The Ancient Maya endured unspeakable pain to make themselves beautifulJanuary 13th, 2009 - 5:24 pm ICT by ANI
London, January 13 (ANI): Archaeologists have unearthed evidence that the Ancient Maya bore a lot of pain to look beautiful.
Reporting the findings in the journal Archaeology, Professor Mary Miller has revealed that the Maya reshaped their childrens skulls, and inlaid their own teeth with jade.
The Maya went to extreme lengths to transform their bodies. They invested vast wealth and endured unspeakable pain to make themselves beautiful, Miller said.
The researcher says that the skeleton of Kinich Janaab Pakal, who ruled the western Maya city of Palenque from AD615 to 683, shows that his head was strapped between two cradle-boards soon after his birth, to compress it from back to front.
The researcher further says that that left an indentation above his browline, which was emphasised by an artificial nasal bridge, probably of clay or plaster, built up on to his forehead.
Miller agrees that that does not survive in the burial, but says that a stucco portrait head found below the sarcophagus shows it clearly.
An analysis of the head also showed that Pakals hair was cut in a series of bluntly trimmed tresses, with longer strands on top flopping forward.
Miller interprets it as imitating the leaves and corn silk on a maize plant: at the site of Cacaxtla, Maya-style murals show maize cobs on the plant as human heads.
According to Miller, Pakal was shown as ever-youthful, like the maize that springs up anew each year.
The researcher further revealed that Pakals front teeth were filed into an inverted T-shape, marking him as also being the Sun God, something shown on his jade burial mask as well.
Miller said that dental decoration seemed to be highly desirable for many Maya, especially for the elite.
The researcher says that teeth, especially the upper incisors and canines, were filed and notched in a variety of designs so that they would lead to distinctly crooked smile in certain cases.
The study has also revealed evidence of dental inlays: a shallow hole was drilled into the front face of the tooth enamel (using a reed or bone hollow drill and an abrasive such as sand or jade dust), sometimes reaching the dentine within.
Small discs of jade, obsidian or haematite were then cemented into the holes: the plant adhesive was so powerful that many burials found by archaeologists today still have the inlays firmly in place.
Up to three discs were inserted into a single tooth, and jade and the other materials were combined to give a flash of apple-green, dull red and shiny black across the mouth. Inlays and filing were also combined.
Professor Stephen Houston, of Brown University, Rhode Island, surmises that dental decoration was probably applied as a rite of passage to adulthood.
Miller has also noted that the Maya painted their bodies, with narrative scenes on polychrome vases showing pigments applied to face, chest and buttocks.
The researcher also found that Pakals corpse was treated with alternating layers of red and black pigments.
According to Miller, red to the Maya was the colour of the sunrise, black of the sunset, alternating with each other in the diurnal cycle.
Beauty was a way to display social, if not moral, value among the ancient Maya. The wealth they invested and pain they endured to create bodies that reflected their social beliefs make our modern-day obsession with beauty seem less excessive, Miller said. (ANI)
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