One of the diverse classes offered by the College Experience has been one about ancient Mayan civilization taught by Dominick Brown who has been a diligent instructor for the College Experience since 2016. The students learned about ancient rituals while Dominick reassured them that some of the disturbing factoids, such as forcing a child’s head to grow in a deformed
position, are long in the past and not something practiced by existing Mayas today. The classes about ancient as well as modern societies are meant to rage against xenophobia (a.k.a. fearing and/or disliking people from other countries). We approach the study of ancient cultures from a point of factual information while explaining why it may have made sense back in those days to appease their version of Gods or living royalty. As you may remember, there was some mild hysteria a few years ago when it was erroneously believed that the Mayas predicted the end of the world would occur in the year 2012 because that is when their ancient calendar supposedly came to an abrupt halt!
The following information was presented by Dominick in a slide called, “Daily Life – Beauty”
“Slightly crossed eyes were held in great esteem,” writes Yale anthropologist Michael Coe in his book The Maya. “Parents attempted to induce the condition by handing small beads over the noses of their children.”
The Mayas also seemed to go in for shaping their children’s skulls: they liked to flatten them (Although this may have simply been the inadvertent result of strapping babies to cradle boards) or squeeze them into a cone. Some speculate that the cone head effect was the result of trying to approximate the shape of an ear of corn.
The Maya filed their teeth, sometimes in a T shape and sometimes to a point. They also inlaid their teeth with small, round plaques of jade or pyrite. According to Coe, young men painted themselves black until marriage and after engaged in ritual tattooing and scarring.
Beauty was a way to display social, if not moral, value among the 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. Like us, the May indulged in self-deprecation about appearance, preferring to let artistic depictions conform to their ideals rather than reality. Although hearty and robust for an old man of 80, Pakal’s depiction never aged; he remained a youthful Maize God, just on the cusp of maturity. The Maya saw what the Maya wanted to see when they looked into their pyrite mirrors; green and blue jewels, perhaps a few daubs of red paint, and the youthful vigor of agricultural fertility.
From Time August 9th, 1993 p. 48
The students have also taken classes related to Mythology where they learned that in Iroquois folklore, it is believed the world was created on the back of a turtle. They even took a field trip to a Native American Museum with instructor Michelle Brown featuring a turtle pond in the middle of the room. We look forward to more unique classes showing our students different slices of humanity and are planning to profile some of the fall courses in upcoming social media entries!