The Jewel of Oxtankah

What was once thought to be a single piece of a Maya ritual outfit, is now found to be only a small piece of what was once a full body suit. The piece, a ritual garment that resembles an oversized necklace or perhaps even a chest plate, can be found at the Templo Mayor Museum in Mexico City, but was found over 1,400 km away, in Oxtankah, Quintana Roo. The garment is constructed of over 1,600 pieces, made from local mollusks.

The garment was found during the exploration of a burial chamber on the south side of Quintana Roo, in 2000. The piece was found upon a pile of bones, which belonged to a high dignitary of the city of Oxtankah, he is thought to have died over 5,000 years ago. The high dignitary who was buried with the garment, was most likely a fisherman who spent his life fishing the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Oxtankah. Just like many of his Maya brethren during this time, he may have used the Mesoamerican Reef, which is located just off the coast of Quintata Roo, as a traditional fishing spot. The garment also reflects the seafaring ways of this man, as the 1,620 circular beads, and the 34 different pink tones, blended with one another to refer to the vast water world that was venerated by Maya society.

The components of the garment are what makes it spectacular. From what we know about the man, being a high dignitary, we dive deeper and find that the mollusks shell’s that make up the garment show the true meaning that it held to the Maya. The piece is spun from more than 1,600 shells, from four different types of local mollusks, three of which come from the Caribbean, both seawater and freshwater, most likely from either Belize, or the Guatemalan Petén, geographically the northernmost part of Guatemala. “Based on specialized manuals it was determined that 1,620 circular beads were made with sequins mollusks Pinctada imbricata and Psoronaias cocodrilorum” (Oxtankah, Luxury and Power). The placement of these shells, are made to resemble the scales of the slivery fish, Xihua, which had a very high population in the waters around Oxtankah and was of great value to the Maya people who lived there. The importance of Xihua, and the symbolism that the piece displays, gives homage to fishing and maritime culture of the Maya at Oxtankah. With the use of both freshwater and seawater shells, it allows a visual example of the artistic style they planned for not only this piece, but for the whole body suit, which has yet to be recovered. The freshwater pearls emitted light colors, while the seawater ones emitted darker tones, with the mixing of these two pearls, the makers of the piece were looking for the pearlescent color. Also found alongside of the necklace or chest piece, were twenty-eight rectangular ear rings and three L-shaped pendants. This insinuates that this man was buried in much more than just a ritual necklace or chest plate, and that there is still more to be discovered about it in Oxtankah.

The discovery of this piece brings a little light on how the Maya viewed and used the vast waterways that they lived on. Paying respects to the fish that provide their sustenance, the Xihua, making a full body suit to resemble it gives us a glimpse into the Mayan culture. In the Templo Mayor Museum, this piece is accompanied by an entire exhibit. The exhibit shows and explains the pain-staking task of reconstructing the piece, to show how it looked as the day it was buried.

Images

Construction tools

Construction tools

These are the tools and items that were used to construct the necklace/chest plate. The would use certain parts of the shells, obsidian, and even deer skin to make the whole piece. This was found out during the reconstruction stage of the piece by archaeologist. | Source: Dylan John Leach, taken at Templo Mayor Museum View File Details Page

Coast of Oxtankah

Coast of Oxtankah

The coast of Oxtankah, as shown in the photo, is a very important part to this piece. Waterways and fishing was a keystone to the Maya way of life, and can be seen from the Jewel of Oxtankah. They used the Caribbean Sea and respected it. The whole body suit was to resemble the slivery fish, Xihau, which was abundant off the coast and was very important to the Maya people. This coast may have even seen the man who was buried with the necklace/chest plate, fishing these very waters. | Source: Dylan John Leach, taken at Templo Mayor Museum View File Details Page

Necklace/Chest Plate

Necklace/Chest Plate

Once thought to be only a necklace, this is the only piece that has been found of a whole body suit. This piece is made of over 1,600 shells, and is only a small section of the whole body suit. The suit was made to resemble the slivery fish, Xihua, which was very important to the Maya people that lived near the water. This piece was found at an underwater burial, along with other ceremonial pieces, such as ear rings. | Source: Dylan John Leach, taken at Templo Mayor Museum View File Details Page

Shells

Shells

Shown in the photo are the type of sea mollusks and shells that were used to make the piece. The shells came from both freshwater and seawater shellfish. The mixing of two different types of shells allowed for a coloring affects, that were to reflect like that of the Xihau fish. | Source: Dylan John Leach, taken at Templo Mayor Museum View File Details Page

Templo Mayor Museum

Templo Mayor Museum

Located in Mexico City, Mexico at the Templo Mayor Museum the Oxtankah Lujo Y Poder exhibit can be found. The exhibit shows from start to finish on how they found the piece, to how to the piece was reconstructed. Located over 1,400 km away from Oxtankah, the exhibit helps not only show the beauty of the peice but it tells the history of Oxtankah, and a short video of the archaeologist, who did the pain staking work to reconstruct the piece, telling and showing how they worked with the piece to bring it back to the shape it can be found in today. | Source: Travelbymexico.com View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Dylan John Leach , “The Jewel of Oxtankah ,” HistoricalMX, accessed November 24, 2017, http://historicalmx.org/items/show/34.

Share this Story