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Mayan masks

Masks played a central role in ancient Maya culture.

Mayan ritual masks were vibrant and colorful. These masks represented animals’ spirits. Animals were regarded to be representations of human spirits. Jaguars were thought to be associated with a strong ruler.

Mayan masks were made from wood, gold, shell, and volcanic rock. Mayans used masks for many reasons: to adorn the faces of the dead, to be worn at important rituals, to be worn in a battle, and to be hung in houses.

When a ruler died, a jade mask was placed in the tomb as part of the burial offerings that would accompany and protect him on his long journey to the underworld. It was believed that the mask represented him in life.

What are Mayan masks for?

Mayan masks are a symbol of divinity, they were images of Mayan gods and a part of a sacred burial ritual during the Classic Maya period. Masks were applied to the faces of important rulers after their death.

Masks gave the rulers the status of divine beings of the “Tree of the Universe”.

Funerary masks protected deceased Mayan rulers as they descended into the underworld of Xibalba to defeat the death gods and gain the opportunity to ascend as the Mayan “Corn God”, also known as Yum Kaax.

The Mayans perceived the continuum of life after death. Even during his lifetime, the ruler was obliged to be an intermediary between people and gods, asking them to intervene in the well-being of his people.

The Mayan writings, the Popol Vuh, state that the Mayans were descended from the cob of corn, so the significance of corn is clear since corn has been an essential food item in Mesoamerica since ancient times.

Funerary masks were created with the greatest skill in Mayan art, assembling them into a mosaic of jade, considered the most precious stone of the Maya, combined with turquoise, mother of pearl, and obsidian.

Smaller masks were part of the ceremonial belts and pectorals of the rulers.

During the Classic period, the Mayans deformed the skulls of children of the dominant class. This deformation resembled an ear of corn and also resulted in slanted eyes, a Mayan symbol of beauty and divinity.

This deformity and squint are also depicted on the ritual masks.

In Mexico, archaeologists found about thirty masks, about thirteen of which were restored. Eight of them have been identified as belonging to a Mayan dignitary. The remaining 5 are images of Mayan gods.

One of the funeral masks belonged to the famous Pacal, ruler of Palenque.

After Alberto Ruz L’Huller discovered Pacal’s tomb in Palenque, another Mexican archaeologist, Fanny Lopez, made another extraordinary discovery. She discovered the tomb of the Red Queen inside Temple XIII.

The Red Queen, a Mayan female noble, is a unique archaeological discovery.

The Red Queen’s remains were found in a sarcophagus within a Mayan temple. Notably, the Red Queen’s mask was crafted from malachite, and her bones were covered with red vermillion, similar to Pacal’s burial.

Other ancient Mayan ritual masks have been found at other archaeological sites across south Mexico: in La Rovirosa (in Tabasco), in Calakmul (in Campeche), in Oquintoque (in Yucatan), and Cibanche (in Quintana Roo).

Along with these masks, the ruler wore rings, necklaces, and pectorals, and was surrounded by countless offerings, Mayan pottery, and Mayan glyphic inscriptions, all of which were discovered in their respective tombs.

Mayan masks used in funerary rituals, as well as masks made from stucco, are full of Mayan glyphs and symbols, revealing the connection that the ancient Mayans had and still have with the supernatural world.

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