Academics & Research

Study gives insight to Mayan culture

Arturo Pascual, director of the Institute of Aesthetic Research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, delivered a presentation on his findings on the excavation in El Tajin, Veracruz in Mexico. | Abby Lee/The Daily Cougar

Through his findings of ancient art and architecture in Veracruz, Mexico, a Mexican archaeologist defined the importance of an earlier period in history at a lecture Monday.

Arturo Pascual, the director of the Institute of Aesthetic Research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, presented his work titled “El Tajin: In search of the origins of a civilization,” a compilation of findings from a Cacahuatal phase site in El Tajin, Veracruz that was excavated under his direction.

Over the last 10 years, Pascual has revolutionized the idea of the Gulf Coast with works such as “The Archaeological Iconography of El Tajin.” In this work, his findings focus on the partial collapse and transformation of a complex civilization in the northern gulf coast in A.D. 800-1000 — a period referred as the Epiclassic that’s associated with the Mayan era.

“The purpose of tonight is to make you participants of one of the most important civilizations of Mesoamerica and one of the most well known because of its late development, not much for their richness and complexity of their archaeology,” Pascual said. “Sadly, it did not have the fortune of developing.”

Through his analysis of depictions in the remains of columns and murals, he was able to create conclusions about the governor of Tajin, who was easily identified, as the image of the “13 rabbit” — a calendrical name that he was associated with — was always nearby.

“He was a great politician because he made them believe he had so much power,” Pascual said of Tajin.

Inscriptions on columns show that the presence of the god Tlaloc, which comes from the Teotihuacan civilization, had a strong influence in the power of the governor. Sculptures also demonstrate that they had the right to govern because of the relationship to the gods.

“They always tried to fit in with Tlaloc. He serves as a guide to the governors. Who would challenge the governor if he said his guidance came from Tlaloc?” Pascual said.

In one illustration, the governor is depicted with a decapitated head between his feet.

Murals depicting sacrifices also had many surrounding red zigzags representing blood.  A person’s skin color was always olive green, while the red on a man’s face resembled the body paint they used. The color blue was hardly used, Pascual said.

“The blues that remain are very little, because blue was a very expensive color.  It was a dehydrated paint. Water had to be added to it so it could be applied,” he said.

The buried body of a boy found in Sierra Grande provided more details to the ritual of sacrifice. They brought in people from other towns to sacrifice as a symbol of their power, Pascual said.

“What’s important is that the child who was about 18 to 21 years old was not from the town. He was probably from the mountains,” he said. “These governors were trying to be worshipped for sacrifices. They’re sacrificing people who are not local. This (decoration of his teeth) shows that this boy seems to be part of the elite.  He represents another community.”

Pascual’s findings of the typical Tajin architecture style called Talud also unveiled that the civilization’s building techniques were extremely advanced.

“It’s the first time in Mesoamerica that we start to place roofing with tiles. This is a technology that’s very similar to ours,” Pascual said. “It’s a sort of cement that is made with salt. It’s very interesting that there are no reinforcements, such as wood beams, and obviously no other metal reinforcements.”

Pascual said it is thought that El Tajin didn’t have a written language. However, calendrical inscriptions in ceramics demonstrated that they did establish a registry system.

Although the Tajin and Mayan cultures are very similar, Pascual did not want to say there was a relationship between the two.

“El Tajin was not alone in that period of time in Mesoamerica,” he said. “There was a military ideology, a worshipping of Venus, a worshipping of the governor and the appearance of these deities are descending.”

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