Maya Beauty

15 Jan


This mask of jade, obsidian, shells and limestone plaster is a remainder of the Mayan civilization. This mask was created for the tribes royalty denoting status and power in this extensive and ordered ancient culture.


Jade was the “gold” of the Mayas. Salt, jade, chocolate and the tail feathers of the quetzal bird held the wealth of their civilization. This mask was found in the tomb of a Maya chief who lived to the astonishing age of 80 after ascending the throne at the age of 12. The mask covered the face of the dead king ushering him into the underworld.

Most Maya lived, at the most, 40 to 50 years. Age was revered. This head of a high-ranking tribal elder, signified by the elaborate hat and facial scarification, is the real depiction of an aged Maya face.


Maya facial decoration included cuts into the skin as well as a technique where incisions were stuffed with maise, obsidian or jade to create raised designs under the skin. Teeth were filed in shapes reflecting tribal beliefs.


In addition to scarring, piercing and tattooing were used to reflect tribal rank. Like the Egyptian royalty, the Mayans bound their heads to flatten and elongate the forehead. They singed off their hair to create an even higher display of the shape of the skull.


Here, a Mayan prisoner has been bound. His arms tied behind his back with ropes and his jade piercing removed and replaced by a piece of roled paper.  This warrior’s rank is shown by his elaborate headdress, hieroglyphs on his breach cloth and decorative neck piece.

This jade earring might have been removed from the ear of a conquered warrior. The ancient design is reflected in many of today’s piercings that expand the earlobe to create a decorative hole surrounded by precious metal.



Shells were used in Mayan sculpture and body decoration. Here, a carved mask of a bird made of shell and obsidian.DSC00362

And here elaborate shell earrings with double piercings.

Color appears in Mayan pottery and sculpture. Cochineal and indigo dyes were used to create highlights. Though faded from the brilliant original designs, the color is still visible today.


Some of the figures are almost modern in their depiction of the human form.


This monkey vessel shows pods of cacao a valuable commodity used in the ceremonies of the Maya. The face of the monkey, the spots of the jaguar and the tail feathers of the exotic quetzal bird are frequently found in Maya art.DSC00384





Frogs, ducks and the snake represent symbols of power and belief to the Maya.



More geometric sculptures may have been used in religious ceremonies. This reclining figure may have been an altar whose flat belly was designed to display the beating hearts torn out of the chest of sacrificial victims.


And then there was the sun, central to the life of the Maya…DSC00347

Maya art from the Museo Regional de Antropología, Palacio Cantón, Merida, Mexico.


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