Ancient Mayan Carvings


The Maya built soaring temples and elaborate palaces in Central America and southern Mexico, dominating the region for some 2,000 years, before mysteriously abandoning their cities around 900 AD.

Use of Jade in Carvings

Many stone carvings had jade inlays, and there were also ritual objects created from jade. It is remarkable that the Maya, who had no metal tools, created such intricate and beautiful objects from jade, a very hard and dense material.

In a workshop of Maya sculpture, the subject matter had to conform to local tradition; elements of style such as viewpoint of the figures, gesture, depth of relief, and the treatment of faces had to be recognizable as local art, and the artists observed the specific regalia worn by rulers. Subject matter and style were bound by tradition.

Culture

The Mayan culture, which existed as early as 1,500 B.C., did not consist of a single empire, as was once believed, but rather was a collection of independent city-states that alternately made war and traded with one another. The large, sculpted stone comes from the Mayan city-state of Kabah, in what is now the Mexican state of Yucatán, where it was once one of two stones that framed a temple door.

The Maya developed several unique building innovations, including the corbel arch which was a false arch achieved by stepping each successive block, from opposite sides, closer to the center, and capped at the peak. Tombs were often encased within or beneath Maya structures. Frequently new temples were built over existing structures.

Although the height of the Maya civilization ended over a thousand years ago, we are only now learning the details of their lives as we learn to read their written language, which has survived on stone carvings and other ceremonial and household objects.

Carvings

Maya buildings were adorned with carved friezes and roof combs in stone and stucco. With large quantities of limestone and flint available, plaster and cement were easily produced. This allowed the Mayans to build impressive temples, with stepped pyramids. On the summits were thatched- roof temples.

It is believed that the majority of stone structures found in the remains of Mayan cities were temples. A typical Maya city would have the main ceremonial buildings at its center, made completely out of stone and highly decorated. Around the ceremonial center, there would be houses made of stone walls and wooden roofs, to house the upper and middle classes of society.

Carvings at Copan

Copan, in Honduras, is a site where many artworks of the Mayan culture remain. In particular, carvings called 'stelae' (inscribed stone slabs and pillars) show that the Mayans were capable of beautiful work, and used a lot of colour.
Art has also been recovered from Guatemala and other nearby countries.

In addition, the Maya in Mexico and the northern part of Central America produced intricate relief carvings and sculpture in which the figures project from a background surface. This relief art either adorned buildings, or stood alone as stelae.

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