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Iconographic Analysis Conducted by Archaeologists on Murals Reveal Maya Military Life
Besides the deterioration of these vestiges, it was possible to establish that Mayas from different cities used similar arms, such as the axe employed to give lethal strikes. Photo: INAH/ H. Montano.

MEXICO CITY.- An iconographic analysis conducted regarding different Maya murals created in Prehispanic times, between 600 and 1000 of the Common Era, have allowed the hypothetical reconstruction of the way the milita was integrated in this culture; scenes studied refer to aspects like the command and armaments systems, as well as communications and tactics used at the height of this ancient civilization.

Until now, Bonampak frescoes, in Chiapas, and San Bartolo, in El Peten, Guatemala, were the most researched expressions to understand siege and defense tactics of Maya cities. Nevertheless, in 4 archaeological zones of northern Yucatan Peninsula there are mural paintings that bring in new information on the matter.

Eduardo Tejeda Monroy, archaeologist of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), presented a descriptive study of the images that integrate murals at Chichen Itza, Chacmultun and Mulchic, in Yucatan and Ichmac, in Campeche, during his recent participation in the 6th Permanent Conferences of Archaeology in 2010 at the Templo Mayor Museum.

Besides the deterioration of these vestiges, it was possible to establish that Mayas from different cities used similar weapons, such as the axe employed to give lethal strikes; the curved stick that functioned as a club, and the dart-thrower used to attack enemies from distances up to 100 meters.

The INAH researcher detailed that the paintings found on the Chac Mool Temple pilasters, on the northwest colonnade of the Thousand Columns Group and the relief at the Inferior Temple of the Jaguars, both in Chichen Itza, military confrontation scenes can be appreciated where these combat artifacts are being used.

For their defense, Mayas from this zone used mainly a cotton breastplate hardened with salt and wood shields, as appreciated in frescoes found at the Temple of the Tables in Chichen Itza, mentioned Tejeda Monroy.

Configuration of the armies
Two different infantry bodies integrated the army: the short and long range combat groups, depending on the kind of weapons used, explained the specialist.

He added that the militia was organized and lead by several war chiefs, among them, the ruler, who distinguished himself by carrying elements that conferred him authority, such as great feather headdresses, ear and nose ornaments as well as pectorals.

The mural at the Temple of the Jaguars in Chichen Itza, is an example: it depicts the lord wearing a crown with 3 great white feathers, the same headdress is represented in the ornaments at the great ballgame court, symbolizing its sacred character.

“We still do not know if Maya troops worked full time or were gathered in times of war, neither how armies were supplied”.

According to images found in The Nuns Complex in Chichen Itza and Structure 3 at Chacmultun, both in Yucatan, and the Paintings Building in Ichman, Campeche, Maya armies used sound communication systems such as bugles, trumpets and drums, mentioned Tejeda.

These paintings show how soldiers painted their faces and torsos to distinguish them from their adversaries.

By the scenes represented at the murals at these 4 sites, “it is inferred that Mayas managed the main combat formations: the line and the column, being the first the basic marching formation and the second, the initial battle position”.

We can determine that armies did not fight completely face to face, as Romans did, they looked to attack from different flanks to corner the enemy and leave it without the possibility of counterattacking, concluded Tejeda Monroy.

National Institute of Anthropology and History | Eduardo Tejeda Monroy | Bonampak |

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