In the Central Yucatan Peninsula
Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors)
Itza was founded in the dawn of the 6th century by the Itzan. Across
the span of several centuries, the city was vanquished, enslaved,
abandoned and re-settled many times, and then for unknown reasons, was
abandoned forever in the early 15th century.
By the time the Spanish conquistadors and clerics began exploration of
this new world, the Maya city of Chichen Itza was
jungle-shrouded ruin. The Europeans paid little attention
to the ruins,
existence of this once great Maya city faded
from memory. The
lost world of the Maya remained a secret of the Meso-American jungles
until rediscovered by explorers, John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick
Catherwood in 1839. While
still shrouded in mystery, Chichen Itza is believed to have been a
center of culture, trade, and ceremonial worship.
Ceremonial Worship and Human
In the early age of Maya culture, worship included human sacrifice.
Within the ruined city there is an enormous natural well called "Cenote
de Sacraticios." The Cenote is truly a "well of souls" for it is the
place of the Maya sacrificial offerings.
Only the most worthy Maya men were chosen to cast
themselves into the silent waters below, weighted with heavy stones so they,
by their death, may bring the blessings of their gods to the city.
Recently, archaeologists have discovered
that the Mayan priest also sacrificed male children to petition the gods
for quenching rain and abundant crops. Evidence suggests that most
of the children were thrown to a watery death while alive, but in some
cases their young bodies were ritually dismembered before being
Within the Cenote
de Sacraticios, archaeologists have discovered the bones of 127
young boys, all between the ages of 3 and 11. It was believed that
the gods preferred small people. The other male bodies discovered
were of adult age. In addition, many beautiful objects of jade,
silver, gold, copper, and pottery have been found in the sacrificial
well. (Today, adventurous tourist can swim in the infamous cenote.)
Under the influence of the conquering
warrior Toltecs, the nature of the
Mayan sacrificial ceremony took on a different dimension, one of even
executions. Within this new "cult of the skull," homage and sacrifice
grew to include a 'blood sport," intended not only to appease the gods of life
and death, but also for the amusement of the ruling class.
God-like Power and Presence:
One of the most impressive structures within Chichen Itza, is the
pyramid of Kukulcan. It is of Toltec influence, with two gigantic
feathered serpents framing the main staircase into the sky. Kukulcan
is a Maya deity represented as a feathered serpent. The pyramid is also
know as the "The Castillo."
The builders of this ancient structure engineered it in such a way that
mysterious acoustical phenomenon occurs. A chief standing at the top of
the structure with a crowed courtyard of subjects below had only to
speak in a normal voice and his voice was magnified many times over. In
descending the pyramid, the steps gave off a thunderous resonance with
each foot-fall. The acoustics served to make the priests and ruling
class seem powerful and god-like. This phenomenon, and the prospect of
being the next person chosen for the sacrificial alter, commanded the
allegiance of all of the people.
strange acoustical properties are most prominent in the Ball Court, one
of the more interesting structures of Chichen Itza. A
warrior captain of a Maya team could stand in center court and clap his
hands together only once, and have it answered by seven sharp and
distinct echoes. The number seven had great spiritual significance
to the Maya. Also, at each end of the Ball Court, separated
by a distance of nearly 180 feet, are viewing structures. The
ruling class, sitting in one structure, could speak in normal tones of
voice and be heard clearly by their dignitary guests at the opposite end
of the court, even above the cheering crowd. (Scientists are still
a bit puzzled by the numerous acoustical phenomena that occur within Chichen Itza, but theorize it is
a combination of the architecture and a property within the stone the
Maya used for building.)
Birthplace of modern sports:
The Maya "blood sport,"
played on the Ball Court at Chichen Itza was the forerunner of several
modern sports, including soccer, basketball, lacrosse and jai-alai. The
Maya, however played with a very different purpose in mind other than
winning. The Maya contests were played for the good harvest, and the
blessings of the heavens and stars. They played to be proved worthy
enough to be sacrificed to the gods.
The object of the Maya Ball Game was to
drive a small cork ball wrapped in rubber, through the stone ring high
on each side wall of the Ball Court. While this may not seem to be so
difficult, the players could not use their hands. They could use their
hips, head, feet, knees, elbows, virtually any part of their body,
except the hands. There were seven players on each team. Because of
the extreme difficulty the game ended when a team scored. The games
could go on for days and weeks, rain or shine, into the night and into
the dawn, until it was over. Competition was fierce, losing was a
disgrace, where winning meant honorable death. At the end of a
competition, the victorious team captain walked to center court as did
the losing captain. The victor clapped once, answered by the seven
echoes, and as he knelt before the losing captain, he was beheaded by
his opponent with one swift blow from a large broad bladed scythe.
death of the warrior captain ensured the village good and bountiful
harvest, and placated the rain god. It also immortalized the warrior.
In the photograph of the carved stone wall, you can see the victorious
warrior on one knee, with seven snakes gushing from his decapitated
body. The snakes represent good, and are the messengers to the gods.
The Beheading of the
Dr. Von Zuko 2008©