Maya, underworld, afterlife, iconography, contextual, noncontextual, travelers, cosmology, gods, deities
The ancient Maya afterlife is a rich and voluminous topic. Unfortunately, much of the material currently utilized for interpretations about the ancient Maya comes from publications written after contact by the Spanish or from artifacts with no context, likely looted items. Both sources of information can be problematic and can skew interpretations. Cosmological tales documented after the Spanish invasion show evidence of the religious conversion that was underway. Noncontextual artifacts are often altered in order to make them more marketable. An example of an iconographic theme that is incorporated into the surviving media of the ancient Maya, but that is not mentioned in ethnographically-recorded myths or represented in the iconography from most noncontextual objects, are the "travelers": a group of gods, humans, and animals who occupy a unique niche in the ancient Maya cosmology. This group of figures is depicted journeying from one level or realm of the universe to another by using objects argued to bridge more than one plane of existence at a time. They travel by holding onto or riding objects familiar to the ancient Maya that held other-world or afterlife symbolic significance and that are connected to events related to birth, death, and leadership. This group of figures (the "travelers"), represented across time and space and on wide ranging media, provides insight and broadens what is currently understood about the ancient Maya view of life and death by indicating a persistent belief in the ability to move from one realm to another in the afterlife.
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Master of Arts (M.A.)
College of Graduate Studies
Office of Liberal and Interdisciplinary Studies
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Wilson, Mosley Dianna, "Ancient Maya Afterlife Iconography: Traveling Between Worlds" (2006). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 853.