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Saturday Art and Archaeology: Mayan Tradition In Today’s World

Museum of the Americas in Washington, D.C.

Today the Mayan cultural centers are visited not by those observing ritual as they were originally intended, but students of the Mayan civilization and many general travelers and tourists.   Their traditions, however, continue in many ways.  In the Museum of the Americas, above, artworks depict the traditionsdescendants still teach and represent in their culture.

Carlos Merida’s Lithograph of Popol Vuh

The mythology of human origin as creatures brought from maize that is taught in their creation story, the Popol Vuh,  is common in Mesoamerica, and among many tribes in the North American continent.   Even in contemporary art are found references to emerging from and honoring as ancestors the maize that is a major source of sustenance.   The rain rituals also refer to the maize as sacred, and its cultivation as a major important human activity.

 The majority of corn deities are female and associated with fertility. They include the Cherokee goddess Selu; Yellow Woman and the Corn Mother goddess Iyatiku of the Keresan people of the American Southwest; and Chicomecoatl, the goddess of maize who was worshiped by the Aztecs of Mexico. The Maya believed that humans had been fashioned out of corn, and they based their calendar on the planting of the cornfield.

Rain ceremony at Ft. Union, N.Dakota, where trading was done by Assiniboine, Crow, Cree, Ojibway, Blackfeet, and Hidatsa Tribes

(Picture above courtesy of Lindsey G at

Central American dress retains a flavor of the ancient fabrics, and the scarves of present day tribes are still reminiscent of the early weaving of the Maya, and the materialsthey used are replicated in the more common ones of today.   The sacred ceiba tree gave them soft fibers, but today’s cloth is more likely to be cotton.

The Rebozo reflects its origins in Maya woven art

In the decoration of today’s buildings and present day art, we often find the Mayan calendar, and sometimes historical figures as well.   The best known works now on display in ceremonial centers and visited by many thousands will be found worked into our modern world, and in its art and popular culture.

Altar Q from Copan is represented in tile on the floor of headquarters of the Organization of American States, in Washington, D.C.

Of course, our museums contain treasures that have come down to us from those times, and we can visit them when we are in cultural centers of our own.  Artifacts at the Smithsonian and in collections throughout this country, and the world, have come down to us by various ways, and grace our modern world.

Heiroglyphic Altar displayed at Chicago Institute of Arts
From Mayan artifacts found in Mesoamerica, dating to A.D. 650-700

Descendants of the ancient Maya worked with the Blue Creek, Belize research program in excavating the artifacts left in the sites we worked on this past summer.  Although Ricky and Manolita were from the Yucatan area, their Mayan heritage gave them a special interest in the excavations going on in Belize.   They were very skilled at finding the artifacts and structure features the Maya Research Program is working to uncover.


Yucatan Maya descendant Ricky working with Prof. Alex Parmington, dig leader, excavating at XNoha, a.k.a. IX’Noha

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Ruth Calvo

Ruth Calvo

I've blogged at The Seminal for about two years, was at cabdrollery for around three. I live in N.TX., worked for Sen.Yarborough of TX after graduation from Wellesley, went on to receive award in playwriting, served on MD Arts Council after award, then managed a few campaigns in MD and served as assistant to a member of the MD House for several years, have worked in legal offices and written for magazines, now am retired but addicted to politics, and join gladly in promoting liberals and liberal policies.