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HORUS VOL I. Issue 1

You too can in the Yucatan
by John Eskridge and David Griffard

Over the past few years the Institute has sponsored a number of EduTours - educational excursions to archaeological sites of interest to our members, readers, students, and general public. In the Fall we are planning another EduTour to the southern climate and seashores of the Yucatan peninsula. [Now is the time for readers to consider the tour because of the advanced planning time required.]

We fly first to the city of Merida, capital of the Yucatan, this Mexican land of ancient pyramids and temples. We will stay at the Hotel Colon, a pleasant old hotel with marble floors and columns, brightly colored ceramic tiles and grand piano-bar in the lobby. The hotel staff makes guests feet at home with polite, pleasant, and good service at the outdoor pool and gardens, the suana and steam-bath rooms, and at the patio restaurant. But enough about the comforts for now. What about the adventure?

The eight-day EduTour will include the best-known sites in the region - Uxmal, Chichen Itza, Kabah, Sayil, Labna and Xlapac - plus some not so heavily toured ruins - Chichen Viejo, Mayapan. and Dzibilchaltun. The group will have its own transportation to and from the sites.

No one is pressed to keep up with a formal tour-group schedule on the run from place to place. During the site visits, members of the group are free to explore as they chose, since the Institute tour-host provides a full slide/lecture orientation the evening before each site visit, and is available at the site for additional direction. Anyone who prefers a formal guided tour may employ one of the government guides generally available at the site entrance.

[*!* Image: The beautiful, friendly city of Merida, capital of the Yucatan. It is a major tourist center with several important archaeological sites nearby. There we many sight-seeing attractions and cultural events In the city as well to entertain the many foreign visitors who come year-round.]

[*!* Image: Uxmal - looking north toward the Pyramid of the Magician and the Nunnery Quadrangle. The names were given to these and other structures of the Uxmal complex by the Spanish. The original Mayan terms for and actual functions of the buildings are unknown.]

Uxmal

The first site visit is to Uxmal, a major Mayan ceremonial center. Uxmal boasts a high, steep pyramid, elegantly commanding buildings, and secondary pyramids. The visit there is a photographer's holiday and a dreamers delight. Touring the Uxmal complex takes the better part of the morning and toward noon, we go to a nearby hotel (the Hacienda Uxmal) for lunch. Some like a quick dip in the pool on the lunch break.

Afterward, we travel a short distance to Kabah, the first of a group of sites (incl. Labnah, Sayil, Xlapac) we visit in the afternoon that are within a few kilometers of each other.

[*!* Image: Uxmal - The central doorway of the Governor's Palace as seen from the base of the altar with the double-headed Jaguar. The shape of the status is reminiscent of a gunsight alignment with the central axis of the building's orientation.]

[*!* Image: Kabah - The Codz Pop, oriented westward, with the entire facade decorated in "Chac masks" that are said generally to represent the Rain God. There is no good authoritative rationale for this identity, however; the deity behind the mask remains unknown.]

[*!* Image: Uxmal - looking south from the Nunnery Quadrangle toward the Pyramid of the Dwarf and the Governor's Palace. While climbing the stairs of the "Dwarf", stamping one's foot produces a ringing tone in the rock, a sound effect giving the illusion that the structure is hollow - Did the Maya use this resonant quality of the limestone stairway for effect during ceremonies performed at this pyramid? The Governors Palace sits atop a large earth-mound platform and seems to be astronomically oriented toward the horizon.

[*!* Image: Uxmal - The "gunsight" effect is emphasized looking toward the eastern horizon from the center door. The broken stone pillar in alignment with the center door and jaguar-altar leads the eye to a point on the horizon which newly matches where Venus would have risen at its maximum southerly declination around 1200 years ago, the estimated age of the Governors Palace.

Following an afternoon of relatively light site-hopping we return to the hotel for swimming, refreshments at the pool-side patio, and evening dinner. Before returning to Merida, we visit Uxmal again after sundown, to attend a beautifully colored light and sound show of the ancient structures.

Mayapan/Mani/Ticul

The next site-visit day involves a late-morning visit to Mayapan, considered to be the last stronghold of the Mayan era. It is a smaller and less frequently visited site than Uxmal but has its own charm and beauty. The effect of the scrub-jungle on the art of the ancient stone masons is particularly evident here. Trees rise from roots buried deep in the displaced limestone blocks; once elegant and brightly painted structures now all but swallowed by Nature.

[*!* Image: Mayapan - The relentless scrub-jungle gradually destroys the final monuments of Mayan culture.]

We then travel on to Mani, a nearby town where the church, and the broken walls of a home said to have been occupied by Diego de Landa still stand. The Conquistador/Priest ordered the destruction of the elaborate hieroglyphic books of the Mayan culture, a deed still deplored by the modern descendants of the Maya. At the same time, de Landa, is also credited with preserving some of the Mayan tongue by compiling a rough Spanish-Mayan alphabet.

From Mani, we head for a late afternoon meal and some shopping in Ticul, a town known for its community of artisans. Their shops provide pottery and other handcrafts popular with visitors to the Yucatan. It is possible to strike some fine bargains here for souvenirs and gifts for friends and relatives back home. Bartering over the price of an item is an accepted way to shop-and can be fun. It is best to have some idea of the general cost of an item since bartering works both ways. We return to Merida in the early evening. Following the slide/lecture for the next day's excursion, group members pursue their own entertainment for the remainder of the evening (the night is still young).

[*!* Image: Mayapan - The crude stonework of the Mayapan complex was covered with stucco to compensate. It is interpreted as a sign of cultural decadence toward the end of the Mayan era.]

[*!* Image: Mani - The church where Deigo de Landa presided over the burning of Mayan books. Only a few fragmentary examples of the entire legacy survived the purge. EduTour members view the church and grounds from the outside before being invited- in for a complete tour of the interior.]

[*!* Image: Chichen Itza - The Temple of the Warriors, so called because of the reliefs depicting apparently captive warriors an the square columns at the base of the stairs. Authorities have compared its design to the Temple of Venus (Quetzalcoatl) at Tula.]

[*!* Image: Chichen ltza - The Temple of the Warriors. At the hood of the stairway the "Chacmool" figure reclines patiently. During a ceremony involving boom sacrifice, officiating priests were said to have placed the still-beating heart of the victim on the plate held by the Chacmool. If actually a temple for Venus worship, its western orientation confines the relation to some aspect of Venus as Evening Star.]

[*!* Image: Chichen Itza - The Temple of Kukulcan (called the Castle by the Spanish) is a famous symbol of the ancient Yucatan and the passion of its people far astronomical calendrics. Its design and decoration seem to incorporate the elements of the civil calendar yew. There are 91 steps in each of the four stairways plus the temple platform which totals 365 to represent the days in the yew. There we nine levels in two halves which make 18, the number of 20-day months (plus a special 5-day "month') in the Mayan yew. The decorative pawls on each face of the nine levels total 52. the number of yews in the Mayan 'century'. The pyramid is oriented so that at the equinox. the Sun's shadow at sunset Is projected from the terraced corners on to the ballustrade of the northern stairway. The shadow forms the undulating image of a serpent body that extends to the stem serpent head at the stairway base.]

[*!* Image: Chichen Itza - The Sacrificial Well. Divers found a variety of cultural objects and the bones of persons, many of them children, that apparently had been sacrificed. One object was a gold plate engraved with an image of ceremonial human sacrifice. The victim is stretched over backwards by attendants while a priest prepares to cut out his heart with a flint knife. A similar image once existed in the Temple of the Warriors.]

[*!* Image: Chichen Itza - The Temple of the Jaguar at the Ball Court. The game played in this "Superbowl" of the Yucatan was akin to soccer and basketball combined. The object was to put the game-ball through one of two gm] rings In the wall on either side of mid-field without using the hands. The game had ceremonial religious purpose as well as sport. The goal rings were decorated with symbols associated with Venus and at the end of the game the losing team-captain (some say the winning captain) was ceremoniously beheaded. The game-ball,. made of resinous gum (copal) was symbolic and was burned as incense. The concept behind the ritual game apparently traces to a mythical bell game played in the heavens by the gods. One surviving fragment of ancient text depicts the heavenly ball game with the game-ball ablaze as it flies through the sky. Again, the associations with Venus and the west-facing temple atop the Ball Court wall suggests some relation to Venus as Evening Star.]

[*!* Image: Chichen Itza - The "Observatory' (Caracol) dome showing one of three view ports at the top. No significant astronomical events occur precisely in the present alignment though archaeoastronomers have some evidence that Venus was the main celestial body being observed from the tower.]

Chichen Itza

The next morning we get an early start for Chichen Itza, one of the best known and most photographed sites in Mesoamerica. It is a large complex of pyramids and temples and requires a full day's visit. During the morning, we visit the famous pyramid of Kukulcan, the Temple of the Warriors, the Ball Court, and other structures that sprawl across the well-kept grounds.

We break at mid-day for refreshments, swimming, and lunch at the Hacienda Chichen. It is a gracious place set amid tall palms, tropical plants and flowers. A variety of birds, some beautifully colored, which inhabit the area provide the background "music' for dining or cocktails on the patio.

From the hotel, we move to the south side of the Chichen Itza complex where stands the famous "Observatory" (called the Caracol by the Spanish) so-called because of its striking resemblance to modern observatories (see illus. p. ). It is part of an extensive complex of structures that require the better part of the afternoon to cover. For those that want to make the hike, there is a side excursion from the south complex through the surrounding woods to Chichen Viejo (Old Chichen). Though only a small area, it has an intrigue of its own and is weft worth the trek, especially toward sunset. When the archaeological zone closes we return to the city and the Hotel Colon with plenty of evening left for free time.

[*!* Image: Chichen Viejo - The Date Lintel. Two "altantean" figures support a stone with a hieroglyhic date inscription. It has been read as equivalent to 879 A.D. In the most generally accepted calendar correlation. Others prefer a date of 619 A.D. according to another possible matchup. Chichen Viejo has its own special quality of mystery; somehow the same yet very different from the much more recent ruins of Chichen ltza.]

[*!* Image: Dzibilchaltun- The "Doll's House" as seen from a vertical pillar (gnomon) to the west. The style and structure of the temple are different from that of the ruins previously visited Dziblichaltun has been translated as 'the place where there is writing" and has historic roots tracing back to pre-Christian centuries. It was once the largest civic center in the peninsula though little remains visible of Its extensive size and importance.]

[*!* Image: Dzibilchaltun - The natural swimming hole at the site gives EduTour members a refreshing break.]

Dzibilchaltun

The final site is a short ride from the hotel. It is not on the ordinary tour routes probably because there is little restoration here. The principal structure, dubbed the "Doll's House", is small and odd-looking compared with those seen before. It comes from an earlier period of Mayan history when Dzibilchaltun was a major civic and ceremonial center. There is also a natural pool here fed with natural mineral water from an underground spring. We picnic and swimmers in the group have plenty of time to enjoy the water before the short ride back to the city.

For most, the site-visits will leave a lasting impression. The tools needed at the ruins are not spades and shovels but curiosity, imagination, good walking shoes, and a panama hat. Property equipped, the visitor will return home with a good first-hand introduction to ancient Mesoamerica and many, many photographs to sort.

With the free time scheduled between the site visits, group members enjoy the variety of entertainment, good food, shopping , and the frequent evening open-air concerts and street festivals in the city. A short bus ride to the north is Progresso Beach where many in the group will enjoy the sunny days. The city has a small but well appointed Museum which most put on their list of places to see. On the last evening of our tour , we meet for farewell dinner and entertainment with the music, song, and dance of romantic old Mexico. The next day, the flight to the United States will bring you back home relaxed, well-tanned, much pleased, and awakened to the richness, the beauty, and the mystery of ancient Mesoamerican culture in the Yucatan.

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