Thursday, September 10, 2015

Skeletons, Skulls, and Bones in the Art of Chichén Itzá

The Chicago Archaeological Society is pleased to announce that its opening presentation of the 2015 – 2016 Lecture Season at 3:00 p.m., September 27 at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Avenue will be Dr. Virginia Miller. Dr. Miller is along-time friend and favorite of the CAS, her last visit was January 25, 2006.

The UNESCO heritage site of Chichén Itzá is one of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations. Its proximity to busy Cancun International Airport, and as a Caribbean cruise destination off Isla Cozumel are partial explanations for its popularity. But beyond location its overwhelming size and the fact that it is an amalgam of Maya architectural styles and its history make it a treasure trove of Maya antiquity.

Chichén Itzá is perhaps the largest, most famous and most accessible Mayan site, about 125 kilometers west of Cancun and Cozumel. With its soaring pyramids, massive temples and the largest Maya ballpark Chichén is a compelling attraction. But there is more— literally hundreds of carved columns as well as enigmatic platforms— one decorated with countless skulls.
For more than a century Chichén has challenged hordes of visitors. John Lloyd Stephens, Desire Charney, Edward Herbert Thompson, and Sylvanus Gris-wold Morley are some who have been seduced by Chichén's charms and there were many others and the list is growing!. For the reader unfamiliar with Chichén’s attractions take a tour! At your fingertips is this link to a virtual visit into the past:

Left : El Castello 1925 (Photo taken by Desire Charney, 1863, reveals the triumph of nature over the Maya.) Right: El Castillo 2014 During Equinox.
Dr. Miller, UIC, teaches courses in Pre-Columbian and Native American art, in addition to currently she is exploring 20th-century Maya revival architec-ture and monuments, particularly those built in post-revolutionary Mérida, Mexico.
Her publications include The Frieze of the Palace of the Stuccoes, Acanceh, Yuca-tan, Mexico (1991), a pioneer-ing edited volume, The Role of Gender in Pre-Columbian Art and Architecture (1988), and numerous articles on Pre-Columbian art and architecture.
Her CAS presentation, Skele-tons, Skulls, and Bones in the Art of Chichén Itzá, re-veals a determination to better understand the Maya through interpretation of their art and the message transmitted from the past to the present.

As a focal point of the region it is an amalgam of an older Maya city and newer Toltec influences. Within its confines is the towering El Castillo pyramid, aka The Temple of Kukulcan, which is fraught with cosmological symbolism. Its four sides contain 365 steps (depicting the solar year), 52 panels (for each year in the Mayan century as well as each week in the solar year) and 18 terraces (for the 18 months in the religious year).

Within the Castillo is an earlier pyramid and temple that includes a jade —studded jaguar throne and a ceremonial Chac Mool, believed to have served as an altar.

The throne and Chac Mool were once accessible for the trav-eler viewing via an enclosed pas-sage within El Castillo. Access is now closed to the public. Dur-ing the fall and spring equinox-es, the sun’s shadow forms an enormous snake’s body, which lines up with the carved stone snake head at the bottom of the Castillo pyramid.

Most recently a group of re-searchers of the National Autonomous University of Mexi-(UNAM) have discovered a cenote and subterranean river be-neath El Castillo perhaps indicating a sacred nature of the precinct.

Mayan sports included a game with a soccer-sized ball that had its own intricate rules and provided exciting competition for huge crowds of spectators. The enormous Chichén Itzá court where this game was played is the largest ever found and is lined with fascinating carvings that display the rules and details of the sacred game (often in bloody detail).

One carving even shows the captain of the losing game being beheaded.
The site also contains a sacred well, the astronomical Observatory, the imposing Temple of Warriors with an altar for sacrifices, and the Nunnery.

The premier season presentation will be a highlight of the 2015-16 season.

The CAS welcomes you back from the summer. Come early and enjoy the refreshments and, by all means after the meeting, join us at Dave’s Italian Kitchen for dinner, talk and good fun.

>By Robert Stelton  

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