanks to the fastidious timekeeping of the Maya we know that Lady Xoc's bloodletting sacrifice took place on 24 October in 709 AD. 
Shield Jaguar is also dressed for bloodletting, and may be preparing to pierce his ears and penis with a stingray spine, rituals depicted in other stelae.
The drops of blood that fall from her tongue are collected on the folded papyrus in a bowl at her feet.
The papyrus will later be burnt so Lady Xoc can communicate through a Vision Serpent - created by the smoke - with the deceased founder of the Yaxchilan ruling dynasty, Yopat Balam, a scene depicted in another lintel from Yaxchilan.
Hallucinogens would also probably have been involved in the ritual, and enema tubes have been found in Mayan tombs suggesting that infusions of psychotropic plants, tobacco and even chocolate would have been taken via enemas, which alongside the pain and lightheadedness caused by bloodletting would induce the state that allowed communication with important ancestors.
The only other other female nobles depicted undergoing these royal bloodletting rituals are in the stunning wall paintings of the nearby Mayan site of Bonampak. But the prominence of the stone lintels at Yaxchilan showing Lady Xoc's ritual sacrifice have led some scholars to conclude that Lady Xoc was a particularly powerful Mayan lady.

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