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This figurine, thought to depict Lady K'abel, was part of a cache of 23 ceramic figures excavated from a burial site at El Peru-Waka' in As Reese-Taylor began sifting through more hieroglyphs looking for inscriptions and dates associated with queens, she determined that the northern Maya dynasties prized their female ancestors, and the Kaan seem to have placed great value on royal women. After , Kaan princesses married into many local ruling houses in the lowlands, carrying these new ideas with them.

It was up front and center. Then Reese-Taylor found the epigraphic, or inscription, work of Maya scholar Linda Schele, which revealed that at the height of the rainy season in , a Maya princess from Dos Pilas, in what is now west-central Guatemala, arrived in the shattered city of Naranjo, just west of the Belize-Guatemala border.

While this leader died shortly after marriage, he left Ix Wak Chan Ajaw in charge. She did not disappoint. Deftly stepping into the throne, she launched eight major military campaigns over five years, torching the cities of her enemies.

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Her early battlefield record helped Reese-Taylor understand the trajectory of women warriors through Maya history. Ix Wak Chan Ajaw was not the only Maya princess who scooped up the reins of power. Ardren, too, has sifted through evidence from royal tombs and inscriptions, searching for traces of female rulers.

Ancient Peoples - Women of the Ancient Mayan Ancient Maya women had

In all, she says, excavators have recorded nearly two-dozen tombs of royal women. Archaeologist Kathryn Reese-Taylor visited the ruins of Naachtun in , widely regarded as one of the most remote sites in the ancient Maya world. While some, such as a burial chamber found at Nakum, west of Naachtun, are relatively modest, containing only a few painted pots, others clearly advertise the great wealth and influence of the occupant.

At Copan, to the south, for example, fifth-century mourners dressed their dead queen in burial garments shimmering with precious greenstone beads, shell ornaments and feathered bird heads, and they laid her to rest on a massive carved funerary slab in what is known today as the Margarita Tomb. Then they sprinkled her remains with costly imported red pigments from the minerals cinnabar and hematite. In , more evidence emerged from Guatemala. Louis uncovered the tomb of a royal woman. Her bones lay resting beneath a shrine, surrounded by jewels and two figurines.

For Reese-Taylor, Ardren and many others, these new findings reveal much that previous researchers have missed when it came to Maya queens. By analyzing hieroglyphic inscriptions and illustrations of costumed queens, poring over evidence from royal tombs and reconstructing royal dynasties, Reese-Taylor and her colleagues have revealed for the first time how some Maya queens ruled alone in turbulent times, securing their dynasties and their kingdoms from usurpers, while others led their subjects to war, presiding over battles of attrition against enemy kings.


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Dressed to Kill Maya artists frequently portrayed the military prowess of their kings by showing them trampling over cowering prisoners. The Cleveland Museum of Art, purchase from the J. Wade Fund Politics and Hieroglyphics Hieroglyphic inscriptions offered clues about the role of Maya queens, too. Before the Fall For Reese-Taylor, Ardren and many others, these new findings reveal much that previous researchers have missed when it came to Maya queens. You might also like. Could We Travel Through a Wormhole?

Do Probiotics Really Work? Flex your cortex with Discover. Photo by author, While Ix Chel is a triple goddess with three forms - maiden, mother and crone - she wears the coiled snake headdress in only two of these. As the maiden, she is called Goddess I in the codices, the young moon goddess. She wears the coiled snake headdress to signify her powers of healing and intuitive knowledge, her skills at medicine and midwifery, and her ability to control earthly forces. She often has the glyph sak, Mayan word for white, in her headdress to indicate visible phases of the moon.

Women prayed to her for fertility and successful pregnancy, believed she was responsible for the development of the fetus and determination of its sex. They placed carved images under their bed to sustain pregnancy and provide safe childbirth. Ix Chel's name means "Lady Rainbow" where Ix signifies divine feminine, goddess and woman and Chel means rainbow or translucent light. She is closely associated with water, including lakes, rivers and oceans where it is common to see rainbows. Continuing into modern times, women sleep beside waters and pray for her guidance in dreams.

Figure 3. In the form of mother, Ix Chel takes on blended qualities of both moon and earth goddess. She is still called Goddess I in the codices, but given the additional name Ixik Kab , which translates as "Lady Earth. Her headdress may have the sak glyph, linking her to the moon in its waxing aspects and the whiteness of cotton. It is said that her headdress does not contain the coiled serpent because she is too busy as wife and mother to attend to healing needs.

She is associated with sexual desire, fertility, motherhood, weaving, the earth and crops. Images in the codices portray her in amorous scenes, some picturing explicit sexual union. She is also depicted with an enlarged pregnant belly, carrying children on her back, and offering burdens that include maize and fish. At times she has a bird perched on her shoulders, which might represent disease or could prognosticate a coming astrological sign.

Ethnographic accounts have reported Maya beliefs that the waxing moon brings illnesses such as infections, tumors or pustules. Ixik Kab - Ix Chel has a roving eye, depicted in codices paired with many different male figures. These sexual unions represent planetary and stellar conjunctions, and relate to contemporary folktales that describe the Moon - Earth Goddess as a deity with many romantic partners.

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The moon has many lovers because it moves rapidly through the sky, frequently encountering planets as it circles around. These folktales tell that the young Ix Chel was independent and headstrong, and eloped to marry the Sun God. But she would not obey him, so he got angry and mistreated her until she ran away with the Morning Star God Venus. Following his celestial movements, she hid much of the time from her angry husband.

Soon the Morning Star God became weary of her refusal to obey him and he locked her up, but she escaped and ran away with the Vulture God.

What Life Was Like for the Mayas

The Sun God heard about this and planned to retrieve her by covering himself in a deer skin, pretending to be dead. When the vultures came to eat, the Sun God grabbed one by the wing and was carried to the house of the Vulture God. They fought furiously, but the Sun God won and took Ix Chel back. His jealousy wearied her again, and they quarrelled causing the heavens to thunder and shoot bolts of lightning to earth. In his anger, the Sun God took away Ix Chel's brilliant rainbow colors and left her with only the pale light of the moon.

Ix Chel as moon mother appears in an incised ceramic vessel now in the American Museum of Natural History. On the vessel, a large snake with mirrors on its body loops around many images. One shows a lunar crescent enclosing the Moon Goddess holding a rabbit. She wears a short, latticed bead skirt and her headdress contains maize foliation, merging her with the Maize God and reiterating her fecundity. In Maya folklore, Ix Chel took her pet rabbit symbol of fertility and hid herself in the moon to escape the Sun God's fury. She wanders the night sky making herself invisible whenever her husband shows his fiery head.

During the dark days of the moon, she rests from her travels. When the moon is full, you can see her sitting in the moon holding her rabbit while she watches over the earth, taking care of women and children and guiding healers. She wears the coiled serpent headdress in both her life-giving and destructive forms as a Grandmother Earth Goddess of the moon, rain, medicine and death.

The serpent headdress signifies her abilities in medicine, healing, intuitive wisdom and spiritual powers. She often functions as the aged female curer curendera , diviner and midwife who also eases people in their dying process, absorbing bodies of the deceased into her physical body, the earth. This is a role still frequently undertaken by old women in Mesoamerica. Chak Chel - Ix Chel has many attributes, portrayed in codices as a beneficent water goddess frequently paired with the rain god Chaak, as the female member of the creator couple paired with Itzamna, and as a world destroyer shown with bestial characteristics and death symbols.

Figure 4. Chel means rainbow or arch of heaven, so the Chak Chel name could be the "red rainbow moon," another image of the rainy-season moon. Depictions in codices show Goddess O wearing a coiled serpent headdress and holding an overturned water jar pouring water.


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This symbolizes the connections between rain and serpents; when the serpent rainbow surrounds the moon, it signifies there will be rain. In her beneficent aspects, Chak Chel pours water from a clay pot shaped like a womb onto the earth to prepare soils for planting and restore the waters of lakes and streams. This symbolizes her pouring of blessings and healing onto the world.

In two scenes from the Madrid Codex, Chak Chel emits water from her pelvic region and armpits, variously interpreted as depicting the rush of amniotic fluid before childbirth or the symbolic power of menstrual blood and body fluids to bring fertility. This aspect of the crone goddess is associated with the waning moon. Figure 5. In her destructive aspects, Chak Chel has monstrous appearance with sharp claws and a skirt full of crossed bones.

Her clawed hands and feet seem to be those of a jaguar, and sometimes she has a jaguar-spotted eye. When pouring water in this aspect, she sends forth storms, floods and hurricanes. One depiction in the codices shows her pouring huge amounts of water in collaboration with a serpent, thought to represent the deluge that destroyed the second Maya creation of mud people. Another dangerous aspect pictured in the Dresden Codex shows Goddess O as the new moon threatening to eclipse the sun. She pours rainwater marked with glyphs referring to an 1,day cycle, the cycle associated with solar eclipse images in the Paris Codex.

Women in Mayan Society

There is increased incidence of solar eclipses during the new moon, and the Mayas feared that eclipses might bring destruction to the world. Ix Chel in her aspects as healer wearing the coiled snake headdress continues to wield strong influence in Mesoamerica, with recent branching to North America and Europe. Traditional Maya medicine is still widely practiced in villages throughout these regions. Figure 6. By Leonide Martin. Leonide Martin is a retired California State University professor, and currently an author and Maya researcher.

Her books bring ancient Maya culture and civilization to life in stories about both real historical Mayans and fictional characters. She has studied Maya archaeology, anthropology and history from the scientific and indigenous viewpoints. Ardren, T editor. Ancient Maya Women. Arvigo, R. Sastun: My Apprenticeship with a Maya Healer.