Sacred plants of the ancient Mayans revealed

June 6th, 2009 - 2:47 pm ICT by ANI  

London, June 6 (ANI): A study of the giant trees and beautiful flowers depicted in Maya art has identified which plants they held sacred.

According to a report by BBC News, the depictions, created during the Maya Classic Period, are so accurate they could help researchers spot plants with hitherto unknown medicinal uses.

Plants played a significant role in the ecology, culture and rituals of the Maya people, whose artwork reflected the rich diversity of plant life around them.

But while numerous examples of such artwork exist, few have been studied to see exactly which plants they depict.

So, natural historian and archaeologist Charles Zidar of Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis, US, and botanist Wayne Elisens of the University of Oklahoma, Norman, US, decided to find out.

They hope to discover plants of importance to the Maya that are either unknown to modern people, or have since been forgotten.

“The Maya have lived and used rainforest plants to heal themselves for thousands of years. We are just beginning to understand some of their secrets,” said archaeologist Charles Zadir.

The team’s first analyses focused on artwork produced within the southern lowland region of the Maya, located in the modern countries of Belize, Guatemala and Mexico.

They examined more than 2,500 images of Maya ceramics created within the Maya Classical Period of AD 250 to 900.

The images are held within an image collection taken by Justin and Barbara Kerr, curated by the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, based in Crystal River, Florida, US.

In particular, the two men searched for depictions of bombacoids, a diverse lineage of trees in the Neotropics characterized by swollen or spiny trunks and big, colorful, conspicuous flowers with long folding petals.

Across different ceramics, Zidar and Elisens found depictions of five species.

“I was surprised that a variety of plants from this family were depicted,” said Zidar.

“It has amazed me that so many plants are depicted. These plants are not as stylised as previously though, and thus you can name the plant family, genus and even the species,” he said.

“The Maya have lived and used rainforest plants to heal themselves for thousands of years. We are just beginning to understand some of their secrets,” he added.

“By determining what plants were of importance to the ancient Maya, it is my hope that identified plants can be further studied for pharmaceutical, culinary, economic and ceremonial uses. More should be done to conserve large tracts of forest in order to properly study theses plants for their value to mankind,” said Zidar. (ANI)

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