Monday, December 03, 2007
Rare Maya "Death Vase"...sort of
There's an article on today's National Geographic News website about a marble vase that was excavated where I work in Honduras in 2005. In 2006 I excavated the structure where it was found. It's an "interesting" article:
An extremely rare and intricately carved "death vase" has been discovered in the 1,400-year-old grave of a member of the Maya elite, scientists say.
The vase is the first of its kind to be found in modern times, and its contents are opening a window onto ancient rituals of ancestor worship that included food offerings, chocolate enemas, and hallucinations induced by vomiting, experts say.
Archaeologists discovered the vase along with parts of a human skeleton while excavating a small "palace" in northwestern Honduras in 2005. (The dig was funded by the National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.)
Soil samples taken from in and around the vessel were found to contain pollen from corn, cacao, and false ipecac, a plant that causes severe nausea when eaten.
These traces suggest the vase may have been used in ancient rites the Maya practiced to produce trancelike states through intense physical purging, said Christian Wells, an anthropologist at the University of South Florida who lead the excavation.
"The way to have contact, to communicate, with ancestors is to have visions," Wells said of the Maya rituals.
"And you have a vision either by cutting yourself and bloodletting—which there's really no evidence for in this case—or by having some very powerful chocolate enema, or by drinking your brains out and throwing up.
"We think this beverage [in the vase] may have contained ipecac, which would have made the person who's drinking it throw up—a lot. Then, by throwing up a lot, they could've had visions that would have allowed them to talk with the ancestors."
Read the full story here.