Ancient Mesoamerica

Research Article

ANCIENT MAYA MOSAIC MIRRORS: FUNCTION, SYMBOLISM, AND MEANING

Paul F. Healya1 c1 and Marc G. Blaineya2 c1

a1 Department of Anthropology, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

a2 Department of Anthropology, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A.

Abstract

This paper examines the composite lithic artifacts of the ancient Maya commonly termed “mirrors.” Typically flat, shiny objects with polished iron-ore polygons fitted in a mosaic pattern onto a slate backing, we assess these plaques for the technological, spatiotemporal, and functional contexts of their manufacture. Data from over 500 archaeological specimens, from dozens of Maya sites in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras, were examined as part of this study. We also consider the iconography, epigraphy, and possible symbolism of these curious artifacts. Based on this analysis, we conclude that ancient Maya mosaic mirrors were employed in rituals, often by elite individuals, as both symbols of authority but also, importantly, as possible mystical devices for divinatory “scrying.” They were highly valued, often beautifully made, reflective ceremonial objects whose possible use for prognostication in shamanic rites likely has great antiquity in Mesoamerica.

Correspondence:

c1 E-mail correspondence to: phealy@trentu.ca; castleblayney@hotmail.com