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  1. 1. Daily life of the ancient Maya recorded on murals at Calakmul, Mexico Ramon Carrasco Vargasa, Veronica A. Vazquez Lopezb, and Simon Martinc,1 ´ ´ ´ ´ aInstituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Calle 59 #44, Col. Centro Historico, C.P. 24000, Campeche, Campeche, Mexico; bUniversidad Nacional ´ ´ Autonoma de Mexico, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras Division de Estudios de Posgrado. Circuito interior, C.U., Coyoacan CP 04510, Mexico, D.F. Mexico; ´ ´ ´ ´ ´ ´ and cUniversity of Pennsylvania Museum, American Section, 3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104 Edited by Michael D. Coe, Yale University, New Haven, CT, and approved September 25, 2009 (received for review April 21, 2009) Research into ancient societies frequently faces a major challenge in accessing the lives of those who made up the majority of their populations, since the available evidence so often concerns only the ruling elite. Our excavations at the ancient Maya site of Calakmul, Mexico, have uncovered a ‘‘painted pyramid:’’ a struc- ture decorated with murals depicting scenes of its inhabitants giving, receiving, and consuming diverse foods, as well as display- ing and transporting other goods. Many are accompanied by hieroglyphic captions that describe the participants, and include spellings of key subsistence items. Collectively, they offer insights into the social mechanisms by which goods were circulated within major Maya centers. archaeology hieroglyphic writing nanoparticles A rchaeological remains always present a skewed image of the human past, supplying bountiful information about some aspects of ancient societies but a dearth about others. Many of the issues that most concern scholars—the social processes, behaviors, and relationships integral to living communities—fall into the latter category and leave little or no physical trace. Cultures with a strong tradition of art and writing fill some of these gaps, but here data are Fig. 1. Map showing Calakmul in relation to other ancient Maya sites with usually restricted to the social elite, leaving fundamental questions extensive mural paintings. about societies as a whole unanswered. This is certainly true of the ancient Maya civilization of Mesoamerica, where writing and iconography provide rich in- seventh and final remodeling was initiated between A.D. 820 and formation about the ruling class. From public monuments to the 1020 (7), although this was apparently abandoned unfinished. more intimate scale of painted ceramics and personal jewelry, The third remodeling, dubbed Sub 1–4, was exceptional in that scholars have learned much about the practice and performance it was decorated with a program of exterior murals, an extremely of courtly life. Missing from these sources are the lower echelons rare feature in the Maya area (Fig. 3). The plan of Sub 1–4 is of society, the population that supported the opulent lifestyles of square, approximately 11 m wide on each side, and the building the elite. The role such people played in circulating goods and rises in three distinct tiers of sloping panels separated by recessed services, as well as the social systems through which this was moldings to a height of 4.7 m. Access to the summit was from accomplished, are virtually unknown. Our work at the site of four stairways, each aligned to a cardinal direction in a cruciform ANTHROPOLOGY Calakmul, Mexico, offers data that address these issues. pattern. The summit itself, and with it any trace of a superstruc- ture, was destroyed in the construction of the subsequent Results version, Sub 1–3. There is clear evidence that Sub 1–3 was built First reported in 1931, the site of Calakmul covers over 3,000 with the preservation of the Sub 1–4 paintings in mind. Their hectares in total and lies today within a 726,000-hectare bio- delicate surfaces were packed with a layer of mud and small sphere reserve of the same name in the state of Campeche (1–4) stones, very much in contrast to the normal practice of breaking (Fig. 1). Since 1993 the site has been investigated by the up stucco facings to give greater adhesion for the new masonry Calakmul Archaeological Project of Consejo Nacional para la that will cover them. The date of Sub 1–4 is difficult to isolate Cultura y las Artes-Instituto Nacional de Antropología e His- with precision. The styles of some of the vessels depicted on the toria (CONACULTA-INAH), a department of the Mexican murals suggest that it was decorated between A.D. 620–700 (8), government (5–6). In 2004, we began excavations in the Chiik while the painting style and the paleography of the hieroglyphs Nahb complex, an architectural group covering about 2.5 hect- are consistent with a seventh-century attribution. ares to the north of the site core (Fig. 2). Surface mapping Painted scenes were applied to the panels on all three tiers, as identified some 68 buildings within its bounds, and we designated well as to the sidewalls of the projecting stairways. Some of the the tallest Structure 1. Encountered as a collapsed mound, it was first cleared of surface debris and consolidated before a tunnel was dug to explore its interior. Like many Maya buildings, the Author contributions: R.C.V. designed research; R.C.V., V.A.V.L., and S.M. performed Structure 1 ‘‘pyramid’’ proved to be an accretion of superim- research; and S.M. wrote the paper. posed remodelings. Stylistic analysis of the ceramics found The authors declare no conflict of interest. within the rubble core of each version suggests that construction This article is a PNAS Direct Submission. began at some point between A.D. 420 and 620, and that the 1To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: cgi doi 10.1073 pnas.0904374106 PNAS November 17, 2009 vol. 106 no. 46 19245–19249
  2. 2. Fig. 2. Map showing the position of the Chiik Nahb complex within the center of the Calakmul site. recessed moldings between the panels were also painted, either The paintings are currently undergoing cleaning and conser- with continuations of the scenes or with short hieroglyphic texts. vation. The chemistry of the pigments, the technique of appli- Some 30 individual scenes have been exposed on the lowest two cation, and methods to ensure the long-term preservation of the tiers, while tests on the highest, unexcavated tier indicate that this murals are under study by Piero Baglioni and his team at the originally carried as many as 16 more. Preservation ranges widely University of Florence. Although not produced by a true fresco from good to very poor. We distinguish two phases of painting technique, provisional results suggest that the paints formed a separated by a thin layer of stucco, seen most clearly where durable bond with the plaster surface similar in its effect to damage to the surface of Phase 2 has exposed portions of Phase mezzo fresco. To consolidate the pictorial surface, calcium 1 beneath. The cleared surfaces have been analyzed with mul- hydroxide nanoparticles in an alcohol suspension have been tispectral photography by Gene Ware of Brigham Young Uni- applied to mimic the original reaction that converts lime [cal- versity, revealing some faint or obscured details that cannot cium hydroxide Ca(OH)2] into plaster (calcium carbonate readily be seen with the naked eye. CaCO3) (9). Fig. 3. The southeast corner of Structure Sub 1– 4 of the Chiik Nahb complex. 19246 cgi doi 10.1073 pnas.0904374106 Carrasco Vargas et al.
  3. 3. of Phase 1, whose execution is less accomplished than Phase 2 and plainly the work of a different artist or artists. The two phases of painting cover similar themes, but are not simple reproductions of the same scenes and texts. We cannot assess how much time passed between the painting of Phase 1 and Phase 2, or how long before the latter was covered by the next version, Structure Sub 1–3. The intensity of the colors on Phase 2 could be seen to argue for a relatively short period of exposure to the elements, but we lack sufficient data on the stability of the paints and stucco surface to draw any conclusion about this. The murals are notable examples of Maya art, but their scientific value lies primarily in the information conveyed in their imagery. Earlier mural finds, such as those inside buildings at Bonampak, Mexico, and San Bartolo, Guatemala, have contrib- uted greatly to our understanding of Maya society and culture, the former illuminating aspects of warfare and royal rituals, the latter the deep antiquity of religious thought and writing (11–14). The Calakmul murals differ in important ways. Lacking the fine ceremonial garb of royal performance or any of the distinctive markers of supernatural identity, they offer insights into quo- tidian activities. The paintings at Calakmul show groups of men, women, and a child engaged in a range of different activities. The proportion of women is very high compared to Maya art in general and about one-third of the figures that survive in Phase 2 are female. The image of an elderly woman is one of the only nonmytho- logical depictions of its kind. Costumes range from simple loincloths and tied-cloth headbands to more elaborate headgear and clothing decorated with painted or woven designs. Such distinctions probably reflect differing social status. Several fig- ures, male and female, wear broad-brimmed hats likely woven from a vegetable fiber. Women often wear face-paint, sometimes extending below the neckline, and both sexes wear ear orna- Fig. 4. Scene of a bearer carrying a large pot using a tumpline over his ments, necklaces, and pendants. Most scenes include images of forehead. ceramic vessels, baskets, or various types of bound sacks and packages. A number show people preparing and dispensing foodstuffs together with others who consume them. Other The colors used are blue, green, and a variety of yellows, reds, characters are engaged in transportation: bearers are weighed and browns applied to a background of gray-white stucco with a down with large pots or rope-tied bundles, each carried with a pinkish hue (10). The Phase 1 murals have six colors, whereas tumpline over the forehead in traditional Maya fashion (Fig. 4). Phase 2 has 16 distinct colors and hues. Both phases used One man stretches out a striped blanket or cloak, while others reddish-brown underpainting to plan the images, while final extend twisted cords. Another figure is accompanied by a scarlet delineation was made with a black-brown line, which in Phase 2 macaw perched on a pole stand. In one scene, pin-like objects of has often decayed to a pinkish red. Each of the panels is framed uncertain function protrude from baskets. by a painted red band. In most places the painting shows a The hieroglyphs that accompany the scenes provide invaluable continuous line that must have been applied rapidly, with data for their interpretation. All of the most legible hieroglyphs ANTHROPOLOGY corrections made in several areas. Some of the depicted human come from Phase 2, where they serve as captions. Thus we find figures are out of proportion, which is most noticeable in the ke-le-ma keleem ‘‘young man’’ close to the image of a male who relative sizes of the heads and shoulders. This is especially true is intermediate in height between adjacent adults and a child. Fig. 5. Scene showing the serving and drinking of ul ‘‘maize-gruel.’’ The hieroglyphic caption aj ul ‘‘Maize-gruel person’’ (AJ u-lu) appears at top left. Carrasco Vargas et al. PNAS November 17, 2009 vol. 106 no. 46 19247
  4. 4. Fig. 6. Hieroglyphic spellings of two titles from the murals: (A) aj ix’im ‘‘Maize-grain person’’ (AJ-i-xi-ma); (B) aj atz’aam ‘‘Salt person’’ (AJ-a tz’a-mi). The majority of texts share a common formula that begins with the agentive term aj, a word applied to either sex that can be Fig. 7. Scene showing a woman with ceramic cylinder vessels in a basket. The glossed as ‘‘person.’’ In every case aj is followed by the name of hieroglyphic caption reads aj jaay ‘‘Clay-vessel person’’ (AJ ja-yi). a particular foodstuff or material. Thus AJ u-lu aj ul ‘‘Maize- gruel person’’ accompanies a man with a large pot, dish, and spoon, shown facing another individual who drinks from a bowl and the varying roles of festivals, gift-giving, communal feasting, as a second, female server looks on (Fig. 5). Another scene shows and exchange, all of which are attested in ethnohistorical sources. a woman with a basket loaded with maize-bread tamales who These murals evidently depict one or more of these activities and offers them on a basketwork-platter to a man that eats one. The thereby portray an ancient social mechanism that has left no associated caption reads AJ wa-WAAJ-ji aj waaj ‘‘Maize-bread other evidence of its existence. person.’’ These two types of prepared maize are joined by the unprocessed form, previously unattested in the Maya script, as Materials and Methods a group of figures shown with bowls and a tied sack are labeled Investigation of Structure 1 began with the clearance of covering vegetation and the removal of earth and stone debris. Where the original lines of the with the sequence AJ i-xi-ma aj ixi’m for ‘‘Maize-grain person’’ building were clear, fallen masonry blocks were reset using a limestone mortar (Fig. 6A). Salt was another important staple of the Maya diet and mixed with small quantities of cement. Exploration of the interior began at its a scene that features a man with a basket and spoon carries the southeastern corner, where a tunnel approximately 0.7 m wide was driven in form AJ-a tz’a-mi for aj atz’aam ‘‘Salt-person,’’ a second unat- a northerly direction at ground level using hand tools. This encountered and tested spelling in the script (Fig. 6B). Another consumable passed through the damaged facades of three previous versions: Sub 1–1, Sub ¸ appears in the caption AJ ma-ya for aj mahy ‘‘Tobacco person,’’ 1–2, and Sub 1–3. After about 2 m, the excavation came to the painted facade ¸ which shows two men, one holding a spatula and pot that of Sub 1– 4 and thereafter proceeded laterally to follow its surface. Ultimately, presumably held a powdered or processed form of the leaf. One the work opened a cavity around the whole southeastern corner approxi- lone woman who has a basket with cylindrical pots in it is mately 5 m on each side and 3.5 m in height, reaching the top of the second identified as AJ ja-yi aj jaay ‘‘Clay-vessel person’’ (Fig. 7). tier. This method was repeated for the southwestern, northeastern, and It is clear that the purpose of most of the Phase 2 captions is northwestern corners of the building (in that order), leaving the consolidated to establish generic descriptions of the figures portrayed, without final version of Structure 1 as a protective enclosure. The third, highest tier on identifying any of them as a particular individual. The personal the southeast corner was briefly explored from above and then reburied. We are currently developing a plan for the long-term conservation of the murals names and lordly honorifics so common in Maya texts are absent that will allow for the exposure and study of the third tier. Evidence for two here. The three large hieroglyphs repeated within several of the earlier versions, Sub 1–5 and Sub 1– 6, was gained from a tunnel 6 m long and inset moldings may be rather different. These provide the name 0.8 m wide heading west that was sunk into the remains of the eastern or title of a female, although her relevance to the painted stairway of Sub 1– 4. Fragments of ceramic vessels were recovered from the program and to the structure as a whole is currently enigmatic. interior fill of each version of the building for style-dating analysis. Discussion ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. We thank our colleagues from the Consorzio per lo The full implications of these finds will take time to evaluate and sviluppo dei Sistemi a Grande Interfase (CSGI) at the University of Florence and requires the exposure of all of the paintings. Ongoing excavations the Ancient Textual Imaging Group at Brigham Young University for their will more fully situate Structure 1 within the wider archaeolog- technical contributions. The Calakmul Archaeological Project (Proyecto Ar- queologico de Calakmul) was supported by the Mexican Government agency ´ ical context of the Chiik Nahb complex and aid its interpretation. of Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes-Instituto Nacional de Antro- We have very little hard information about the social processes pología e Historia (CONACULTA-INAH), the Government of the State of by which foodstuffs and goods circulated within Maya polities Campeche, and Fomento Cultural Banamex. 1. Lundell CL (1933) Archaeological discoveries in the Maya area. Proc Amer Phil Soc 72:3. 3. May Hau J, Cohuah Munoz R, Gonzalez Heredia R, Folan WJ (1990) The Map of the ˜ 2. Ruppert K, Denison JH (1943) Archaeological Reconnaissance in Campeche, Quintana Ruins of Calakmul, Campeche, Mexico (Universidad Autonoma de Campeche, ´ Roo, and Peten (Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington DC). ´ Campeche) (Spanish). 19248 cgi doi 10.1073 pnas.0904374106 Carrasco Vargas et al.
  5. 5. 4. Folan WJ (1992) Calakmul, Campeche: A centralized urban administrative center in the 10. Desprat A (2006) Decorative paintings of the early classic and their conservation: Artists northern Peten. World Archaeology 24:158 –168. ´ of the Kaan kingdom in Memoirs of the XV International Meeting: Investigations of 5. Carrasco Vargas R (1996) Calakmul, Campeche. Mexican Archaeology 18:45–51 (Spanish). Maya Culture 14 (Universidad Autonoma de Campeche) (Spanish) ´ 6. Carrasco Vargas R (1998) The Metropolis of Calakmul, Campeche in Maya Civilization 11. Miller ME (1986) The Murals of Bonampak (Princeton Univ Press, Princeton). (Thames and Hudson, New York), pp 372–385. 12. Prehispanic Mural Painting in Mexico 2 (1998) (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de ´ 7. Boucher S, Quinones L (2007) Between markets, fairs, and feasts: The murals of Chiik ˜ Mexico) (Spanish). ´ Nahb Sub 1– 4, Calakmul. Mayab 19:29 –34 (Spanish). 8. Boucher S, Quinones L (2007) Between markets, fairs, and feasts: The murals of Chiik ˜ 13. Saturno W, Taube K, Stuart D (2005) The Murals of San Bartolo, Guatemala, Part 1, The Nahb Sub 1– 4, Calakmul. Mayab 19:47 (Spanish). North Wall (Center for Ancient American Studies, Barnardsville). 9. Baglioni P, Giorgi R (2006) Soft and hard nanomaterials for restoration and conserva- 14. Saturno W, Stuart D, Beltran B (2006) Early Writing at San Bartolo, Guatemala. Science ´ tion of cultural heritage. Soft Matter 2:293–303. 311:1281–1283. ANTHROPOLOGY Carrasco Vargas et al. PNAS November 17, 2009 vol. 106 no. 46 19249