National Geographic : 1987 Sep
All these features are thought to symbol ize secular authorities with sanctions to rule from the gods. I believe these symbols are part of an incipient writing system. This as sumption comes from recent breakthroughs in deciphering Classic hieroglyphs in which similar symbols have been found in repeated contexts. The Tigre Complex is flanked on the south by Monos, a40-meter-high complex of buildings and a plaza. Monos was named for the large, raucous howler monkey and cov ers nearly 17,000 square meters. Directly east of the Tigre Complex, and adjoining it, stands the great Central Acropolis and Central Plaza group. Radiocarbon dating of materials found here suggests construction between the second and first centuries be fore Christ. THE CENTRAL ACROPOLIS and Central Plaza provided a grand setting for rit uals and ceremonies. Looking down from the acropolis, one can see the entire centerline of the plaza below, and the dispo sition of all its buildings. Here my mind's eye conjures solemn rites with plumed dignitaries. Conch trumpets and drums sound. An elder steps forward to proclaim the birth of a male heir. A servant girl holds up the infant, who is barely visible in his soft wrapping of "New World silk" from the ceiba tree. The assembled multi tude-officials, relatives, servants, and oth ers-cries out approval ... I awaken to reality, slapping at insects and tormented by the heat. But the meaning of this place is clear. Here was the heart of El Mirador, the theater for the most important events: declarations of war, ostracizing of dissidents, imposing of tributes, religious ceremonies. Here a newly installed ruler would have interceded with the gods for his people-by cutting and bleeding himself before the people. The flow of blood would signal intercession with the gods. Our excavations at the Central Acropolis, which is more than 300 meters long, support these visions. A wide stairway fronts the center of the acropolis, running from the plaza to the first level. The stairs were con structed with great skill during Preclassic times. Cut limestone blocks were uniformly shaped with stone instruments and carefully 330 Markers of Maya Culture THE WORLD OF THE MAYA ultimately spanned territory in today's Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salva- OLMEC TO HIGHLANDS Olmec symbols moved to the highlandsabout 500 B.C. and developed individualstyles. At Izapa symbols on a stela may illustratea myth. An axhead found at El Sitio bears a linear arrangementof glyphs. They cannotbe read asyet but may reflect Olmec influence.