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Mayan Symbolism - Abstract Symbol Links In Ancient America

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Abstract Symbol Links in Ancient America

An Exploration of How Symbols, Astronomy, and Architecture Collided in Ancient American Civilizations ...

by Bruce G. Marcot 

In the steamy jungles of southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and on into South America, lay the remnants of ancient civilizations ... the cultures of Mayans, Toltecs, Incans, and others.

Still little understood, these civilizations once developed immensely sophisticated calendars, base-20 number systems, and astronomical and forecasting observatories. Their pyramids and citadels now lay largely in ruin ... only fragments remain of their stories of rulers, conquests, and accomplishments, in abstruse glyphs carved into stone, painted onto stucco, or drawn in the few remaining books such as the Mayan codices.

The height of the Mayan civilization flourished in the 9th century C.E. -- and from what archeologists have learned, this ancient society lived in a world where religion, politics, agriculture, science, and economy all intertwined in inextricable ways. How unlike our modern secular, mechanistic world that must have been!

This is my exploration of how many abstract symbols of the ancient Meso-Americans seemingly serve to link ritual, religion, agriculture, architecture, and astronomy. My interest and work in Meso-American archeoastronomy and archeology are purely amateur, and surely the real experts have exhumed and extracted a far deeper understanding of the symbols than I present here. What has compelled me here, however, are my own explorations of several ancient Mayan sites, and the similarity in symbols that span diverse contexts -- that speaks through the ages on how the ancients created their world as an integrated whole.

The similarity of ancient Meso-American symbolism is indeed striking. In this next link, I present an overview chart of some of these symbols and how they may link logically, perhaps demonstrating how all facets of ancient life interweaved.

I also provide a brief analysis of astronomical orientations and celestial events that may have been witnessed at one Mayan site, Uxmal in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.


I am an amateur! All conclusions and interpretations on this Web site should be taken at best as tentative working hypotheses. Publications and opinions of the real experts -- the academically-trained archeologists of academic, government, and private institutions -- should be the final arbiters of correct and appropriate interpretations of any ideas I present here.


Among the many journal articles and texts on the subject of ancient Mayan archeoastronomy, linguistics, and glyph symbolism, are:

  • Aveni, A. F. 1980. Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico. University of Texas Press, Austin, and London. 355 pp.
  • Coe, M. D. 1992. Breaking the Maya Code. Thames and Hudson, New York. 304 pp.
  • Harris, J. F., and S. K. Stearns. 1992. Understanding Maya inscriptions; a hieroglyph handbook. The University Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. 159 pp.
  • Morley, S. G. 1975. An introduction to the study of Maya hieroglyphs. Dover Publications, Inc., New York. 284 pp.

Also, much current information on Maya archeology can be found on Web sites and publications from the University of Texas and other institutions. Consult your local Web search engine!


Photo on this page: Platform of the Skulls, Chitzen Itza (ancient Mayan site), Yucatan, Mexico.

It is thought that this platform served as a sacrificial site, or perhaps a location for preparation of the dead for burial, or perhaps a site for the worship of ancestors or communication with the departed ... but we still really don't know its true purpose.

photo (c) Bruce G. Marcot


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