Skeletons, Skulls, and Bones in the Art of Chichen Itza
The Aztecs considered the bones of slain captives to be powerful, a belief probably shared by the earlier Maya: one Maya hieroglyph for “captive” translates as “bone”, for example. Nevertheless, during the Classic period (A.D. 300-900) at southern Maya sites like Tikal and Yaxchilán, war-related imagery focuses more on the capture and humiliation of enemies than on their sacrificial deaths or their post-mortem remains. In contrast, at northern Maya sites in Yucatán and at Chichén Itzá in particular, battle scenes, sacrifice, skulls, and bones are frequent themes in reliefs, murals, and other media such as jade and gold. The skull rack, a new architectural form decorated with sculpted impaled skulls and marching warriors bearing severed heads, was prominently placed right next to the massive ballcourt. Even when no human heads were on display, these reliefs may have served as a grim reminder of the potential power of Chichén’s rulers. Why this upsurge in graphic sacrificial and death imagery between about A.D. 800 and 1000? Were the Itzá militarily more successful than their predecessors? Why are both victors and defeated presented in groups and anonymously, in contrast to the southern Maya practice of naming individual captors and captives? Did the northern Maya practice human sacrifice on a more massive scale, foreshadowing later Aztec practices? These are just some of the questions to be addressed in the lecture.
(Brush National Lecture. Presented with the Explorers Club)
November 5 at 6:30 pm (Refreshments to precede lecture at 6:00)
Explorers Club, 46 East 70th Street
✎ RSVP Required. Registration for AIA is separate from the Explorers Club. Details will be posted here and sent via email to AIA-New York Society members prior to the event.